MA in the History of Art

Sex and Violence in American Art, 1960-now

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Course Description

This course studies questions of sexuality and aggression in art since 1960.

Our focus will be primarily, but not exclusively, on work produced in the United States and in response to social and political events in which sexuality and violence converge (e.g., the sexual revolution, the civil rights movement, the women’s liberation movement, the war in Vietnam and the anti-war movement, the gay liberation movement, the abortion rights movement, the AIDS crisis, the first Gulf War, the “War on Terror,” the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq). The entanglements of sexuality and violence in artistic critiques of American wars and of the militarization of American society from the U.S. war in Vietnam until today will be considered in depth. We will be especially engaged in studying questions of feminism and gender politics and will look closely at the work of artists who trouble the conventional split between the psychic and the social in war discourse, war resistance, and political protest.

A principal theoretical framework of the course will be psychoanalysis, which takes sexuality and aggression as its cardinal themes. Our theoretical reading will encompass historical and contemporary psychoanalytic texts (Freud, Klein, Lacan, Winnicott, Fornari, Laplanche, Kristeva, Mitchell) as well as feminist, gender, and political histories and theories (Butler, Rose, Bersani, Mouffe, Badiou). Applicants are not expected to have a background in psychoanalytic theory. Introductory sessions of the course will be devoted to essential texts. We will also read widely in theoretically and politically informed art-historical and critical literature, including artists’ writings. Preliminary readings will be offered to enable seminar participants to begin studying core texts in advance. Students from a diversity of undergraduate fields of study are encouraged to apply.

Among the artists whose work may feature in the course are: Yael Bartana, Louise Bourgeois, Coco Fusco, Eva Hesse, Thomas Hirschhorn, Mary Kelly, Silvia Kolbowski, Barbara Kruger, Yayoi Kusama, Louise Lawler, Glenn Ligon, Yoko Ono, Yvonne Rainer, Martha Rosler, Carolee Schneemann, Nancy Spero, Kara Walker, and Krzysztof Wodiczko. We will take the opportunity to study key exhibitions in London, where possible in dialogue with exhibition curators or participating artists. Because the course content is partly shaped by current exhibitions, the full syllabus is not available in advance. Funding permitting, we will make a group study visit to New York City.

There will be scope for students to develop their own research topics in consultation with the instructor.

Language and other requirements

Standard entry requirements.