Till Now: Contemporary Art in Context

Lecture Series, Fall 2016

Although its use is now widespread, the term “contemporary” refers neither to a specific aesthetic style nor fixed historical period. Contemporary art—including the visual, performative, and literary—can designate a range of forms and theories extending from works produced today to those made half a century ago. So what makes contemporary art contemporary? 

“Till Now: Contemporary Art in Context” is a year-long speaker series hosted by the University of Houston School of Art and the Blaffer Art Museum that brings together leading voices in the field of contemporary art. Through public talks and intimate seminars and studio visits with UH students, internationally recognized scholars, curators, artists, and critics will investigate the idea of the contemporary as both a temporal and aesthetic framework to broaden critical understanding about how we situate current artistic practices.

All lectures are free and open to the public. Join us before the lectures for extended viewing hours at the Blaffer Art Museum and a pre-talk reception with light bites and beverages from 5-6:30pm.

Suzanne Hudson
Associate Professor of Art History, University of Southern California
Thursday, September 22, 6:30pm, FA 110

Agnes Martin, Night Sea Journey
In 1963, Agnes Martin completed a six-foot-square oil on canvas entitled Night Sea. Comprising a grid of rectangles plotted along the X and Y coordinates of a Cartesian graph, it effects a regulated geometry against which the watery blue field, inchoate and surging, anticipates the reciprocal forces of undertow that threaten its undoing. Within the suite of Martin’s classic grids from 1960–1967, Night Sea is as exemplary as it is exceptional, a shimmering realization of control and loss—made manifest in its specific physicality—that Martin would never repeat. In this talk, Hudson argues for the significance of Night Sea in Martin’s turn away from process-based works; after this, the struggle to achieve a composition—to say nothing of the struggle for the self that it represents—happened elsewhere, at a safe remove from the art, for reasons that Hudson will propose.

Suzanne Hudson is an art historian and critic who writes on modern and contemporary art, with an emphasis on abstraction, painting, process, creativity, pedagogy, and American philosophy as it intersects with aesthetics and institutional discourses. She is co-founder of the Contemporary Art Think Tank and the Society of Contemporary Art Historians, an affiliate society of the College Art Association. Her writing has appeared in such publications as Parkett, Flash Art, Art Journal, and October, and she has been a regular contributor to Artforum since 2004. She is the author of Robert Ryman: Used Paint (MIT Press, 2009; 2011) and Painting Now (Thames & Hudson, 2015) and the co-editor of Contemporary Art: 1989–Present (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013). Hudson’s latest book, Agnes Martin: Night Sea, will be published this fall by Afterall/MIT Press, and she is currently at work on a study of the therapeutic basis of process within American visual modernism.

Douglas Crimp
Fanny Knapp Allen Professor of Art History, University of Rochester
Friday, November 11, 6:30pm, Architecture 150 (ground floor of Architecture building)
Why Dance

In the past decade, the art world has embraced dance as never before, with myriad exhibitions, film screenings, performances, residencies, even acquisitions. Many are asking why—Why dance? Why now? Conferences are convened to answer the question; articles are written; books are in the works. My approach to the question is personal, a self-interrogation. As someone who loved to dance (as a social dancer) and loved dance (as a spectator), I hadn’t thought of it as a question. But now that it is being so insistently posed as a question, and now that I have begun to write about dance, I too want to answer it.

Douglas Crimp is Fanny Knapp Allen Professor of Art History at the University of Rochester and the author of On the Museum’s RuinsMelancholia and Moralism: Essays on AIDS and Queer Politics, and “Our Kind of Movie”: The Films of Andy Warhol. He was the curator of the Pictures exhibition at Artists Space, New York, in 1977 and, from 1977 to 1990, an editor of the journal October, for which he edited the special issue AIDS: Cultural Analysis/Cultural Activism in 1987. With Lynne Cooke, he organized the exhibition Mixed Use, Manhattan for the Reina Sofía in Madrid in 2010, and he was on the curatorial team for the 2015 iteration of MoMA PS1’s quinquennial Greater New York. His new book, Before Pictures, is co-published by Dancing Foxes Press and the University of Chicago Press.

Douglas Crimp’s lecture is presented with additional support from the UH Department of English and Creative Writing Program, in collaboration with the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, and with promotional support from DiverseWorks.


Contemporary Project Events
All Events in Fine Arts 110 unless otherwise noted

Lewis Kachur
Kean University
Thursday, September 15, 2:30 pm
"Exhibiting Marcel Duchamp: From the Armory Show to the Enchanter’s Domain"

Suzanne Hudson (Till Now)
September 22, 6:30 pm
Agnes Martin, Night Sea Journey

Alexis Salas
Hampshire College
Wednesday, October 12, 2:30-4pm
Performing Art exposition: Temístocles 44’s site-strategic works

Alexis Salas’ talk, Performing Art Exposition, comes from her book manuscript in process. The talk is part of her interdisciplinary and transnational focus that encompasses contemporary studio and non-studio practices, multidisciplinary collaborations, and exhibition practices in global contemporary art with an emphasis on Chicano, Latino, and Latin American art. More specifically, the talk pertains to a group of artists working in Mexico City in the 1990s at the moment that they all become part of the newly formed kurimanzutto gallery. During this period, these artists installed their artwork in unconventional exhibition spaces. In the talk, Salas will be discussing three site-specific installations created by these artists, analyzing the relationship of these installations to the physical, social, and historical environments that they inhabit. The projects were created in a period in which the Mexican state saw major cultural and political transformation due to implementation of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, a power vacuum in the long-ruling political party PRI, partido revolucionario institutional, and the founding of the culture and arts management system called CONACULTA. This project, and this section in particular, analyzes how artists instrumentalized the material conditions and politics of 1990s Mexico City.

Alexis Salas is an art historian of global contemporary art. Salas conceived of her first book project while living in an artists' space in Mexico City; in it she analyzes artists' 'zines, experimental films, and contextual art installations in relation to changes in the metropolis' economic and political structure. Interested in disparities of access of global art, she pays particular attention to the use that artists make of them. About to complete her doctoral degree at The University of Texas at Austin, Salas holds an M.A. in art history from the University of Chicago, and a B.A. in art history and Spanish-language literature from Amherst College. She also studied art practice in the M.F.A., after-school, and pre-college summer program at California Institute of the Arts. 

Salas is a past recipient of the Jacob Javits Fellowship, Fulbright Fellowship at Universidad Iberoamericana and UNAM, DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst) Fellowship, and National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute grant, among others. She has presented and lectured at Museo Tamayo (Mexico City), University of California at San Diego, American Studies Association, Freie Universität Berlin, and CLAVIS, among others. Having taught in Mexico and the United States, Salas curates, consults, and authors texts for art institutions such as Moore College of Art & Design, Turner México, Harvard University Press, Fundación Coleción Jumex, The University of Texas at Austin, and National Gallery of Art. She is currently co-curating exhibitions of Latino and Latin American Art, such as the Getty-sponsored "Aesthetic Experiments and Social Agents: Renegade Art and Action in Mexico in the 1990s" which will open at the Armory Center in Pasadena, California in 2017. Salas is the 2016-2019 Visiting Assistant Professor of Art History at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA.

Bryan Just 
Princeton University
Monday, Oct. 24 at 4pm, FA 106
Cylindrical Space and Time in Maya Vase Painting: Looking at Ancient American Art with the Maya, in the 21st Century

The western world takes for granted the notion of a visual plane ‘through’ which we can view three-dimensional space. The roots of this tradition lie in European painting, and enjoyed particular refinement in the Renaissance through scientifically derived conventions for rendering perspective. Today, it is so ubiquitous as to go unnoticed thanks to the digital screens that capture so much of our visual attention. An ingrained and uncritical denial of the physicality and topography of the objects which provide us such convincing depth of field is all but essential to modern life, but can seriously occlude our sensitivity to representations that are not based upon the same array of conventions. This paper seeks to explore Maya visual representation, particularly as painted on cylindrical drinking cups during the seventh and eight centuries, without these modern planar blinders. It will be argued that during this era, Maya artists in the ateliers of select kingdoms were exploring the rendition of three-dimensional space and physical matter in ways that are at odds with the tacit assumptions underlying linear perspective. In particular, modern viewers implicitly accept the reduction of vision to a fixed and singular point of view; in fact, human spatial perception relies heavily on two roving eyes. Maya artists, it will be proposed, invented means of painting three-dimensionality that can only be appreciated by actively mobile, binocular viewers.


Funding for Till Now: Contemporary Art in Context is generously provided by an Innovation Grant from the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts at the University of Houston.

All lectures will be held in the Fine Arts Building on the University of Houston campus and will be free and open to the public.