Ann Hamilton,  the event of a thread , 2012, Park Avenue Armory, New York

Ann Hamilton, the event of a thread, 2012, Park Avenue Armory, New York

The Gradual Contemporary: Conversations on Contemporary Art

The spring 2018 RISD Grad Commons lecture series, The Gradual Contemporary, seeks out some of the most daring and forthright voices in the field of contemporary art, inviting them to think aloud, foil expectations, cut through nonsense, and to ponder the ever billowing contours of the gradual contemporary.

The lecture series accompanies a RISD graduate seminar of the same name, so called because it defines contemporary art both as a process—a gradual temporal and geographic process that defies periodization or mapping—and as a form of cognitive processing. Although this processing assumes a multitude of forms—whether through rehearsals of witnessing, documenting, archiving, projecting or appropriating—these seemingly disparate activities all appear to be motivated by a single logic: the impulse to process history. To this end, this course proposes contemporary art as a historical project—a project in which the activities of working through, repeating or remembering take on other, metaphoric guises—such as mining, erasing, rewinding or melting. Through the lens of process, understood as both a material pragmatics and an elastic metaphorics, the class outlines some of the key issues and historical pressures that shape contemporary art.

The seminar and lecture series are organized by Leora Maltz-Leca with the support of the RISD Provost’s Office. It is a collaboration among RISD’s Divisions of Graduate Studies, Liberal Arts, and Fine Arts and is enabled in part by the generous support of the Robert Lehman Foundation, New York.



Ariella Azoulay

Ariella Azoulay

Monday, May 7, 2018 // 5:00 PM // Metcalf Auditorium, Chace Center, RISD Museum

The Imperial Origins of Photography

Ariella Azoulay

Imagine that the origin of photography goes back to 1492. What could this mean? In this lecture, Ariella Azoulay will depart from the common theories and histories that present photography as a sui-generis practice and locate its moment of emergence in the midst 19th century around technological development and male inventors. Instead she would rather propose to locate the origins of photography in the “new world,” at the earlier phases of European colonialism and study photographs alongside early accounts of imperial expeditions. Obviously there are no photos from the mass destruction of the late 15th century, but viewing later images of destruction in the context of early expeditions, unravel the premises of what is called documentary and its role in minimizing the scale of the enterprise of destruction. Photography was institutionalized as a visual and communicative practice in a world that had already been colonized and enabled the reproduction of imperial divisions and imperial rights. It nailed down in images what Azoulay conceives as the right to destroy, to accumulate, to appropriate, to differentiate, to record what has been destroyed or appropriated, to study, rescue, salvage, and exhibit it. Interpreting these imperial rights as constitutive of the practice of the documentary, is key in understanding the power accumulated in the hands of image banks and corporations such as Getty or FB.

Ariella Azoulay is Professor of Comparative Literature and Modern Culture and Media at Brown University and author of Aïm Deüelle Lüski and Horizontal Photography (Leuven University Press and Cornell University Press, 2013), From Palestine to Israel: A Photographic Record of Destruction and State Formation, 1947-1950 (Pluto Press, 2011), Civil Imagination: The Political Ontology of Photography (Verso, 2012) and The Civil Contract of Photography (Zone Books, 2008), co-authored with Adi Ophir, The One State Condition: Occupation and Democracy between the Sea and the River (Stanford University Press, 2012).

Claire Bishop

Claire Bishop

Wednesday, April 25, 2018 //  6:00 PM // Metcalf Auditorium, Chace Center, RISD Museum

Information Overload:
Research Based Art and the Politics of Attention

Claire Bishop

Claire Bishop’s lecture looks at the rise of research-based art since the early 1990s and its relationship to the changing status of knowledge as a result of digital technology. Claire Bishop is an art historian and critic based at CUNY Graduate Center. She is the author of Radical Museology, or What’s Contemporary in Museums of Contemporary Art?Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship and Installation Art: A Critical History).

This event is co-sponsored by RISD Global.
This event is free and open to the public.

Rachel Haidu © University of Rochester

Rachel Haidu
© University of Rochester

Monday, April 23, 2018 // 5:00 PM // Metcalf Auditorium, Chace Center, RISD Museum

The Tragicomic Self: Amy Sillman and Philip Guston

Rachel Haidu

Both Amy Sillman and Philip Guston make painting, in their different historical moments (respectively, the present and the 1960s-70s), into a tragicomic enterprise. This talk examines the role that shape plays in that enterprise, when it is seen not as a formal or compositional element but as key to both the tragic aspect of a painting’s historical reflection and its comic operations—its funniness. Tragicomic shape is the means that painting has at its disposal for exploring selfhood, a concept that Haidu develops in relation to not only painting but also video and dance in her new book.

Rachel Haidu is Associate Professor in the Department of Art and Art History and the Graduate Program in Visual and Cultural Studies at the University of Rochester. She is the author of The Absence of Work: Marcel Broodthaers, 1964-1976 (October Books: MIT Press, 2013).

Detail from  Landscape with the Fall of Icarus  Pieter Bruegel the Elder Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels, early 1560s

Detail from Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels, early 1560s

Monday, April 9, 2018 //  5:00 PM // CIT 103, 169 Weybosset Street

‘At the Same Time’: Toward an Ethics
and Aesthetics of (In)visibility

Ara H. Merjian

Diderot’s famous Letter on the Blind, for the Use of Those Who See(1749) improbably names moral apathy as the natural inclination of the blind, whose inability to see leads Diderot to “suspect them of being, in general, unfeeling toward their fellow men.” To what extent have twentieth- and twenty-first-century aesthetics elaborated strategies of representing connections to bodies unseen or unacknowledged? What, in artistic terms, might constitute a phenomenology of distance and implication, as it relates to the witnessing of history or micro-history? And how do the visual arts—whose domain is sight itself—potentially shore up such distance, or else render intelligible its effects? This paper ventures some tentative answers in the light of specific efforts by European and American artists, from both before and after the late twentieth-century digital revolution: Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Renato Guttuso, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Martha Rosler, Eric Fischl, and Francesco Arena.  It explores the extent to which an ostensibly interconnected globalization might belie an indifference which, as Carlo Ginzburg writes, “already implies a form of complicity.”

Ara H. Merjian is Associate Professor of Italian at New York University and author of Giorgio de Chirico and the Metaphysical City: Nietzsche, Modernism, Paris (Yale University Press, 2014).

Alexander Alberro

Alexander Alberro

Wednesday, April 4, 2018 // 6:30 PM // Metcalf Auditorium, Chace Center, RISD Museum

Contemporary Art and the Global Turn

Alexander Alberro

A newly-formed transnational web of individuals and institutions has in the past three decades fundamentally changed the nature of contemporary art. Highlighting artworks and projects that have sought to make visible, analyzable and contestable the new forms of exchange, “Contemporary Art and the Global Turn” probes not only what has led to this complex transformation but also the impact it has had on the current conditions of artistic practice. In what ways is recent art distinct from previous modes of contemporary art? What are the conventions that contemporary artists face today? Where are they shaped? What precipitates them?

Alexander Alberro is Virginia Bloedel Wright Professor of Art History at Barnard College. He is the author of Abstraction in Reverse: The Reconfigured Spectator in Mid-Twentieth Century Latin American Art (University of Chicago Press, 2017); Conceptual Art and the Politics of Publicity (MIT, 2003), and has edited books on contemporary art including Working Conditions: The Writings of Hans Haacke (MIT, 2016), Institutional Critique: An Anthology of Artists Writings; Art After Conceptual Art (MIT, 2009); Museum Highlights (MIT, 2005), Recording Conceptual Art (University of California, 2001), Two-Way Mirror Power (MIT 1999); and Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology (MIT, 1999).

Alberro is also the founding editor of the University of California Press’ book series “Studies on Latin American Art,” which commissions publications of art history and cultural practices emerging from Central and South America, the Caribbean, and the Latin American diaspora in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Our Literal Speed presents “Our Literal Speed” Dimensions variable, materials: two-person lecture, work of sculpture, milling crowd, Fabricca del Vapore, Milan, 8 November, 2010 (detail) ©

Our Literal Speed presents “Our Literal Speed”
Dimensions variable, materials: two-person lecture, work of sculpture, milling crowd, Fabricca del Vapore, Milan, 8 November, 2010 (detail)

Monday, April 2, 2018 // 5:00 PM // Metcalf Auditorium, Chace Center, RISD Museum

Our Literal Speed presents Everythingism

Our Literal Speed

It could be argued that the most compelling art is no longer defined by particular media (painting, sculpture, photography, video), or by particular subjects (portraiture, landscape, still life, devotional image), or by particular strategies of representation (Cubism, Surrealism, Pop Art, Appropriation); instead, the true art of our time might best be described as being distinguished by activities that employ everything to evoke everything by means of everything.

Our Literal Speed is a text and art undertaking located in Selma, Alabama.

For more information on Our Literal Speed please visit their website here: Our Literal Speed

Glenn Adamson Photograph: © Sipke Visser, courtesy Glenn Adamson

Glenn Adamson
Photograph: © Sipke Visser, courtesy Glenn Adamson

Thursday, March 1, 2018 // 1:30 PM // Metcalf Auditorium, Chace Center, RISD Museum

Make or Break: On Artistic Epiphany

Glenn Adamson

It’s one of the oldest stereotypes about art: the flash of insight, the “Eureka” moment, when everything comes together for an artist and the work leaps into new territory. What actually happens in these moments? And what had to happen first, before they arrive? In this talk, Glenn Adamson will journey into the studio and the life of artists, to explore the nature of creative revelation. He will concentrate particularly on two figures from his current and recent research: the ceramic sculptor Peter Voulkos and the fiber artist Lenore Tawney. Though working on opposite coasts and in different media, they had simultaneous breakthroughs in the late 1950s which reshaped not only their own careers but their entire disciplines. Through close examination of these two case studies, Adamson will offer a model of what goes into such decisive imaginative leaps.

Glenn Adamson is a curator and historian based in Brooklyn. He is the author of The Craft ReaderThinking Through Craft, and The Invention of Craft.

This event is co-sponsored by the Ceramics Department.