Welcome to Learning from Things

a conversation with Prof. David Jaffee....

posted on 24 Oct 2013 17:44 by Elena Pinto Simon

I recently had a chance to catch up with Professor David Jaffee, one of our Americanists here at the BGC. Prof. Jaffee has just returned from a leave of absence…..

EPS: David, welcome back from your leave. Tell us what you were working on at Harvard last year.

DJ: I was fortunate to have a fellowship at the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard. I was working on my project “Envisioning Nineteenth-Century New York: New York as Cultural Capital, 1840-1880” which is a study of five key urban manufacturers and entrepreneurs who brought a new visual culture of “seeing in the city” into being in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. in the context of their overall trade. New York was the site of production and distribution of this new domestic culture, with its formulaic vocabulary of upholstered parlor furniture, center tables piled high with photographic albums, stereocards, and illustrated periodicals, along with sculpture on pedestals and colorful prints on the walls, as well as its critical subject with well-known images of its urban landscape. Visually, the project will focus on genres such as the bird’s eye view, the “instantaneous” stereoviews of the urban street, and the illustrated periodical woodcut of city life along with the material forms that emerge from these new technologies and promised new visions of the spectacle of modern life.

The theme of the Warren Center for 2012-13 was Everyday Life: The Textures and Politics of the Ordinary, Persistent, and Repeated so our seminars and conversations focused on a host of interesting topics related to how to study and write about everyday life. Also, I had the chance to obtain further training in GIS (Geographic Information Systems) at the Harvard Center for Geographic Analysis. Increasingly, I am seeing this as a spatial project and thinking hard about what the best way to present this fascinating material might be to “readers.” I am exploring a multitude of ways to represent the work in print, exhibition (see below), and digital forms. So I am bringing back all this exciting work to the BGC for my courses on the material culture of New York and new media.


EPS: You just completed another enormously successful NEH Institute here this summer. Tell us a little about that.

DJ: We were so excited at the BGC to receive another grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to host a four week summer institute in July of 2013 for college teachers and other participants. Our theme was American Material Culture: Nineteenth-Century New York. Eighteen college teachers and others involved in undergraduate education joined us. Our goal was to bring this exciting field into wider use for teaching and research in the humanities. We were able ot bring a wonderful group of leading scholars and practitioners in this interdisciplinary field of study to join us as faculty; our weekly leaders included the BGC’s Catherine Whalen, Bernard Herman, Catherine Grier, and Joshua Brown to lead us each for a week on themes such as craft and industry, Space and Place, High and Low, and finally Visual Culture. Best of all, we could take advantage of visiting some of the wonderful collections in and around New York City for our hands-on work with artifacts, including trips to the Yale University Art Gallery, Lyndhurst, the Museum of Chinese in America, and the Merchant’s House Museum,. We also took full advantage of our amazing Digital Media Lab and its Director Kimon Keramidas to offer exposure to new digital tools for research and presentation of scholarly work. Many of our participants enjoyed their time in New York by staying in Bard Hall and all were thrilled with their time at the BGC.

EPS: You are also getting ready for a Focus Gallery exhibition on Nineteenth-Century New York. What can you tell us about that?

DJ: I am working with BGC students to design an exhibit for our Focus Gallery project that will open in the fall of 2014. The exhibit follows the general themes and materials in my Envisioning New York project but we are working together in the exhibit form to explain how New York City entered visual and material consciousness in the nineteenth century, how urban manufacturers and residents made sense of the city and its new spatial organization. We’ve been looking at engravings, lithographs, daguerreotypes, stereoviews, and woodcuts among other objects together in class and in local collections such as The New-York Historical Society. We have been considering what the themes of the exhibition should be, what materials should go into the exhibition, and how do we communicate our understanding of the visuality of nineteenth-century New York through the exhibition medium. We’ve decided to focus on to promote on Broadway, which stood at that emerging visual corpus as well as being the site of the commercial activity. There will also be digital interactives in the gallery along with a digital exhibit online. So there is lots of work to be done and we will be continuing our work together in the spring as we begin our meetings with the BGC Gallery staff.

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...DML Fall Salon

posted on 18 Sep 2013 20:28 by Elena Pinto Simon

Asst. Professor and DML Director Kimon Keramidas led us in another DML Salon afternoon on Tuesday afternoon. The session featured digital projects from classes, exhibition interactives, faculty projects and other student digital work.


Curator Ann Tartsinis walked us through the dynamic interactive about to be installed for her Focus Gallery exhibition, An American Style. Professor Catherine Whalen demonstrated the new Digital Archive of Craft, Art and Design that she and her students have been compiling, and which launches in a week, and three students in the past spring’s Hoentschel class of Deborah Krohn and Ulrich Leben — Hannah Kinney, Antonio Sanchez Gomez, and Kelsey Brow, each showed us the virtual exhibitions they prepared for the course.

Rounding up the salon, Danielle Charlap and Zahava Friedman-Stadler spoke about their projects for the Interface Design class. These sessions, once a semester, give the whole community a chance to review some of the really interesting work coming out of our Digital Lab, filtering into our classrooms and exhibits.

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...designing Georgian Britain

posted on 18 Sep 2013 20:16 by Elena Pinto Simon

Gallery Director Nina Stritzler-Levine and co-curators Susan Weber and Julius Bryant led a wonderful workshop on September 12th about the William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain installation currently underway in the Main Gallery at 18. The very busy gallery staff took time from their hectic schedule to spend an evening with students and faculty outlining some of the major issues that are posed when bringing an exhibition of this nature to the BGC.

The Kent exhibit opens later this week, and the gallery was humming with activities as we gathered on the second floor to hear V& A conservator Nigel Bamforth walk the students through some of the conservation issues the show contains. Co-Curator (and our founder and director) Susan Weber has been working on this topic for many years, and has been involved in an array of connoisseurial detective work as she researched and put the exhibit together with our V and A partners and colleagues.

Under Nigel Bamforth’s guidance, the students closely observed the condition of some of the objects about to go on display and discussed the kinds of conversations that would typically happen between a conservator and a curator, and what goes into determining which objects are safe to travel, and why.

With the help of the art handlers, Co-Curator Julius Bryant gave the students a first-hand lesson in determining not just authenticity of some of the pieces of furniture, but what kinds of interventions might have been made in early repair work, with fragile pieces, at what periods, and with what materials.

It was a wonderful lesson in the art and science of handling, conserving and curating the work of a major figure whose life’s achievements are being celebrated by this exhibition, the centerpiece of the BGC’s twentieth anniversary celebrations.

William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain, opens to the public on Friday, September 20th at the BGC Main Gallery (18 West 86th Street).

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...conservation conversations

posted on 17 Sep 2013 12:35 by Elena Pinto Simon

We officially launched the BGC autumn events series on September 10 with the inaugural event of the Conservation Conversations Seminar – a packed Lecture Hall heard David Bomford and Carlo Ginzburg speak. Bomford’s topic was Connoisseurship: The Rembrandt Paradigm, and Carlo Ginzburg spoke on Small Differences: Ekphrasis and Connoisseurship. The lively presentations were followed by a question and answer session with Dean Peter Miller as moderator. This new series, part of our new “Cultures of Conservation” initiative, is just beginning its second year with the support of a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. These evenings will feature a dialogue between a conservator and a professor, and will address the many issues surrounding the interface between issues of conservation and the academy.

David Bomford serves as Director of Conservation at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. He has been a consultant to the Director of the MMA, the Acting Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Assistant Restorer, Senior Restorer, and then Head, of the Registrar’s Office and Art Handling Department at the National Gallery, London. Bomford is the first conservator to ever hold the post of Slade Professor at Oxford. His talk focused on Rembrandt attributions, but stressed the new methodologies as one tool for the connoisseur.


Carol Ginzburg currently is Franklin D. Murphy Professor of Italian Renaissance Studies at UCLA. His area of expertise embraces the Italian Renaissance and Early Modern Europe as a whole. Renowned for his book, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller, he is widely published and the recipient of many awards and prizes including the Aby Warburg Prize for achievement in the Humanities and the Humboldt-Forschungs Prize. Most recently, he was awarded the Balzan Prize for the History of Europe, 1400-1700. Ginsburg’s talk centered on the relationship of words to images, and a discussion of the placement of ekphraseis (comments and description on a real or an imaginary artwork) within the context of connoisseurship.

A great night and a wonderful opening for our fall season!

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...representing the BGC

posted on 17 Sep 2013 11:47 by Elena Pinto Simon

BGC doctoral students were busy this past term and during the summer, presenting papers at conferences and representing the BGC.

Doctoral student Maude Bass-Krueger presented at two conferences: the 2013 Costume Society of America National Symposium, Las Vegas, and the Association of Dress Historians New Research Day, London. In Las Vegas, her paper was entitled Travestissement and historic dress revival in 19th-century France: Fancy dress at home. In London, Bass-Krueger presented Rehabilitating Jules Quicherat’s fashion historicism: the evolution of fashion history out of antiquarian studies in 19th-century France.

Meanwhile, in July, doctoral student Meredith Nelson Berry presented a paper on Reconstructing Context: Unexcavated Archaeological Objects in Early Medieval Art and Suggested Approaches at the conference “Negotiating Boundaries: Plural Fields of Art History” in Birmingham, England, at the University of Birmingham/Barber Institute of Fine Arts.

Also in July, first-year doctoral student Christine Griffiths presented two papers in Britain: one at the Costume Society Symposium on Accessories in Norwich, England, and another at the British Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies (BSECS) Postgraduate and Early Career Scholars' Conference at Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. In Norwich, her paper was entitled “Not Forgetting his Perfumed Gloves”: Accessorizing scent in 18th-Century England. In Newcastle upon Tyne, at a conference exploring the theme of “Play,” Griffiths presented Picked Flowers and Perfume Texts: Scenting the Eighteenth-Century Kitchen.


17th-Century glove and 18th-Century pocket.
(Photo by Christine Griffiths, from the collection of Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service)

In England as well, Beth McMahon gave paper on Henry VIII: Unlikely Valentine to the grad students session in the English Lit department at the University of Manchester.

Also at the University of Manchester, but at a different conference, Donna Bilak gave a paper at the 24th International Congress of History of Science, Technology and Medicine. Her paper was part of a symposium entitled "Reworking the History of Chemistry: Practice, Visualization and Exchange." Donna's paper was entitled The Allegorical Laboratory: Process and Technology in Michael Maier's Alchemical Emblem Book, Atalanta fugiens (1618).

And coming up soon in October, Hadley Jensen will be presenting at the Native American Art Studies Association (NAASA) conference in Denver. Her panel is entitled "It's Complicated: The On and Off Relationship Between Native and American Art," and the title of her paper is Shaped by the Camera: Benjamin Wittick and the Imaging of Craft in the American Southwest, 1878-1903.

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