Graduate Seminars

Spring 2016

AHIS 515: Seminar in Contemporary Art
Pauwel Leszkowicz
Thursday 2:00 – 4:50 pm
ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, room 210

This course takes a comparative and transnational approach to queer art  and rights in Europe and the United States. It explores the erotics and politics of queer art through the work of individual artists and themed exhibitions, as well as the imagery of political activism. Representative national case studies from Eastern and Western Europe will be related to the history of the modern queer art movement in the US, particularly on the West Coast.  The course combines the modern European histories of sexuality and art, concentrating on questions of freedom of expression, the representation of desire and love, censorship and repression, and the intersection of visual culture and the politics of emancipation. This European story will be related to similar developments in 20th and 21st century queer American culture. The historical focus will be on visual culture and politics since the 60s, paying particular attention to the contemporary situation.

Given that the situation of queer rights in Europe is so complex and diverse, the selected case studies will familiarize students with the main queer developments and conflicts. A section of the course will be devoted to the history of sexuality and artistic expression in Eastern Europe under Communism and during the period of transition. The specific case of Russia/the Soviet Union will be discussed with a special emphasis on the current increase in homophobia in the political sphere. The European Union’s legal provisions with respect to LGBTQ rights will also be examined in order to understand the way in which LGBTQ identities, debates and artistic expressions are allowed to thrive in the 21st-century European Union.

A comparative study of Eastern Europe and the United States is especially pertinent, as LGBTQ rights are part of the culture wars for both. There are parallels in art censorship, the political struggle and legal debates. The American section of the course will be based in part on the materials in the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries, with a focus on the West Coast. Students will be encouraged to delve into the rich documentary and artistic holdings there and elsewhere in Los Angeles and to combine archival research with academic reading. The course will include meetings with artists and activists and visits to art galleries and museums, in this way connecting comparative historical studies of artistic, legal and political queer cultures with in situ research and interviews. Students will therefore be encouraged to conduct interdisciplinary research -– studying art history and the legal and political history of sexuality and LGBTQ rights in Europe and America – and to learn the practical skills of archival research. The course will situate the modern and contemporary history of queer art and activism in California within the international movement.

Students interested in queer topics outside the European and North American visual traditions can address these through their individual comparative research projects. The interdisciplinary nature of the course makes it open and relevant to graduate students from such disciplines as art history, curatorial studies, gender studies, visual studies, European studies, Slavic studies and American studies. 


AHIS 520
Seminar in Contemporary Art (12074D)
Megan Luke
Tuesday 2:00 pm — 4:50 pm
VKC 379

Working closely with collections at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Getty Museum and Research Institute, this course examines the art, architecture, photography, graphic design, and filmmaking made in Germany from 1918 to 1933.

We shall chart radical changes to visual form across a wide range of media during a period of intense social upheaval — thwarted revolution, catastrophic hyperinflation, rapid urban expansion, chronic unemployment, a massive housing crisis, and political extremism.

Our goal will be to articulate the role of Weimar visual culture within major narratives of modernism and its importance for their critical revision today. How do the images and objects of the Weimar Republic confound criteria predicated on the autonomy of art and the (democratic) subject, medium specificity, or the imperative to represent social history?

Discussions will focus on the intersections of Expressionism and Dada and the transformation of these experimental modalities into Neue Gestaltung, Neues Sehen, and Neue Sachlichkeit. We will examine how socialist utopias gave way to a generalized preoccupation with the “new,” and the pervasive enthusiasm for internationalism and intermediality.

Topics of focus will include: Amerikanismus between the Dawes Plan and Black Tuesday; the New Woman, submissive men, and the salaried masses; cults of the body and consumption; artistic networks, propaganda, and the press; spiritualism and standardization; and the popularity of new media and formats, from the cinema and the photo-essay to Lichtreklame (electric advertising) and tubular steel furniture.

Readings will be drawn from three general categories: (1) primary literary sources; (2) critical theory; and (3) art and design histories from the 1950s to the present. Students are asked to familiarize themselves with the history of the Republic prior to our first meeting in the following books:

Detlev Peukert, The Weimar Republic: The Crisis of Classical Modernity (New York: Hill and Wang, 1993).
Anton Kaes, Martin Jay, and Edward Dimendberg, eds., The Weimar Republic Sourcebook (Berkeley: UC Press, 1995).
Eric D. Weitz, Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2013).


MDA 599
At the Edge of humor (42293R)
Jennifer Greenhill
Wednesday 2:00 pm — 4:50 pm
VKC 161

“Humor” has fascinated and perplexed theorists for centuries. Elastic and ephemeral, it evades analysis that would pin it down. Indeed, the operations and effects of humor’s various modalities can be especially difficult to parse in the realm of visual imagery. Where do “satire” and “parody” part ways, for example? Does “wit” thrive in textual formats but wither in imagery? Is “irony” headier than “slapstick”? How useful are these categories (and is “humor” an adequate umbrella concept under which they might be organized)? We will explore these questions by addressing both historical and contemporary examples, consulting both canonical texts and new research in the field. Our goal will be to develop methods for assessing the nuances of this work and to become sharper critics of “humorous” expression and the scholarship devoted to it. An international group of guest speakers structures the seminar, giving students the chance to interact with scholars and practitioners approaching the topic from a range of disciplinary perspectives.

*The classes and times listed are subject to change.