Reciprocal Impact? The Renaissance in Modern and Contemporary Art #1

9 December 2021, 10:00:00 pm

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Session Convenors

Robert Brennan, University of Sydney
Andrew Leach, University of Sydney

Session Moderators

Andrew Leach, University of Sydney

Session Speakers

Katie Anania, University of Nebraska
Michael Hill, National Art School, Sydney
Robert Brennan, University of Sydney

This series of three panels explores the relationship between Renaissance, modern, and contemporary art. What uses have modern and contemporary artists made of the Renaissance, and how has Renaissance scholarship responded to developments in the art of its own time? The urgency of these questions lies in the central position that the Renaissance has played in traditional European narratives of modernity. To what extent have artistic encounters with the Renaissance been shaped by competing visions of modernity itself – capitalist, fascist, communist, colonial, indigenous, or otherwise? How have artists confronted the geographical, racial, and gendered exclusions on which standard narratives of the Renaissance have often been based? How might the work of these artists help scholars rewrite the history of early modernity today? How, in turn, might alternative understandings of early modern history help to reorient the art of recent times?

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PAPER #1
From "The Elegant Auctioneers" to "The Book of Eyes": Stephen Varble and Queer Renaissance Tastemaking

PRESENTER
Katie Anania, University of Nebraska

The gender-fluid performance artist and filmmaker Stephen Varble produced hundreds of drawings during his career in New York’s underground gay milieu, most of which were intended to be widely Xeroxed or thrown away. Many of these drawings survive only because they were featured in his experimental films of the 1970s and 80s. Early modern drawings were particularly animating for Varble’s films, providing inspiration for everything from costumes to montages. In his 1978 film 'Journey to the Sun', for instance, several characters pass hand-drawn color-Xeroxed illuminated manuscript drawings in front of the camera, accentuating the drawings’ scrolling qualities as well as their structural similarities to filmic images. This paper investigates Varble’s striking visual lexicon alongside the art histories building in his social circle, mapping the ways that Varble’s performances fused gay underground culture with queer-authored histories of Renaissance art. Varble lived a short train ride away from New York’s major collections of artworks from both the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and more importantly, socialized with gay male curators and cultural figures who narrated and contributed to such collections. I argue that Varble’s stylistic vocabulary invites a new understanding of structure based on futurity and decay rather than permanence and value.

PAPER #2
A Vessel to be Filled: Caravaggio’s "Conversion of St Paul"

PRESENTER
Michael Hill, National Art School, Sydney

Caravaggio’s 'Conversion of St Paul' in Santa Maria del Popolo is so different from other versions of the story that one wonders if there could be source material beyond St Luke’s Acts (9 and 22). In fact, Baronio’s 'Martyrologium romanum' refers to the sermons of Augustine, one of which elaborates on Luke’s description of Paul as a vessel. Augustine said, “A vessel is meant to be filled. What with, but Grace?”. The image of Paul as cup was fertile beginning, since it could presuppose a larger sense, derived again from Augustine, that the self dissolves as it converts, becoming a new creation. This was how Paul himself described his calling – initiated in his mother’s womb - allowing the event to mutate into the image of the Nativity, where the converted Paul is akin to the infant Christ, with limbs outstretched like a star. Caravaggio’s 'Paul' thus beckons to another painting in the same Augustinian church, namely Pinturicchio’s 'Adoration of the Shepherds'. Drawing on Paula Frederickson’s study of the performative nature of conversion, coupled with the “limitless intimacy” of queer theology, the paper offers a new reading of Caravaggio’s masterwork.

PAPER #3
Renaissance Quotations: Kent Monkman, the US Capitol, and January 6

PRESENTER
Robert Brennan, University of Sydney

This paper explores the place of the Italian Renaissance in the North American political imagination, drawing a comparison between the "Columbus Doors" of the US Capitol Rotunda, completed by Randolph Rogers in 1863, and mistikôsiwak (Wooden Boat People), a pair of large-scale history paintings unveiled by the Cree artist, Kent Monkman, at New York's Metropolitan Museum in 2020. Both of these works quote the Renaissance to depict the early phases of European colonialism in the Americas: the Columbus Doors are directly modelled on the "Gates of Paradise" by the Renaissance sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti, while at the center of Monkman's paintings lie prominent quotations from a painting by Titian, Venus and Adonis (c. 1550s). Both works also relate to a recent crossroads in US history: the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. The Columbus Doors were violently breeched on that day, while Monkman's work was still on view at the Met, with its prominent depiction of armed white nationalists. By comparing these works, the essay aims not only to shed light on two disparate positions of art in contemporary politics, but also the stakes and possibilities of narrating the history of the Renaissance in our own time.

Biographies

Katie Anania, University of Nebraska

Katie Anania is an assistant professor of modern and contemporary art history at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She writes about histories of graphic communication, particularly drawing, and the ways that linear and graphic expression have engaged throughout modernity with anxieties about the body’s place in the world generally. She is currently working on two book projects: one examining the shifting position of drawing in American studio practice in the long 1960s, and the other on hunger and depletion in 1970s queer and feminist art.


Robert Brennan, University of Sydney

Robert Brennan is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Art History at the University of Sydney. He received a PhD in art history in 2016 from New York University's Institute of Fine Arts, and subsequently held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz. His first book, titled Painting as a Modern Art in Early Renaissance Italy, was published by Harvey Miller in 2019. His current book project looks at sixteenth-century Italian art, exploring how transcultural exchanges of artifacts, words, and concepts restructured Italian notions of "art" itself in this period.


Michael Hill, National Art School, Sydney

Michael Hill is Head of Art History at the National Art School, where he has lectured for over twenty years. His research has roamed over diverse areas, including classical architectural theory, the Italian Baroque, modernist art criticism, and Australian sculpture.


Andrew Leach, University of Sydney

Andrew Leach is Professor of Architecture at the University of Sydney. Among his books are What is Architectural History?, Rome (both Polity), Manfredo Tafuri (A&S books) and Crisis on Crisis (Standpunkte). He is editor-in-chief of Architectural Theory Review.