Relationality in American Art

Whether in current critical discourse or recognized retrospectively, relationality has been central to the study of twentieth-century art. Art history is, after all, predicated on the study of relations between bodies, artworks and forms, and their contexts or communities. Moving beyond the simple situatedness of an artwork faced by a viewer, this conference foregrounds the concept of relationality as a means through which we might learn to encounter difference. Relationality is a key tenet of phenomenology, or the study of the structures of consciousness, and in this context it has returned every thirty years or so since its emergence in the first half of the twentieth century in the theorization of feminism, race, film, body art and most recently queer and trans studies to help scholars conceptualize the contours of subjectivity as non-oppositional and fluid. Addressing art of the Americas in the long twentieth century, this conference asks how relationality as an analytic might undo binaries and critique the persistence of a universalized maker and viewer within art history. The conference looks to modes of relation emergent within phenomenology in artistic discourse of the 1950s and 1960s and seeks especially to explore those conceived through historical and theoretical models in other periods. Presentations from artists and scholars will attend to relational models of form; the role of artworks in demonstrating conversational modes of knowing; the artwork’s potential to engender community or make space for difference; creative acts of co-emergence in making or viewing; and strategies of reading that focus on relationships that artworks and artists produce with audiences.

Organised by Dr Elizabeth Buhe, The Courtauld and Centre for American Art 

This event has passed.

24 Jun - 25 Jun 2021

Thursday 24th June 4:30pm BST, Friday 25th June 4.30pm BST

Free, booking essential


Registration closes 30 minutes before the event start time. If you do not receive log in details on the day of the event, please contact 


Day One: Thursday June 24 (4:30pm BST / 11:30am ET / 8:30am PT)  

4.30pm: Introduction
David Peters Corbett and Elizabeth Buhe

4.45pm: Panel 1 – Intersubjectivity and the Politics of Viewing
Moderator: Carole Bourne-Taylor, Fellow and Tutor in French at Brasenose College, Oxford

Louise Siddons, Fulbright Fellow, Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library; Associate Professor, Oklahoma State University
“Intimate Relations: Touch and Gaze Across Media in the Collaborative Portraits of Laura Gilpin and Brenda Putnam”

Helen Fielding, Professor, Department of Philosophy/Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, University of Western Ontario
“Joan Mitchell: Cultivating our Perceptual Nature”

stefan torralba, PhD Candidate, Department of English, University of California, Riverside
“Dirty Looks: Kelvin Burzon’s and Xandra Ibarra’s Relational Performances of the Rorschach”

Moderated Q&A 

5.45pm: Break 

5.55pm: Panel 2 – Reorientations Toward the Landscape
Moderator: Iggy Cortez, Mellon Assistant Professor, Department of Cinema and Media Arts, Vanderbilt University

Ramey Mize, University of Pennsylvania, PhD Candidate, History of Art; Douglass Foundation Fellow in American Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art
“Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ: Relations between Buffalo, People, and Place in Plains Painting”

Kate Keohane, Associate Lecturer, History of Art, University of St Andrews
“Poetics of Relation: Édouard Glissant and Wifredo Lam’s Livres des artistes

Siobhan Angus, Banting Postdoctoral Fellow in the History of Art, Yale University
“Embodiment, De/Industrialization, and Environmental Justice in LaToya Ruby Frazier’s On the Making of Steel Genesis: Sandra Gould Ford

Moderated Q&A 

6.55pm: Break 

7.00pm: Keynote Lecture
Moderator: Aliza Shvarts, Faculty, MA Contemporary Art, Sotheby’s Institute of Art

Caitlin Cherry, Assistant Professor of Painting and Printmaking, Virginia Commonwealth University
“Painting OS (operating system): Self-Touching the Other”

8.00pm: End of Day One 


Day Two: Friday June 25 (4:30pm BST / 11:30am ET / 8:30am PT)  

4.30pm: Introduction
Elizabeth Buhe

4.35pm: Panel 3 – Agency, Subjectivity, and the Relations of Collective Experience
Moderator: Sampada Aranke, Assistant Professor, Art History, Theory and Criticism, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Rachel Stratton, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Paul Mellon Centre, London
“Relationality in Viktor Lowenfeld’s ‘Social Haptics’”

Kristen Carter, Assistant Professor, Department of Art History, Florida Southern College
“Re-Thinking and Re-Grouping: On the Politics of Phenomenology and Touch in Late 1960s America”

Kimberly Bain, John Holmes Assistant Professor in the Humanities, Department of English, Tufts University
“Black Unrest”

Moderated Q&A 

5.35pm: Break 

5.45pm: Keynote Lecture
Moderator: Aliza Shvarts, Faculty, MA Contemporary Art, Sotheby’s Institute of Art

Jennifer Doyle, Professor, Department of English, University of California, Riverside
“Marxism for Artists: Life in the Iron Mills/Death of the Artist”

For several months last year, Jennifer Doyle led a reading group with this talk’s title. This reading group was intended to create a space for artists and art workers to read and discuss Marx together, and to do that through a shared primary text — “Life in the Iron Mills,” an 1861 short story centered on an iron worker with the soul of an artist. People are encouraged to read this story in advance. This is not essential, however, for enjoying this lecture. Below are three different ways to access Davis’s story, including an annotated google doc produced by participants in “Marxism for Artists.”
Marxism for Artists document: Life in the Iron Mills as an annotated google doc / Rebecca Harding Davis, “Life in the Iron Mills” gutenberg etext / Free audiobook via Librivox: “Life in the Iron Mills” read by Elizabeth Klett

6.45pm: Concluding Remarks 
Elizabeth Buhe


Abstracts for the speakers’ papers can be downloaded here. 

Black and white drawing of four people looking through a glass window at a large, unhappy fish
Mabel Dwight, Queer Fish, 1936, lithograph in black on wove paper. Printed by George C. Miller; published by American Artists Group, New York. Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1996.16
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