Blurbs by Tom Huhn for two recently published books on photography and painting

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A few weeks ago, VCS Department Chair Tom Huhn told me that a couple new academic press art books were about to be released with dust jacket blurbs quoted from advance reviews he’d written for the publishers. Last week he showed me his copies of the books, so I scanned the covers and Tom’s comments and thought I’d share them here.

First up is Photography and Its Violations by John Roberts. Here’s the book’s description on the Columbia University Press website, followed by my scan of Tom’s blurb. (You can also find an interview about the book with author John Roberts here.)

Theorists critique photography for “objectifying” its subjects and manipulating appearances for the sake of art. In this bold counterargument, John Roberts recasts photography’s violating powers of disclosure and aesthetic technique as part of a complex “social ontology” that exposes the hierarchies, divisions, and exclusions behind appearances.

The photographer must “arrive unannounced” and “get in the way of the world,” Roberts argues, committing photography to the truth-claims of the spectator over the self-interests and sensitivities of the subject. Yet even though the violating capacity of the photograph results from external power relations, the photographer is still faced with an ethical choice: whether to advance photography’s truth-claims on the basis of these powers or to diminish or veil these powers to protect the integrity of the subject. Photography’s acts of intrusion and destabilization, then, constantly test the photographer at the point of production, in the darkroom, and at the computer, especially in our 24-hour digital image culture. In this game-changing work, Roberts refunctions photography’s place in the world, politically and theoretically restoring its reputation as a truth-producing medium.



The second book is My Father’s House: On Will Barnet’s Paintings by Thomas Dumm, which is described as follows on the Duke University Press website:

In My Father’s House, the political philosopher Thomas Dumm explores a series of stark and melancholy paintings by the American artist Will Barnet. Responding to the physical and mental decline of his sister Eva, who lived alone in the family home in Beverly, Massachusetts, Barnet began work in 1990 on what became a series of nine paintings depicting Eva and other family members, as they once were and as they figured in the artist’s memory. Rendered in Barnet’s signature quiet, abstract style, the paintings, each featured in full color, present the ordinary and extraordinary aspects of a twentieth-century American family.

Dumm first became acquainted with Barnet and his paintings in 2008. Given his scholarly focus on the lives of ordinary people, he was immediately attracted to the artist’s work. When they met, Dumm and Barnet began a friendship and dialogue that lasted until the painter’s death in 2012, at the age of 101. This book reflects the many discussions the two had concerning the series of paintings, Barnet’s family, his early life in Beverly, and his eighty-year career as a prominent New York artist. Reading the almost gothic paintings in conversation with the writers and thinkers key to both his and Barnet’s thinking—Emerson, Spinoza, Dickinson, Benjamin, Cavell, Nietzsche, Melville—Dumm’s haunting meditations evoke broader reflections on family, mortality, the uncanny, and the loss that comes with remembrance.

(A shorter piece by Dumm on the same topic is available at this link, and you can see images of Barnet’s paintings in this exhibition catalog.)


Opening today: Lucid Visions at Panepinto Galleries in Jersey City, with work by Kara Rooney

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Tomorrow night (Friday, October 17th), Panepinto Galleries in Jersey City will host the opening reception for the group exhibition Lucid Visions, which includes work by VCS faculty member Kara Rooney. Here’s more about the exhibition from the gallery’s website, including schedule information and a description of the show:

October 16 – November 24, 2014

Opening Reception: October 16th, 6-9pm

Often when one is asleep, there is something in consciousness which declares that what then presents itself is but a dream.  – Aristotle, “On Dreams”

The territory between wakefulness and the dream-state is one widely traversed by artists.  Curators Diana CorvelleCara DeAngelis and Tun Myaing have collected the works of twenty-three New York Academy of Art alumni whose works challenge, unhinge and altogether shift perception of what should be called a “real” experience.

Lucid dreaming, a phenomenon in which an individual is aware of their own dream state enough to attempt control within it, is a cannily apt comparison to the creation of art.  Possessing the ability to give form to fleeting memories and semi-lucid moments, these artists call into question the very perception of reality at will and offer up alternatives of their own.

Bringing together local and international artists based in Brooklyn, Jersey City, and Manhattan these selected works speak to the endless possible deviations from reality as envisioned by an unfettered mind. The playfulness and confidence of these works show how completely at home the artists are in their alternate reality.

(For more about Kara’s most recent projects, scroll down to the end of this post.)



In a recent e-mail announcement, Kara mentioned several other exhibitions and projects she’s involved with right now:

IN-SITE: The Intersection of Art and Architecture
Meadowland Park, South Orange, NJ
September 21 – October 19, 2014 // Opening Reception, Sept. 21, 3-6pm

The Search: Kara Rooney, Re McBride, MaDora Frey
Trestle Gallery, Gowanus, Brooklyn
October 13 – 31, 2014
Opening weekend in conjunction with the Gowanus Open Studios, Oct. 18-19, 12-6pm

The 2014 NurtureArt Benefit, November 4-5, 2014 @ The Boiler

Recent Writing, Editorial projects and Press Coverage:

•  Gender Games and the Art Machine, The Brooklyn Rail, September 2014
•  Younger Americans at Driscoll Babcock Gallery, ArtSlant, August 2014


This Monday evening at 6:30 pm: “Galia Solomonoff: Why Art and Architecture Today”

This Monday evening (October 13th) at 6:30 pm, the Visual & Critical Studies Program will present the lecture “Why Art and Architecture Today” by Galia Solomonoff, founder and creative director of Solomonoff Architecture Studio. The lecture will take place in room 101C at 131 West 21st Street in New York City, and is free and open to the public. The following SVA event poster provides more information (click here for a larger version).


Opening October 10: Feels Like Telepathy by Jennifer Paige Cohen at Nicelle Beauchene Gallery


Tomorrow evening (October 10) from 6 to 8 pm, Nicelle Beauchene Gallery will host the opening reception for the exhibition Feels Like Telepathy by VCS faculty member Jennifer Paige Cohen. The show’s press release [PDF] presents the following overview:

Deftly playing between the territories of the figurative and the abstract, Cohen’s sculptures draw attention to the constructions and productions of gesture. The artist casts plaster and found clothing over isolated parts of her own body and those of close friends. The impression of a single shoulder, a knee, or an elbow – enlivened by the colors, textures and patterns of oddball sweaters, trousers, and blouses – materializes both the presence and absence of an otherwise unidentified sitter. These unexpectedly heartbreaking works – strong, sensual – unhinge the distinctions between interior and exterior, and point to the complex dynamics that always entwine physical and psychological states.

Cohen’s sculptures also reflect her ongoing interrogations regarding the body’s shared systems of intuition, understanding and the power of the hand to heal and transform matter. What are the physical means of empathic transference? How does the haptic energetically connect bodies to one another, as well as to sculpture? Recurring allusions to armor and clothing suggest the barriers placed between a body and the world, whether for protection or seduction – yet these barriers are far from impenetrable.

You can see some of Cohen’s recent works at this page on the Nicelle Beauchene Gallery site.

Feels Like Telepathy will run from October 10 through November 9, 2014. Nicelle Beauchene Gallery is located at 327 Broome Street between Bowery & Chrystie in New York City. The gallery is open Wednesday through Sunday from 1 am to 6 pm or by appointment, and can be reached by e-mail at, or by phone at 212-375-8043.

Presenting the VCS Chair Reading for October 2014

The New Yorker, September 15, 2014Adorno and Benjamin, debating art in the technological age, sustained one of the twentieth century’s richest intellectual conversations. Credit: Illustration by Patrick Bremer / Left: Ullstein Bild / AKG; Right: Imagno / AKG

Here’s a message from VCS Department Chair Tom Huhn about this month’s VCS Chair Reading:

I’m very happy to recommend this Alex Ross New Yorker piece on Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno.  It’s informative and I think mostly fair.  For those of you who are more or less new to these two thinkers, I recommend this article as a good introduction to the two of them by way of a consideration regarding their views on the nature of popular culture.  I look forward to learning what you think of the article.