Department of Art and Art History News

Q+A with alumna Sarah Conell, as she prepares for a fully funded PhD program in Art History

Thu. June 25, 2015

woman with curly hair and glasses poses for portrait

Sarah Conell (BA in Art History, 2013) grew up in Seguin, Texas before attending UT Austin. She is from a family of teachers and has completed two years of Teach For America. In August, she will begin a fully funded PhD program in Art History at the University of Pittsburgh. Conell answered a few questions by email.

Where did you grow up and how did you arrive at UT Austin?

Sarah Conell: I grew up in Seguin, Texas. I began my college career concentrating in Studio Art at San Antonio College, where I earned my Associates of Arts. Here I had the great fortune of taking an art history course with Dr. Debra Schafter (MA/PhD in Art History, 1989/1997). Through this experience, I was encouraged to pursue art history at The University of Texas at Austin.

My parents both attended the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio and were delighted when I was accepted at UT Austin. To announce this wonderful news, I purchased a variety of Longhorn “swag.” I presented these gifts to my parents and waited for their reaction. Confusion quickly turned into joy.

Why did you decide to study Art History?

SC: Though my early experiences with art history were numerous and inspiring, the decision to pursue Art History as a major was prompted by a course taken with Dr.  Schafter at San Antonio College. This survey course became my favorite, and I looked forward to completing the assignments. During this time, I was afforded the opportunity to intern with the Education Department at the McNay Art Museum, which cemented my decision to change from creating art to studying the history of art.

For the past two years you have been doing Teach For America. What has been the most rewarding aspects of participating and how did your Art History degree help you?

SC: Over the past two years, Teach For America has been intensely educational for me. Art History has informed the thought process I use to address issues in the classroom, as well as the issues the organization hopes to address in the wider educational system. Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of being a teacher has been seeing students change their opinions of themselves. This has been the result of achieving academically, learning how to empathize with their peers, or feeling part of a group when they had previously felt like an outsider.

You studied abroad through the Learning Tuscany program. How did that lead you to your Undergraduate Art History Honors thesis topic and eventually your area of interest?

My experience during the Learning Tuscany program was the impetus for shifting my concentration in art history from Nazi propaganda posters to gothic art and architecture. I first learned about Santa Maria della Spina as part of a project on Pisa that I completed for one of Dr. Ann John’s courses. This small church, built in the 14th century, received a Passion relic from Christ’s Crown of Thorns. The implications of the church’s location, design, and relic led me to continue reading about relics from this time period, as well as the chapels, reliquaries, and churches that housed them.

In your spare time, you've been reading books that inform your future graduate research area. What books were you reading?

Over the past two years I have read books and articles by Caroline Bynum, Jacqueline Jung, Mitchell Merback, Beate Fricke, and Cynthia Hahn. Two of my favorite readings were: Dr. Mitchell Merback’s book Pilgrimage and Pogrom: Violence, Memory, and Visual Culture at the Host-Miracle Shrines of Germany and Austria and Dr. Jacqueline Jung’s article “The Tactile and the Visionary: Notes on the Place of Sculpture in the Medieval Religious Imagination.”

Michael Smith presents Excuse me!?!...I’m looking for the “Fountain of Youth,” a solo exhibition at Greene Naftali Gallery

Thu. June 25, 2015

man sits in front of monument alone while sun sets
Michael Smith, Fountain of Youth State Park, Journey No. 1 (Obelisk), 2015. Photo by: Michael Kirby Smith.

Michael Smith presents Excuse me!?!...I’m looking for the “Fountain of Youth,” a solo exhibition at Greene Naftali Gallery in New York. In a new project centered on a timeworn theme, Smith’s iconic performance personae Mike and Baby Ikki embark together on the quest for youth, chronicled in a hand-woven tapestry, six-channel video installation, sculpture, photo series, drawings, and a ballet choreographed by Stephen Mills of Ballet Austin with music by Mayo Thompson. The exhibition will be on view June 25 – August 14, 2015.

From the Death of Pachyderm to The Internet of Things: A profile of alumnus Alex Freeman

Thu. June 25, 2015

photograph of man wearing brown jacket in front of structure

“I studied at UT Austin at a very interesting time,” said Alex Freeman (MA in Art Education, 2009). “I saw the rapid advancement of certain mobile and social technologies.”

Originally trained as a painter, Freeman worked as a framer and then as a gallery assistant in Houston before entering the Art Education graduate program.

“After a bit of soul searching, I realized that my favorite part of the position at the gallery was talking to people about the art,” described Freeman.

His thesis focused on the historical importance of art critic Charles Caffin (1854–1918). Freeman explains, “it was the technology and the communication channels Caffin used that were of most interest to me—an idea that still plays out today with artwork via websites, blogs, and social media.”

While a graduate student, Freeman used Pachyderm, a microsite builder which used Flash, to create sites for the collections at Mexic-Arte Museum and The New York Graphic Workshop: 1964–1970 exhibition at the Blanton Museum of Art.

“I thought I had found my marketable niche as a Flash-based museum interpretive designer,” remarked Freeman. “Then the iPhone came out and smashed my dreams because Flash was all but dead when that happened.”

During his time creating Pachyderms and obtaining grants for digital projects, Freeman worked with Rachel Varon (BA in Art History/MA in Art Education, 2002/2007), who worked for the New Media Consortium (NMC). The connection would later result in Freeman’s recruitment into a position with the NMC.

“My work at Mexic-Arte and the Blanton provided me with the opportunity to experiment on digital projects that directly connected my coursework with actual museum practice,” said Freeman. “I don’t think I would have been into creating digital interpretives or using social media as much, had I not had an avenue to see how it worked in the real world.”

With Pachyderm out the door, Freeman was forced to apply his interests and knowledge in a different way to his work at NMC.

“Writing, lecturing, and creating digital assets—skills I gained in grad school—are key to the work that I do now at the NMC on the Horizon Project,” said Freeman. “The NMC Horizon Report > 2015 Museum Edition is a longitudinal study on the trends, challenges, and technology poised to impact teaching and learning over the next year to five years. It has generated a lot of buzz within museums circles.”

Freeman’s NMC report was released at the Smith Symposium at Balboa Park and again at the American Alliance of Museums annual meeting. In addition to releasing the report, Freeman was recently awarded an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian grant to pursue an online continuing professional development course for librarians and was also awarded a national leadership grant valued at $500,000 for a similar project for museums.

Later, Freeman was invited to present the NMC report to the IMLS board of directors. While in Washington D.C. for the IMLS presentation, Freeman was invited to attend an award ceremony at the White House, where Michelle Obama was in attendance.

“She [Mrs. Obama] said we could take the cocktail napkins but needed to leave the silverware,” laughed Freeman.

Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler present Sound Speed Marker

Fri. June 19, 2015

Two people in gallery space watching three panel film
Installation image courtesy of Ballroom Marfa

Teresa Hubbard, professor of photography, and Alexander Birchler present Sound Speed Marker at the Blaffer Art Museum. The exhibition will be on view May 29 – September 5, 2015. The exhibition was reviewed in Arts+Culture.

Hubbard / Birchler discussed the exhibition as part of an interview in BOMB Magazine. The exhibition was reviewed in Art Forum, Art in America, Houston Chronicle (paywall), and Daily Serving. Hubbard / Birchler speak with Tyler Green for an interview on Modern Art Notes Podcast.

Sound Speed Marker was previously on view at:

Ballroom Marfa: February 14 – October 26, 2014

Irish Museum of Modern Art: November 28, 2014 – May 3, 2015

 

Joel Weber's tiny house featured on Huffington Post

Thu. June 18, 2015

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white overlapping hexagonal and cube shapes on green background

Joel Weber (BFA candidate in Design) and his tiny house construction project has been featured on the Huffington Post.