“Working Hot: Art Beyond Representation” (ARTH 4860/6860, VISSIT 4860/6860) was the third semester-long course offered at the Johnson Museum as part of a Museum initiative supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Fall 2014 seminar, a collaboration with the Department of the History of Art and Visual Studies, was cotaught by Kaja McGowan, associate professor of the history of art and visual studies and director of Cornell’s Southeast Asia Program, and Cathy Rosa Klimaszewski, associate director and Harriet Ames Charitable Trust Curator of Education at the Johnson Museum.

The seminar integrated art-making experiences into a class that rigorously examined works in the Museum’s collection through close study and experience of objects, critical analysis, and theory. Special emphasis was placed on the connections between materiality, meaning, and art and the performative act of creation in different cultures at different historical moments. A materially oriented account of creative practice questioned representational theories of art and the contemporary preoccupation with the understanding of art as a sign system.

Class discussions and critical readings were enriched by guest scholars, artists, and colleagues from campus. James Elkins, the E. C. Chadbourne Chair of Art History, Theory & Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, led a discussion with students on European and American paintings in the Museum’s galleries, followed by a lecture, “Can Paintings Think?,” open to the campus and community. Nigerian artist El Anatsui met with the seminar for an in-depth conversation about his artistic practice, focusing on converting found materials into artworks that lie between sculpture and painting. His two-day visit featured a public talk with Chika Okeke-Aguglu, associate professor, department of art and archaeology, Princeton University. Among other guest speakers were artist and biologist Brandon Ballangée, professor at the School of Visual Arts, New York, and Taiwanese performance artist and activist Victor Huang.

For the course capstone project, students selected and studied a work of art on view, resulting in a paper and a creative response to the piece in the form of visual artwork, a poem, story, sound composition, and interactive temporary installation.

Fall 2014 Working Hot seminar students
Jared Curtis, architecture
Alexandra Dalferro, anthropology
Lara Fresko, history of art
Anissa Rahadiningtyas, history of art
Katya Savelieva, fine arts and history of art
Yuanyuan Tang, history of art and Asian studies
Connie Wong, fine arts