Professor Emeritus, Art History
School of Humanities
Fax: (949) 824-2464
University of California, Irvine
2000 Humanities Gateway
Irvine, CA 92697
American art and literature, American and European avant-garde, art and technology
Wishing to avoid reputable employment, I sidestepped the usual history/literature combination for interdisciplinary study in literature and art history in graduate school at Brown University. With a wistful eye on Marcel Duchamp, I set about inventing an American Dada, which materialized in Skyscraper Primitives: Dada and the American Avant-Garde, 1910-1925 (Wesleyan, 1975). The subject has become a minor academic industry.
As a way of maintaining some semblence of sanity in graduate school, Ann Tashjian and I with our dog Stieglitz went around New England rubbing gravestones. This morbid act resulted in Memorials for Children of Change: The Art of Early New England Stonecarving (Wesleyan, 1974), a revisionist study of New England arts. The book was nominated for a Pulitzer.
I thought that a study of American Surrealism would be a snap after Skyscraper Primitives. So did the NEH and the Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, which awarded me fellowships in 1976 and 1980. Work was interrupted by another NEH grant to conduct a humanistic study of the Whitney Museum's American collection. An exhibition and a book followed: William Carlos Williams and the American Scene, 1920-1940 (Whitney Museum and University of California Press, 1979). This was the first full-length study of the poet and his interest in the visual arts.
Later, before I could revive the Surrealism project, I was asked to collaborate on The Machine-Age in America, 1918-1941 (Abrams, 1986), with Richard Wilson, an architectural historian at the University of Virginia, and Dianne Pilgrim, then director of the Cooper-Hewitt in New York. I wrote, among other things, the chapter on painting, sculpture, and photography, and served as curatorial consultant for the accompanying exhibition that traveled to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art after opening at the Brooklyn Museum in 1986.
Despite these unseemly procrastinations, I completed A Boatload of Madmen: Surrealism and The American Avant-Garde, 1920-1950 for Thames and Hudson in 1995. Most recently, I completed a catalogue essay on Man Ray in Hollywood for an exhibition opening on 21 September 1996 at Track Sixteen and the Robert Berman Gallery in Santa Monica. I am currently engaged in a grandiose project on the Second World War. The whole shooting match: cultural production in the United States from 1939 to 1945.
Some twenty-seven years ago, I managed to find disreputable employment in the Program in Comparative Culture at the University of California, Irvine. Here, Dada and the Surreal blend daily, for I am now a member of the Department of Art History and currently its chair, pending a palace coup at the end of spring quarter 2001. Then I will be in exile for the academic year 2001-2002, teaching in the University of California Washington, D.C. program for undergraduates.
Since then I have retired and moved to Berkeley, no less Surreal or Dada. I can be found in the local telephone book should anyone wish to track me down