| Art History

Robert Slifkin

(on sabbatical fall 2016 and fall 2017)

Associate Professor of Fine Arts

I am scholar of modern art with a specialization in the art and culture of the United States since 1945. My research aims to expand and complicate the conventional understanding of the history of modern art by considering the ways in which works of art operate within complex cultural networks that inform aspects of aesthetic production and reception. For me the larger stakes of such a project entail not simply providing a more nuanced and historically-specific understanding of a wide spectrum of artistic practices but also reevaluating the social functions of modern art. My approach to the study of art is predicated upon a conception of the work of art as a complex and often contradictory node within a multifaceted array of cultural practices, often offering a privileged perspective for understanding the epistemological foundations of significant issues and events that constitute modern society. Consequently the practice of art history is for me essentially and fundamentally interdisciplinary, always leading one to make interdiscursive connections in order to understand how works of art signify and resonate beyond the aesthetic realm.

My published work addresses these dynamics in a variety of contexts, principally in the history of postwar art of the United States, but also in the nineteenth century and more recently the history of photography. My first book, Out of Time: Philip Guston and the Refiguration of Postwar American Art reconsiders the history of postwar American art and the conception of figuration in modern art history more generally. Replacing the conventional opposition of abstraction and figuration with the rhetorical dichotomy of the ‘the literal’ and ‘the figurative,’ Out of Time provides an innovative conceptual paradigm to reconsider Guston’s art and the broader artistic production and the 1960s. My current book project, The New Monuments and the End of Man: American Sculpture Between War and Peace, 1945-1975, will address the history of postwar sculpture in the United States, and in particular the increasing importance given to its spatial modes of address, in terms of the historical context in which such practices emerged, examining how these artistic practices and their accompanying discourses operated within broader cultural ideals and anxieties, particularly those related to the threat of nuclear war and the annihilation of the human race. A third book project will consider the nexus of Hollywood cinema, street photography, and conceptual art through the prism of American liberalism in the 1970s.

Many of my most recent publications have focused on the history and theorization of photography, a field that I have become increasingly committed to both as a scholar and a teacher because of what I see as its crucial place within a wide spectrum of visual practices in contemporary culture.

My interest in contemporary art, and in particular the disciplinary implications of the integration of contemporary art into the broader field of art history, have similarly been driven as much by pedagogical motives as intellectual ones and I have also strived to perform what a rigorous and archivally-based analysis of contemporary art might look like in a series of essays I have written about recent art for various museums and galleries.

Sample Courses

Photography and Facticity
Land Art and its Antecedents

Contemporary Art and the Plight of Publicness

Representation, Repetition, Appropriation
Is Contemporary Art History?
Abstract Expressionism

Hollywood 1967-1977
The Real and the Fictive in Contemporary Art


Robert Slifkin book cover Out of Time: Philip Guston and the Refiguration of Postwar American Art (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013). [purchase online]

Selected Articles

“Fitz Lane and the Compromised Landscape in Antebellum American Art c. 1850,” American Art 27 (Fall 2013), 64-83. [read online]

“Now Man’s Bound to Fail, More,” October 135 (Winter 2011), 49-69. [read online]

“Philip Guston’s Return to Figuration and the Thirties Renaissance of the 1960s,” Art Bulletin 93 (June 2011), 220-242. [read online]

“Donald Judd’s Credibility Gap,” American Art 25 (Summer 2011), 57-75. [read online]

“The Tragic Image: Action Painting Refigured,” Oxford Art Journal 34 (June 2011), 227-46. [read online]

“James Whistler as the Invisible Man: Anti-Aestheticism and Artistic Vision,” Oxford Art Journal 29 (Spring 2006), 53-75. [read online]

Selected Book and Exhibition Reviews

Review of Jo Applin, Eccentric Objects: Rethinking Sculpture in 1960s America, Modernism/Modernity 21 (September 2014), 855-857. [read online]

“Outside the White Cube (With Occasional Political Overtones),” review of Philip Kaiser and Miwon Kwon, eds. Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974 and Catherine Morris and Vincent Bonin, eds. Materializing Six Years: Lucy R. Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art, Oxford Art Journal 37 (2014), 103-107. [read online]

“Is Contemporary Art History?,” review of Katy Siegel, After 45 and Terry Smith, What is Contemporary Art?, Oxford Art Journal 35 (March 2012), 111-114. [read online]

“Thek’s As If,” review of Elisabeth Sussman and Lynn Zelevansky, eds. Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective and Harold Falckenberg and Peter Weibel, eds. Paul Thek: Artist’s Artist, Art Journal 70 (Fall 2011), 103-105. [read online]

“Against Indeterminacy,” review of Joshua Shannon, The Disappearance of Objects: New York Art and the Rise of the Postmodern City and Michael Lobel, James Rosenquist: Pop Art, Politics, and History in the 1960s, Oxford Art Journal 32 (October 2009), 458-464. [read online]

“One More Time with Feeling,” review of Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses and Jonathan Harris, Writing Back to Modern Art: After Greenberg, Fried, and Clark, Oxford Art Journal 30 (Spring 2007), 341-345. [read online]

“Mirror Man,” review of Jennifer Roberts, Mirror Travels: Robert Smithson and History and Ron Granziani, Robert Smithson and the American Landscape, Art Journal (Spring 2006), 125-29. [read online]

“Fast Times,” review of Pamela Lee, Chronophobia: On Time and the Art of the 1960s, Art Journal  (Spring 2005), 109-111. [read online]

“Dark, Unfathomed Retrospect,” review of Michael Auping et. al., Philip Guston Retrospective, exh. cat. Art Journal (Winter 2004), 105-08. [read online]

Selected Exhibition Catalog Contributions and Chapters in Books

“Reality Testing: Photography and/as Mass Media,” in Photography at MoMA: 1960 until Now, Volume III (New York: The Museum of Modern Art), 2015. [purchase online]

“Philip Guston’s Modernist Follies,” in New Perspectives on Philip Guston (New York: New York Review of Books, 2015). [purchase online]

“Painting/Withdrawing,” in Francis Alys Reel-Unreel (Milan: Mandadori Electra, 2014). [purchase online]

“A Remedial Education,” in Michael Stickrod, Stones Rise, (Skive, Denmark: Krabbesholm, 2013). [purchase online]

“Paul Evans and the Legacy of Modern Welded Sculpture: Between Decoration and Expression,” in Paul Evans: Crossing Boundaries and Crafting Modernism, exh. cat. (Doylestown, PA: James A. Michener Art Museum, 2014), 70-91. [purchase online]

Bruce Nauman Going Solo (Portland, OR: Companion Editions, Distributed by D.A.P., 2012) [purchase online]

Academic Degrees

PhD, History of Art, Yale University, 2007
MA, History of Art, Williams College, 2002
BA, History, minor Folklore, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1995

Selected Honors

Phillips Book Prize, 2012
Henry Moore Foundation, Fellow, 2011-12
Stanford Humanities Center (declined), 2010
Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Dissertation Fellowship, 2006-7
Getty Research Library Travel Grant, Getty Institute, 2006