My work is focused mostly on Renaissance art, and is mostly concerned with how art allows humans to think through time and find orientation in the world. Trained as an historian, I came to art history to study the particular ways that material artifacts shape meanings and structure ways of being in the world. My work has paid a good deal of attention to the temporal life of artworks, studying how art has been handled, restored, reframed, reclassified, and written about throughout the history of art. Antiquarianism, anachronism, archaism, conservation, citation, and forgery have been consistently at the focus of my work. I have also maintained an active interest in contemporary art, mostly because I see in its expansion of global reference and in its intensive efforts of retrospection a set of problems that encourage taking the long view. I am regularly asked by contemporary art journals, exhibition organizers, and lecture conveners to comment on recent artistic developments within a larger historical framework.
Lately, my interests have turned to questions of physical orientation and configurations of place in Renaissance art. My premise is that Renaissance art, more than any other artistic tradition in the history of art, was dedicated to depicting far-away people, places, and things, and to connecting those places to local realities. This pervasive orientation of the art determined many of its most distinctive features: naturalism, perspective, story-telling, viewer-engagement, historical consciousness, and above all artistic self-awareness. My ultimate goal is to understand how it was possible for a Europe-centered view of the world to emerge in the art of the sixteenth century out of this very different, “oriented” worldview. Together with many other colleagues, I believe that a fresh understanding of the Early Modern “age of encounters” is a necessary part of coming to terms with the emergent polyfocal global reality of our own time.
My recent activity offers a fair representation of my scholarly interests and dissemination goals. I have written a piece on Bernini and another on Michelangelo for the London Review of Books, an essay on Jeff Koons for the catalogue of the Whitney Museum’s retrospective of 2014, and essay on style, art forgery, and the contemporary exhibition industry for the journals Artforum, The Brooklyn Rail, and October. In 2013, the University of Groningen published an expanded version of a lecture I delivered there on connections between Italian and East Asian art around the year 1500, and in 2015 the edited volume Die Oberfläche der Zeichen included an essay of mine on works by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci that “self-reflect” on the process of art-making. In the last months, I have been invited to lecture on problems of orientation and on the impact of the Spanish and Portuguese discoveries on European art at Harvard University, U.C. Berkeley, U.C.L.A., Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and University of Washington. In 2015, I co-organized (with Jenny Purtle, a colleague in Chinese art) a multi-field session on Art in and between Global Systems at the annual meeting of the College Art Association, the principal art history conference in this country.
My first book, Michelangelo and the Reform of Art (2000), awarded the prize for “best book in Renaissance studies” by the Renaissance Society of America, studied that artist's engagements with older traditions, genres, and modalities of art in the context of the image debates of the sixteenth century. The concern with the temporal life of art was developed in Anachronic Renaissance (2010), co-authored with Christopher Wood, which has appeared in a French translation and is soon to appear in Spanish and Italian. The concern with art and religion was developed into a broader interpretation of the art of the period in The Controversy of Renaissance Art (2011), which was awarded the top book prize by the College Art Association. More recently, I studied the persistent interest in medieval art among artists of the twentieth century in Medieval Modern; Art out of Time (2012).
Some of my ideas are controversial, yet I am no prideful loner. I am a great believer in dialogue and collaboration in my field and across fields, and with colleagues all over the world. I have been part of research groups in France, Germany, and Spain, and have published a volume of essays commissioned from multiple authors (co-edited with Lorenzo Pericolo) on Subject as Aporia in Early Modern Art (2010), and have another to be published by Brepols next year (co-edited with Giancarla Periti) on Ravenna in the Imagination of Renaissance Art. I work often with colleagues across disciplines as well as in the world beyond academia, particularly the spheres of art making and curating. At the Institute of Fine Arts, I recently organized a panel, in collaboration with the Services Culturels of the French Embassy, where representatives from France and the United States discussed initiatives of politically engaged art originating in the two countries. This past fall, I organized a series of dialogues with practicing artists about works of older (pre-1800) art accessible in New York, an effort to expand the modalities of art history that was published in the Brooklyn Rail and that I hope to develop in other forums in the coming years.
I consider myself an ambassador of my home institution, actively connecting students and colleagues through larger networks of scholarly exchange. In 2007-8, my first year at NYU, I was a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg, Europe’s answer to Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study. Before that, I served as Mellon Professor, a two-year research position at this country’s pre-eminent research center in art history at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. I am currently in discussion with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to serve as their scholar in residence in a future year. I have participated in several research groups across Europe. I have served on the board of major journals and on the selection committees of important granting agencies.
The field of Renaissance art is neither as large nor as central as it once was. I believe this is an opportunity for the field to revise its premises and to come into a different configuration. I don’t believe that graduate students belong to one advisor or one department. “It takes a field”—this should be our motto. Accordingly, I mentor students, officially and unofficially, from many other programs, including UC Berkeley, Harvard, Yale, USC, Rutgers, Princeton, Columbia, and various universities in Berlin, Paris, and Madrid.