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Course Information

Instructor Info:Karen Koehler
Office Extension x5672
TA Info:Rhana Tabrizi
Susannah Faber
Term: 2014S
Meeting Info: Monday Wednesday
04:00 PM - 05:20 PM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) ELH
04:00 PM - 05:20 PM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) ELH

This course is an examination of the emergence, development, and dissolution of European modernist art, architecture and design. The course begins with the innovations and collisions of early twentieth century art, in response to the growth of modern urbanism, industrialist production, colonialist politics, and psychological experimentation, and ends with the cooptation of modernist radicalism in the wake of World War II. Distinctions between the terms modernist, modernity, threshold modernism, and the avant-garde will be explored as we unpack the complex equations between art, politics and social change in the first half of the twentieth century. Covering selected movements and groups (such as Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Dadaism, Surrealism, Bauhaus, De Stijl, Constructivism, and New Objectivity) this course will consider themes such as mechanical reproduction, nihilism, nationalism, consumerism, and primitivism as they are disclosed in the making and reception of modern art. Students will be responsible for presentations, essays, a research paper and museum visits.

Course Objectives:


Each student is expected to make thoughtful and respectful contributions to discussion. Each student will also take part in a group presentation/facilitation, based on specific assigned readings (and incorporating film). The goal is to facilitate discussion by posing good questions.

Archives and Write-ins:

Throughout the semester students will gather images and select passages from the class presentations and discussions as well as the weekly readings, creating an archive of materials from the class. You should choose a selection of artworks that you feel are aesthetically effective, historically or theoretically resonant, representative of particular movements or developments, or for some other reason strike you as appealing or provocative. Take ownership of the identifying data (artist/architect, title, date, and place). In other words, know the images you have selected. As you read the texts and essays, you should similarly pick out passages that strike you as particularly interesting, challenging, critically astute (or not), or otherwise useful in your historical understanding, formal analysis, and theoretical approach to photography. The archive that you create will become the basis for your participation in two class “write-ins”; there will be check-ins throughout the semester. 

Museum Paper:


A short formal analysis paper based on a work of European modern painting seen in the original in the Smith College Museum of Art. Relying on visual evidence, students will discuss the subject, style and historical context of selected works of art. Approximately 3 pages. Due March 5th.

Research Paper:

You will be asked to analyze in rigorous detail the visual properties of two works of art or architecture in the context of modernist critical reception, and their social, political, intellectual and economic histories (approximately 10-12 pages). Working comparatively, you will be asked to target a particular theme or issue from a list of questions, but you may also propose your own. The topic for this paper is open to any kind of modernist art, architecture or design—as long as you can complete the expected college level research. The final paper must be based on the use of at least 10 scholarly sources—books, articles, and journal essays—as well as your own visual discoveries and syntheses. Choice of abstracts, and bibliographies are due April 23rd. Final papers are to be included as the last piece of writing in your portfolios. 


Each student will keep a portfolio throughout the semester that will include their image & excerpt archive and write-ins, as well as all versions of their papers, etc. Due May 7th

Evaluation Criteria:

Attendance and Participation:

It is expected that you attend allclasses and turn in assignments on time; more than two absences will result in a no-evaluation (fail). All assignments must be completed in order to receive an evaluation for this class. It is important that every student make significant, respectful, and productive contributions to the class discussions. Any extensions must be requested in advance of the due date. Without prior approval, late work will not be evaluated. Cell phone use is prohibited, and I do not allow computers except for occasional group work. Lastly, please be respectful of the focus of the professor and your peers—arrive on time, stay in the room once you are here, and use the restroom before you come to class.


Additional Info:


There are two required textbooks for this course, available at Food for Thought Bookstore: Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, Benjamin Buchloch, Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism Vol. 1 1900-1944 (London, NY: Thames and Hudson, 2004; Art in Theory 1900-2000, edited by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002).