2022–2023 Smart Scholars

Archive of 2022–2023 Smart Scholars projects

Eli Bec
2022–2023 Smart Scholar
Taking two 20th-century photographs in the collection, ​​Interior of a Butcher Shop by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Butcher with Hog by Lee Balterman, as their starting point, fourth-year Eli Bec’s project explored the subject-object relation between men and pork in the ritual roasting of a whole pig (lechón asado) on Christmas Eve (Nochebuena), by Cuban-American communities across  Miami. Drawing upon their experience double-majoring in Sociology and Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and their Visual Arts minor, Bec documented the ritual through a series of black-and-white photographs that explore the roles, symbols, and meanings reproduced through performative interaction(s) with the human and inhuman body and its shifting relationship to the grotesque.

In the second stage of the project, Bec mounted their photographs on the Caja China, the enclosed stainless steel roasting box used in the ritual. This food-object, Bec argues, is intrinsically tied to a form of “gastronationalism” in the US, where the production, control, preparation, and consumption of the roast pig is a way of linking a present American habits with a past Cuban national identity.

Using additional materials to reference forms of preparation/consumption through the integration of instruments (meat tenderizers and syringes), narratives (cookbooks, interviews, and field notes), and textures (Vaseline smudges to represent lard and oils), Bec created a multisensorial experience embodying the centrality of sacrifice, visibility, gender, and power. Subverting the traditional use of the box by making it a vessel for their creative engagement, Bec sought to renegotiate the tensions of these highly gendered, politicized cultural spaces and to contest binaries through artistic representation, while navigating questions of their own complex positionality.

In Back to the Butcher, the final stage of the project, Bec staged the installation at the Peoria Packing’s Butcher Shop in Chicago, bringing the object full circle. Weaving together a photographic series, ethnographic studies, creative writing, and art installation, Bec launched an interdisciplinary exploration of how food performances and negotiations with space through material emplacement parallel issues of identity formation among multigenerational immigrant communities. El lechón asado, they posit, is a cultural marker, a vessel for embodied knowledge(s), a source of cultural hybridity, a site of power, and an exotic commodity. 

Lauren Rooney
2022–2023 Smart Scholar
Double-majoring in Art History and French, college third-year Lauren Rooney was immediately drawn to Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise (Box in a Valise) in the Smart’s collection. Rooney writes that between plastic components that shrink and emit toxic fumes to the other reproductions and supports that chafe against each other as one opens the Boîte, Duchamp’s “portable museum” has proven not only fragile but self-destructive, resulting in an increased emphasis on its virtual accessibility. Rooney argues that the online exhibition of images and videos of the Boîte operates as a mise-en-abîme, placing yet another layer of mediation between the viewer and Duchamp’s original works and, by making the Boîte a thing reproduced as well as a collection of reproductions, strengthening its aura as an original.

Reflecting on these questions of ephemerality, accessibility, and the digital lives of objects, Rooney built a website that aims not only to offer such a mediated experience of the Boîte but to take this mediated experience and the conditions that produce it as objects of study. In the section on “The Boîtes in Museum Collections around the World and Online,” she presents a sample of the Boîtes currently held by museums and examines the ways in which these institutions exhibit their Boîtes on the Internet, briefly considering the implications of the different curatorial choices by which these museums respond to the Boîte’s particularity as an artwork that mimics the practice of curation. In her catalog essay, Rooney investigates the tests the Boîte poses to the museums in which it finds itself as a miniature museum, as a serial artwork produced through an eccentric combination of manual and mechanical reproductive processes, and as a box damaged by the act of opening it, before considering what museums’ responses to these challenges may reveal about the philosophy of art quietly implied by our cultural institutions and operative in our thinking about the future of artworks.

Simone Gulliver
2022–2023 Smart Scholar
College fourth-year Simone Gulliver’s research journey began with her identification of Robert Cottingham’s 1980 lithograph Black Girl as one of the objects listed in Robin Coste Lewis’ Voyage of the Sable Venus, a seventy-nine-page long poem composed entirely of the “titles, catalog entries, or exhibit descriptions” of objects from Western art history that depict the Black female form.

Drawing upon her double major in History and English Language and Literature, Gulliver posited a new reading of the lithograph through the lens of archival silences and speculative fiction. In the Spring, Gulliver organized a workshop at the Museum for students to explore the relationship between the ekphrastic text and Cottingham’s artwork. Reflecting on the moments of intersection between poetry, art, scholarship, and museum archives, the participants engaged in a formal analysis of Cottingham’s work, a selection of free-writing exercises, and a series of guided questions. These included interrogating what Cottingham’s artwork reveals about how Black women are culturally consumed. Where do Black women fit within Cottingham’s lexicon of Americana?  In the absence of real bodies to map onto this artwork, who is Cottingham’s Black Girl, and who is his butcher?

Amanda Chacón
2022–2023 Smart Scholar

A third-year majoring in Latin American and Caribbean studies, along with art history and anthropology, Amanda Chacón first encountered Personaggio by Estuardo Maldonado as a College Summer Institute Scholar at the Smart Museum of Art. Eager to build upon her research, she returned to the Museum as a 2022-2023 Smart Scholar, where she spent the year investigating claims regarding the “Pre-Columbian” influence in the Ecuadorian artist’s work. In the Spring, Chacón traveled to Quito, where she had the opportunity to visit several museums to study more works by Maldonado and view a range of important Pre-Columbian artifacts in person.

Chacón’s research encompassed a comprehensive analysis of the iconographic references present in Personaggio, conducting archival research in the United States and Ecuador, and parsing English and Spanish scholarship on Maldonado. Her experience as a Smart Scholar led her to new ideas regarding the artist’s potential sources and inspiration; most importantly, she has identified previously overlooked references to Pre-Inca Valdivia culture in his oeuvre.

Chacón presented her findings at a public talk at the Smart Museum, where participants studied the painting in person, and engaged in a lively discussion about Maldonado’s oeuvre, the question of “influence” in Latin American modernist art, and the practice of conducting international archival research. She looks forward to further developing this research, seeing potential in exploring the network of Ecuadorian artists, archaeologists, and collectors that Maldonado engaged with in the second half of the twentieth century. As a recipient of a prestigious Beinecke Scholarship, Amanda will continue her studies in Latin American Art History, which she intends to pursue through a PhD.