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2017 Conference—New York

As an affiliated society of the College Art Association (CAA), the Association of Historians of American Art typically sponsors two sessions at the CAA annual conference: a one-and-a-half-hour professional session and a two-and-a-half-hour scholarly session. Professional sessions are more topical than art history sessions and can address teaching and curatorial issues, including pedagogical methods, deaccessioning, exhibitions, patronage, auctions, and publishing. Due to CAA conference programming changes, AHAA will only host a scholarly session this year.

See also a list of 2017 CAA Sessions of Interest to Americanists.

Scholarly Session: The Gustatory Turn in American Art

College Art Association Annual Conference in New York, February 15—18, 2017

Co-chairs: Guy Jordan, Western Kentucky University, and Shana Klein, German Historical Institute
Date and Time: Thursday, February 16, 5:30 PM–7:00 PM
Room and Location: Regent Parlor, 2nd Floor

The rapid emergence of food studies programs, food studies journals, and museum exhibitions devoted to food reveals how the role of taste and digestion in American art has become a vibrant topic of study. This session examines the relationships between ocular and gastronomic delectation and visual consumption in paintings, prints, cookbooks, dietary manuals, and other forms of media that represent food and drink. This panel specifically invites papers that consider how artists used formal techniques to elicit pleasure or disgust in images of food and drink and how viewers responded to the sweet or unsavory qualities of an image. Paper proposals might also consider how images of food and drink interact with the social conventions of eating, dining, and consuming in their respective time periods. Proposals that evaluate the mechanics of taste and the ways in which these mechanics engage with political life and discourses of identity (i.e. race, class, and gender) are also welcome. The goal of this panel is to showcase scholarship that complements and advances the gustatory turn in American art.

The California Raisin
Katherine Manthorne, The City University of New York

Consider the humble raisin. In a world where foodstuffs are increasingly dissociated from their places of origin, the raisin is identified with one state. Why, this paper asks, when we “Think raisins” should we “think California,” as advertising mantras instruct? What is the raisin’s relationship to agribusiness at the US-Mexican border? Spain’s Queen Isabella sent missionaries to New Spain, who taught the native peoples grape cultivation. In 1821 these lands became independent Mexico, where Muscat grapes for raisins continued to grow. After the US-Mexican War, these lands became California, where agriculture maintained focus on the missionaries’ oranges, olives, and grapes, transformed into wine and raisins. Fine art painting and commercial advertising highlighted raisins’ delectable color, texture and taste while reinforcing associations with “the Golden State.” We analyze still life paintings from Spain, Mexico and the U.S. by Luis Meléndez, Raphaelle Peale and Alberta Binford & William McCloskey; the logo of the Sun Maid Girl created in 1915 at San Francisco’s Panama Pacific Exposition for the California Associated Raisin Co.; Norman Rockwell’s 1920s pictures integrating Sun Maid into the traditional American household; and Latina artist Ester Hernandez’s 1982 transformation of the Sun Maid into a “Sun Mad” figure of death. Collectively these images support my argument: as Spain became Mexico and then California, regional artists developed a distinctive visual language that drew directly on Hispanic roots. Art of the raisin addresses issues of cultural identity and shifting political borders.

“A Harmony in Eggs and Milk”: Gustatory Synesthesia in the Victorian Reception of Whistler’s Art
Aileen Tsui, Washington College

As is well known, James McNeill Whistler assigned musical titles to his paintings in order to promote their value as expressive compositions of color.  Not previously noted in existing scholarship, however, is a recurring strain in the reception of Whistler’s art that is examined in this paper: this vein of criticism parodied Whistler’s musical titles by likening his paintings and other artistic productions to food and drink.  Whereas Whistler’s synesthetic musical titles associate pictorial abstraction with the dematerialized purity of music’s intangibility, Victorian critics’ gastronomic spoofs of Whistler’s art linked the effects of color and visual abstraction with the somatic experience of a diner’s ingestion and digestion of edible materials.  While critics deployed gastronomic analogies to mock the pretensions of Whistler’s musical titles, this paper explores how these gustatory tropes further engage with uncertainties of meaning and effect at issue in the artist’s move toward abstraction.  These issues include Whistler’s coloristic painting technique and its perceived formlessness; the artist’s fastidious attention to the material means through which he produced his paintings’ vaporous effects; the importance of “taste” in Aestheticism; and unstable distinctions between body and mind in aesthetic experience.

Feeding the Conscience: Depictions of Charitable Food Distribution in the Progressive Era
Lauren Freese, The University of Iowa

Progressive Era charity frequently intersected with the preparation and consumption of food. Classes were available in metropolitan areas to instruct immigrant women in the preparation of American dishes and many organizations distributed food to those without. Depictions of charitable acts in the popular press were often, however, far from neutral documentation. These images emphasize details about how food was prepared and served to reinforce social boundaries between the recipients and providers of charity. Views of soup kitchens, bread lines, and free holiday dinners utilized food imagery as a means for middle and upper class viewers to rationalize and internalize class difference. Depictions of the service of soup from steaming cauldrons into handled buckets and free Christmas dinners eaten in the presence of wealthy spectators reinforced difference on the basis of unsophisticated utensils, poor manners, and inexpensive foods. Analyzing how and what recipients of charity were served reveals how food was deployed to generate feelings of pity, empathy, and even shock in viewers. I incorporate theories of Progressive Era charity to evaluate the ideological and nutritional beliefs that guided the distribution and depiction of foodstuffs. Inexpensive foods are often depicted in a manner that highlights their low status and were served under circumstances that elevated the social standing of those distributing and viewing charity. My analysis considers not only the reinforcement of class difference through charitable food imagery in the popular press, but the specific ways in which the Progressive Era visualization of charity utilized food to ideological and socioeconomic ends.  

Food Photography, Anxiety, and Desire
Margaretta Lovell, University of California, Berkeley

Revisiting a topic I investigated some years ago (“Food Photography and Inverted Narratives of Desire,” Exposure, 2001), this paper focuses on the mini-narratives embedded in photographs of food in the editorial matter of popular magazines and cookbooks. What changes have occurred in the way food is socially and aesthetically contextualized in these presentations? How has this image class responded to world events (terrorism, global warming), to new technologies and social practices (meals on social media), and to new sensitivities to the geographies of foodways (the locovore movement)? Magazine editors, motivated to deliver readers’ eyes to advertisers’ content, are alert to the ways social assumptions and political upheavals touch the real lives, fears, and fantasy aspirations of middle America. The visual rhetorics incorporated into these images trigger (in different ways) both physical appetite and social appetite.  They incorporate power relations, aesthetic pleasure, and voyeurism. But food aesthetics are neither universal nor isolated; they echo (and ‘feed’) the cultural and political context in which they circulate. I am particularly interested in the ways these images are gender-inflected, as circulation figures make it clear that the gaze implied in the camera’s eye is female.

Discussant: Shana Klein, German Historical Institute


AHAA Business Meeting

College Art Association Annual Conference in New York, February 15—18, 2017

Date and Time: Friday, February 17, 12:15 PM–1:15 PM
Room and Location: Gramercy A/West, 2nd Floor


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