Grad Art

Animality and Posthumanism

Cole Gruber

Three Million Years of Art? From the Manuport to the Readymade

With an introduction from Emmelyn Butterfield-Rosen, Associate Director of the Graduate Program:

Cole Gruber’s qualifying paper is a rollicking philosophical enquiry into one of the animating questions of modernist art and art-writing: what are the furthest limits of “art” as a categorical definition? Art history’s attempts to think through this question have often centered on potential terminal limit cases, and the potential “end of art” that has, since Hegel, haunted modern thinking. Cole probes the delimitations of art from a less familiar temporal vantage. He shows how, in Euro-American art history, what has been thinkable as art has been thinkable through a conceptual inter-looping between art’s potential ends and its potential beginnings. The point of departure for Cole’s paper is a three-million-year-old pebble, first shown in public only four years ago. Cole will convince you that this candidate for the world’s oldest art object––if not, decidedly, a “work” of art––is a potent tool indeed for questioning what counts as art, and who does the counting.


Savannah Marquardt

Of Gods and Goats: The Prehistory of Greek Sacrifice

With an introduction from Guy Hedreen, Amos Lawrence Professor of Art:

In her paper on an idyllic, ancient Greek sculptural depiction of the nature-goddess Artemis with a family of goats, Savannah Marquardt argues that the ancient critique of animal sacrifice was not limited to esoteric philosophical writers such as Empedocles, but embedded within the visual culture of major classical sanctuaries. Existing interpretative approaches, she argues, are unable to account for this particular sculptural representation, because they are predicated on hierarchical subordination of animals to gods, whereas the plaque depicts mutual reciprocity between Artemis and the goats. The plaque, Savannah demonstrates, is best understood in relation to a discourse traditionally thought to have nothing to do with artistic representation—ancient speculation on early human life and culture.

Employing the poetry of Hesiod as her guide, Savannah argues persuasively that the scene of the goddess and the goats is best understood in relation to a belief that there was a time before the invention of animal sacrifice, when no hierarchy existed between gods, humans, and animals. This sculptural representation, however, situated as it was amidst other sculptural representations of animals being led to slaughter may be understood not only as an evocation of a past way of life but also as an argument in favor of respect for animal life in the present. The artistic proposition of the plaque is comparable to the philosophical interventions of Empedocles, who utilized scientific speculation about the origins of life to argue against animal sacrifice in the here and now. That is a highly original insight.


Elyse Dianne Mack

Imagining Dragons: A New Perspective on Animal-Human Rendering

With an introduction from Robert Wiesenberger, Associate Curator of Contemporary Projects at The Clark:

What can dragons—fictional but instantly recognizable creatures—teach us about human-animal relations, cultural history, political economy, and environmental destruction? A great deal, Elyse Mack argues, in her analysis of a 2018 virtual reality work by the artist Yang Yongliang. Nine Dragons brings to life a famous Song dynasty scroll and claims to give viewers “a dragon’s eye view” of a landscape that is at once enticing, forbidding, and tragic. The digitally rendered figure of the dragon in this work, Mack suggests, exposes the symbolic power of the creature at the same time that it offers a cautionary tale.