American Art and Visual Culture Seminar: Ethan Lasser, The Chipstone Foundation and Rebecca Zurier, University of Michigan

American Art and Visual Culture Seminar
Friday, December 4, 2009

3 pm to 5 pm

“Disentanglement: Baroque Furniture and the Self”
Ethan W. Lasser, The Chipstone Foundation

An unusual group of small-scale side chairs rose to the height of fashion in Boston and London around 1700. Feather-light, with stick-like turned or sawn legs that appear to be placed under rather anchored into the seat, the chairs were notoriously weak, and prone to rock and wobble under the sitter.

Past scholars have considered the connections between the chairs and the broader histories of labor and consumerism.  My essay proposes that the objects are closely connected to a set of broader philosophical debates about the relationship between people and things.  The chairs show that objects could cultivate a sense of differentiation—a sense that the self was set apart from things—as effectively as any text.

“Reconsidering a Familiar Face: John Singeton Copley’s Portrait of Paul Revere”
Rebecca Zurier, University of Michigan

Copley’s Paul Revere (1768) gazes out from so many history textbooks that we have trouble seeing it as a constructed work of art. It has become a national icon because of the apparent “directness” seen in its democratic subject–an artisan at work–its straightforward presentation, its compellingly realist technique. Yet a closer examination brings these supposedly American characteristics into question. Reconsidering Paul Revere provides an opportunity to rethink the fiction of realism and the construction of national identity.

Commentator: Jennifer Way, University of North Texas