Global Modern Art

Depicting Sexuality, Cannibalism, and RACE 

Art History 300
Michael H. Feinberg


During the age of imperialism, French and American artists often depicted places such as North Africa and Polynesia as savage lands. This global modern art history course examines “Western” depictions of the “non-West” during the years between 1789 and 1914. Although numerous artists depicted the “non-West” as a quixotic environment that fosters artistic imagination principles, a variety of compositions challenge this romantic understanding of the “other” place. Portrayals of Europeans as cannibals, Napoleon’s soldiers dying from the bubonic plague, and the manipulation of gender identity problematize Said’s notion of the “imaginary orient.” We will reconcile the nebulous and often times arbitrary lines that distinguish fine arts from industrially produced objects as well as “Western” from “non-Western” arts. Placing these depictions in relationship to curatorial theory and museum studies will enable us to forge our own contemporary relationships with art produced in Europe, the United States, and beyond. Although this is primarily an art history course, students may appreciate its inter-disciplinary nature, borrowing terms and themes from geography, history, political science, and anthropology.

Students will be assessed upon a variety of response papers and an exhibition review. Students will also participate in a creative research project. We will visit at least one local museum and meet with curators.


  • Survey foundational texts and artists in order to develop a basic understanding of the development of the nineteenth century artistic tradition
  • Apply texts to a variety of visual images
  • Evaluate a variety of art historical research methodologies (social art history, psychoanalysis, formalism, post colonialism, etc)
  • Use a twenty-first century perspective to analyze artifacts and paintings from the past
  • Develop art historical research abilities
  • Learn how to articulate clearly and concisely
  • Develop a personal relationship with the local arts scene and appreciate a diverse form of arts


This course is based on student engagement with primary texts and readings through discussions and written reading responses. Students are encouraged to become active member’s in the local arts community and critical thinkers of contemporary visual mediums by reviewing an exhibition. These reviews will facilitate students’ final assessment, where they will write an exhibition proposal. This creative project encourages students to apply skills acquired from class to their unique academic interests.

Reading Response Papers, 20%

You will have the opportunity to explore your own interests through four response papers (one for each unit, five points each).  These texts should be approximately five hundred words and discuss the week’s readings. Potential questions can include (but by no means are limited too): What idea from the week’s reading was especially intriguing? Do you agree with a particular author’s text? Why or why not? Is there anything that was not covered in lecture that you feel is worth exploring in discussion? Another possibility is to answer a key question posed by each week’s readings. Because these response papers will be utilized to facilitate discussion, to meet are due twenty-four hours before class.

Response papers will be graded on a five-point scale. A five-point response paper is well-written, concise, demonstrates an excellent “deep reading,” and poses questions or challenges to the text. A four-point response paper offers a deep reading of the text, but does not offer questions or challenges. It may also contain jargon or inarticulateness. A three-point response offers a summary of a text without analysis or deeper engagement. Two and one point responses demonstrate an overall lack of time spent on the assignment. If students are dissatisfied with their grades, students are encouraged to write an extra response paper as a substitute. Students have one week to submit a substitution. You may not submit a response paper for missing assignments.

Exhibition Review, 20%

Curatorial practices and museum studies are an integral component of this course. Following a class visit to a museum, students will conduct individual exhibition reviews of 1,500-2,000 words. Examples of exhibition reviews can be found at and local newspapers. Students will be provided with a list of possible galleries and museums to visit. Students have the opportunity to submit a revision of their reviews up to three weeks after receiving their initial evaluations. The review is 20 percent of the final grade.

Final Project, 45%

Pretend that you are a curator for an eminent art museum that has asked you to design a small scale exhibition) that explores the relationship between ourselves and our past. In particular, the museum board has asked you to curate a show that creates dialogue with the introduction in Neil MacGregor’s book, A History of the World in 100 Objects. If you could choose any combination of art objects or artifacts you wish, what would you choose and why? What themes or problems do these objects speak towards and how does the exhibition explore these issues? Ideally, students will choose between five and ten art objects and/or artifacts that were not discussed in class. The broad nature of this project is intended to encourage students to tailor these creative research projects to their own interests. Students should also set aside time to meet with the instructor to discuss their ideas for the projects in the first half of the semester.

The final project is comprised of a variety of stages totaling forty-five points. Students submit a preliminary bibliography (10 points) with a few notes about the usefulness of each source. These should contain at least 3 primary resources and at least 10 secondary resources (5 articles, and 5 books). The final project involves using ideas from the exhibition reviews, response papers, and annotated bibliographies to write an exhibition proposal (30 points). These will be approximately 3,000-words. More information will follow. You will also schedule a time during TA session to meet with the college’s research librarian. Students will turn in a rough draft. The final component involves a brief, ten-minute explanation of the proposal to discussion section (5 minutes). Convince a board of museum trustees of proposed exhibition’s value.


Participation is an integral component of lectures and discussion sections. It means coming to class prepared and on time. Preparation entails having completed the readings before class and jotting down comments, questions, or other notes. Questions that may be useful for your comprehension of the texts include: What is the author’s object of analysis? What is the occasion of this text? Is the author trying to refute, reframe, or fill in a gap? If the text is about art, then what can art do? If it isn’t, how might it be applied to art? Please be aware that excessive lateness or absences will result in a lower participation grade. Students have multiple opportunities through participation to engage with class materials: verbally in lecture or discussion session, written via e-mail, or both.


This course is not intended to be costly to students by any means. As such, most of the readings will be available as PDFs. Students will be notified which selections from books will not be available via PDF copies well in advance. This is a list of books that we will be reading “longer” portions from.

  • Philip Deloria, Playing Indian (Yale Historical Publication Series, 1999)
  • Edward Said, Orientalism (Vintage Press, 1979)
  • Thorsten Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (Dover Thrift Editions, 1994)
  • George Kubler, The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things (Yale U Press, 2008 revised)
  • Hal Foster, Prosthetic Gods (MIT Press, 2006)
  • Brain O’Doherty, Inside the White Cube (UC Press, 2000, expanded version)


Week One: Introductions

Class One: Syllabus review

        Fill out student information sheet.

Class Two: Venus of Willendorf (28,000-25,000) BCE

What is the relationship between art history and anthropology

  • Johannes Fabian, Time and The Other, pp. 1-37
  • Neil MacGregor, A History of the World in 100 Objects, Introduction

Utilizing Fabian’s concept of temporal difference, this week aims to introduce students to the polemics involved with studying objects and themes from the past. How is this further complicated when studying artifacts produced by different cultures? This will help students think through future lectures regarding the depictions of indigenous people as well as of the evolution of the art historical discipline.

Unit One: Connoisseurs, World Fairs, and Galleries

Week Two: The Gallery

Class One: Visit with a Curator (TBA)

How do curators grapple with displaying objects in an institutional setting?

  • Svetlana Alpers, “The Museum as a Way of Seeing” (in The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display edited by Ivan Karp and Steven D. Lavine)
  • Matthew Baxandall, “Exhibiting Intention: Some Preconditions of the Visual Display of Culturally Purposeful Objects” (in The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display edited by Ivan Karp and Steven D. Lavine)

Class Two: Gallery 291

How do museums engage with the public?

  • Vera Zolberg, “An Elite experience for Everyone: Art Museums, the Public, and Cultural Literacy” (in Museum Culture: Histories, Discourses, Spectacles edited by Daniel J. Sherman and Irit Rogoff)
  • Daniel Sherman, “Quatremère/Benjamin/Marx: Art Museums, Aura, and Commodity Fetishism” (in Museum Culture: Histories, Discourses, Spectacles edited by Daniel J. Sherman and Irit Rogoff)

These readings introduce students to the ways in which museum contexts changes the way people interact with artifacts. These authors also acknowledge assumptions that the public possesses about museum institutions. Because a component to this class involves writing an exhibition review as well as an exhibition proposal, students may find this information helpful.

Week Three: Curatorial Theory

Class One: Gallery Case Study – Field Trip

How can museums provide a context that may change the meaning of the art object?

  • Brain O’Doherty, Inside the White Cube, pp.1-64

Class Two: Gallery Case Study –Field Trip

How can museums provide a context that may change the meaning of the art object?

  • Brian O’Doherty, pp. 65-91

O’Doherty’s proposition that museum spaces are “white cubes” demonstrates how the context of a museum alters the way individuals engage with art objects. I hope to pair this reading with a class fieldtrip to the university museum, gallery, or an exhibition in the area. We can use O’Doherty’s text as a starting point to discuss the curatorial choices that took place to produce that particular exhibition.

Assignments: First response paper due.

Unit Two: The “Modern” World

Week Four: Exploring the World

Class One: Jean-Antoine Watteau, The Embarkation for Cyrthea (1717)

Did an urban environment foster an interest in depicting an alternative “reality?”

  • Georg Simmel “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” pp. 324-339

Class Two: Gardens at the Palace of Versailles (1700-1800)

How might have explorations abroad promoted changes to the landscape back at home?

  • Chandra Mukerji, “The Political Mobilization of Nature in Seventeenth-Century French Formal Gardens” (Theory and Society, Vol. 23, no. 5, pp. 651-677).

Prior to the long nineteenth century, many were already thinking about the world outside of continental Europe. How might have the ideas of the fantastical “other place” in the nineteenth century take on new meaning? Gardens (which required seeds from overseas) and depictions of the fantastical enabled Europeans to picture an alternative version to reality. Replanting flowers from abroad at home demonstrates a trans-national economy.

Week Five: Looking back? Masculinity and Sexology of the Ancients

Class One: Jacques Louis David, Oath of the Horati” and David, The Death of Socrates (1784, 1787)

What might the French Revolution see in the Roman and Greek republics?

  • Thomas Crow, Emulation: David, Drouias, and Girodet in the Art of Revolutionary France, pp. 31-47, 141-189

Class Two: Anne-Louis Girodet, The Sleep of Endymion (1791)

What role did masculinity have in the French Revolution?

  • Whitney Davis, “The Renunciation of Reaction in Girodet’s Sleep of Reason” (in Visual Culture: Images and Interpretations edited by Norman Bryson, Michael Holly, and Keith Moxey)

David incorporates Roman republican themes and Girodet borrows the Greek Hellenistic style in order to demonstrate support of the French Revolutions. These two readings also serve to introduce students to different methodologies in art history. Davis utilizes gender theory to demonstrate a relationship with antiquity and Crow utilizes history, biography, and politics in order to understand the relationships between male artists.

Week Six: Looking Forward?: Exceptional Americans

Class One: Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire (1835-36)

What might one’s “gaze” of an expanding frontier communicate about America’s expansion westward?

  • Angela Miller, The Empire of the Eye Landscape Representations and American Cultural Politics, 1825-1875, pp. 21-65, 137-167

Class Two: Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire (1835-36)

Is there an inherent contradiction within the rhetoric promoting Westward expansion?

Americans adopted Greek and Roman themes to suggest the necessity as well as the potential polemics of expansionism. If expansionism facilitated the end of the the ancient civilizations, could expansionism at home point towards the end of Americans? These primary and secondary readings aim to introduce students to the significance of the viewer’s gaze upon the landscape as well as the significance of the American frontier. Students can compare how French and American artists engaged with the antique past.

Assignments: Second response paper is due. Exhibition review paper due.

Unit Three: Humanity’s Darker Side

Week Seven: Art and Science: The “Savage” Folk

Class One: George Catlin, Wi-jún-jon and After his trip to Washington (1831) and

Anne-Louis Girodet, Portrait of Citizen Belley (1797)

How can the “Other” be seen as an entity which is seductive and at the same time horrifying?

  • Phillip Deloria, Playing Indian, pp. 10-95

Class Two: Eugene Delacroix, The Women of Algiers (1834) and Jean-Léon Gérome The Snake Charmer (1879)

What is “orientalism?”

  • Edward Said, Orientalism, pp. 1-73

Themes from previous lectures are integrated through an analysis of taxonomy and the idea of the non-European place as a space of fantasy. Historian Phillip Deloria describes how the image of the “savage Indian” became a significant persona within the European immigrant population. Students will find his text extremely readable. The second class introduces students to one of the most eminent thinkers through discourse theory and the Middle-East (and essential texts for this course) Edward Said.

Week Eight: Cannibalism and Disease: Failed RevolutionsFeinberg_Gros, Bonaparte Visiting Jaffa, Wikipedia

Class One: Antoine-Jean Gros, Bonaparte visiting the Plague Victims at Jaffa (1804)

What does it mean to depict Europeans as “barbarous savages?”

Class Two: Théodore Géricault, Raft of Medusa (1818-1819)

How does violence play a role in depicting the French Revolution?

  • Nina Athanassoglou-Kallmyer, “Severed Heads and Limbs” (in The Art Bulletin, Vol. 74, no. 4 (Dec., 1992), pp. 599-618).
  • Fill out mid-semester evaluation of the class

This week focuses on “challenging” the orientalist discourse. Both of these paintings demonstrate the “savage” within the people. Grigsby discusses how Gros’s composition depicts the French military’s contraction of the bubonic plague as well as the white male figure in an effeminate and homoerotic manner. Anthanassoglou-Kallmyer explores how “The Raft of Medusa” captures the apex of the French Revolutionary regime with gruesome violence. Colonizing agents transform into savage cannibals due to the captain’s incompetence, pointing towards a critique of the French Revolution.

Week Nine: Images of Liberty

Feinberg_Leutze, Washington Crossing the Deleware, WikipediaClass One: Eugene Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People (1830), Emanuel Leutze, George Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851)

What do these paintings tell us about the new “public” in each nation? Is the public a universal (or perhaps, even global) entity, or do only certain groups of people have the right to become members?

  • Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, pp. 1-57

Class Two: Bartholdi, The Statue of Liberty (opened 1886)

Does the Statue of Liberty really depict liberty? How?

  • Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby, Colossal: Engineering and the Suez Canal, Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, and Panama Canal, pp. 42-94

This week aims to establish more connections between the French and American Empires. Students will perform a comparative analysis upon two iconic revolutionary paintings. Habermas represents one of the essential readings of the course. This lecture argues relationships abroad are intertwined with relationships at home. The Statue of Liberty is an essential example of how monumental art transcended national borders with its origins in the construction of the Suez Canal and Egyptian slavery (as Grigsby explores). An implicit language of expansionism, slavery, and “taming nature” brings these two nations together.

Assignments: Annotated bibliography is due.

Week Ten: What happened to the “new” public?

Class One: Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881) and Gustave Courbet, A Burial at Ornas (1849-50)

Did a Eurocentric vision of the modern world come from a particular social class or “public” within France?

  • Thorsten Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class, pp. 1-70

Class Two: Edouard Manet, The Spanish Singer (1860), Olympia (1863)

How do depictions of individuals embody multiple subjects or identities?

  • Carol Armstrong, Manet Manette, pp. 71-133

This week examines the “primitive” or “savage” within Europe. While the world outside of Europe was becoming divided, Parisian social classes might have been dividing as well. The second class examines the significance of Renoir’s exploration of the Spanish world. Depending upon the level of comprehension amongst the students, a semiotic analysis may be useful to understand how the “global” might have produced multiple subjects from one body (or a gap between signifier and signified). The goal of week eight is to enable students to foster connections between European working classes (peasants), so-called “primitives,” and “Orientals.”

Week Eleven: Nations of “Progress”

Class One: Parisian Exposition Universelle (1889)

How do objects transcend the time and place of their original construction?

  • George Kubler, The Shape of Time

Class Two: Chicago’s Columbian Exposition (1893)

How did Chicagoans understand national progress?

  • William Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West, pp. 341-369
  • Henry Adams The Education of Henry Adams, “Chicago” and “The Dynamo and The Virgin”

World’s fairs became playgrounds for elite voyagers and curious middle class to experience cultural artifact and performances from around the world. Kubler engages with the limits of studying objects within the histories of their creators. The second class aims to provide students with another examination of a world’s fair in an American context. Utilizing the Henry Adams students may notice the ambiguities of meaning and nebulous “definition” of “progress.” These meanings do not come from the objects themselves, but from a greater cultural context.

Assignments: Third response paper is due.

Unit Four: Art or Object?

Week Twelve: Who’s Object (or “Art”) is it?

Class One: Benin City PlaquesFeinberg_Benin Plauqe, Public Domain, Bing

How has analysis of non-Western art objects changed over time?

  • Neil MacGregor, A History of the World in 100 Objects (object 77), pp. 497-503
  • Ferdinand, et al., Primitive Art: Pre-Columbian, American Indian, African, Oceanic, pp. 256-433, 328-429
  • Kampen O’Riley, Art Beyond the West, pp. 234-240, 251-260

*Especially for these readings, do not afraid to be critical

Class Two: The world is larger, Revisiting Benin

How do we recover the “lost histories” of art objects?

  • Klein, et. al. “The Object of Art History,” pp. 394-410
  • Annie Coombes Reinventing Africa, pp. 8-28

Students will be introduced to a meta-history of how the art historical discipline has studied non-Western art objects. They will engage with a variety of textbooks that treat the plaques very differently. Coombes and Klein will verify and expand upon the discussion students will have regarding the textbooks. These readings encourage students to apply their knowledge of curatorial theory from the first unit and help them with their research projects.

Assignments: Rough draft of final project is due.

Week Thirteen: Tropical “Objects”

Class One: Paul Gauguin, Two Tahitian Women (1899)

How might Gauguin serve as a harbinger of what many scholars call a postcolonial identity of cultural “hybridity?”

  • Hal Foster, Prosthetic Gods, pp. 1-109

Class Two: Hawaiian Feathers

How can evolutionary science play a role in understanding “non-Western” arts?

  • Charles Darwin, Descent of Man, Chapter 5
  • MacGregor, A History of the World in 100 Objects, pp. 566-572

The example of the Hawaiian feather is paired with a reading from Darwin in order to exemplify the role of pseudo-science in establishing such bifurcations. Students will be encouraged to understand how Gauguin’s depictions of Tahiti challenged Darwinist (or anti-Darwinist) rhetoric. How might this further challenge the notion of the “imaginary orient?”

Week Fourteen: Pablo Picasso

Class One: Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907)

Is it possible to portray the “non-Western” and the Western together?

Class Two: Pablo Picasso, The Card Player (1913-1914)

What does collage say about modern society?

  • Patricia Leighten, “Picasso’s Collages and the Threat of War, 1912-13” (in The Art Bulletin Vol. 67, no. 4, (Dec., 1985), pp. 653-672).

The concept of the found object will transition students to the art of Pablo Picasso and the style of cubism. The first class focuses on Picasso’s interest in African masks. How might have the incorporation of these masks highlight or emphasize the class distinction of brothel women? Chave engages with how combining these masks with images of brothel women can be analyzed in terms of gender and race. The second class looks at the “found object” in relationship to Picasso’s collages.

Week Fifteen: The Dada – Bridging “High” and “Low” Cultures

Class One: Marcel Duchamp, Fountain (1917)

Can an industrially produced object be considered a work of art?

  • Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”
  • Theodor Adorno, The Culture Industry, pp. 61-96

Class Two: Hannah Höch, Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife (1919)

How “civil” is civilization?

  • Karl Marx, and Fredreich Engels, Selections from The German Ideology

With World War I, Europe saw extremely radical artistic movements, including Dadaism. “Found objects” may trigger ideas of colonizing nations conquest raids from “non-Western” places (similar to the Benin plaque) can now be defined in terms of mass-produced material goods. We will turn to political, sociological, and theoretical works in order to tackle how Dada artists were creating arts that spoke to a more “universal public.”

Assignments: Fourth response paper is due. Final paper is due.


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