Author Archives: Shalina Chatlani

Popping the celebrity: Warhol’s attack on icon fetishism as demonstrated through Mao


By Shalina Chatlani


Warhol’s pop art is known throughout the art world for boldly representing the celebrities and pop-culture figures of the time in an outlandish way. This research seeks to understand, through one of his most famous works Mao, the underlying assumptions of his method. Asking what the foundations of his work are, this paper will use scholarly sources on Warhol’s historical background and contemporary research in order to dissect Warhol’s obsession with celebrity. Primarily, this paper argues that Warhol sought to address the theme of commodity and icon fetishism, but was also a victim of that very capitalist structure because of his background and artistic roots.


The surreality of celebrity is a theme that Andy Warhol was both fascinated with and often attacked through his artwork. As a popular cultural and artistic figure, he understood very well the exciting, but often struggling nature of fame; and, he used his pop-art to deconstruct this idea, laying out very boldly through vivid colors, exaggerated lines, and prints, in an almost parody version of an icon or figure that he saw as being worshipped. This strategy was an attempt to represent, sort of paradoxically, the reality of the celebrity through the visual representation of the celebrity’s surreality. With so much foresight into the concept of icon fetishism, Warhol managed to even address the potential of “celebritized” artwork, by turning reproduction into the art form itself. This method both preemptively acknowledges that his work would be re-mixed and re-imagined as it became a study piece, but also visually offers the sentiment of publicity and constant spotlight that is often evoked as a function of celebrity life, such as real-world paparazzi and intimate spreads in People magazine.

In 1972, Warhol after a break from painting and a stint with film, returned to screenprint and painting after becoming fascinated with the cover of a Life Magazine, which had a picture of Mao Zedong on it. The magazine had named the Chairman the most important person of the 20th century, a title which intrigued Warhol, because Mao had promoted for himself a mass ideology and cult following. Warhol, who had been following Chinese culture became infatuated with the way the population iconized the Chairman. He’s quoted as saying:

“They’re so nutty. They don’t believe in creativity. The only picture they ever have is of Mao Zedong. It’s great. It looks like a silkscreen” (Bourdon 95).

As a Western artist, Warhol with his remediated Mao prints not only deconstructed the celebrity of the figure, but also ended up serving as an interesting example of West meeting the East, as his almost blasphemous rendition of the Chairman actually stripped away a lot of the authoritarian undertones of his image and the Communist regime. His artwork has even come to be accepted within Chinese contemporary art. Using Mao as the overarching example, this essay argues that Warhol used the nature of icon worship to create artwork that actually deconstructs the commoditization of the individual. By exploring Warhol’s return to painting and screenprinting in the 70s, the pop-art form during the era and use of it as remediation of the true image, and his attempts to understand and represent the surreal nature of celebrity and icons, this research observes how Warhol broke down the celebrity complex even while being rooted in it.

Warhol’s roots in commercialization; a departure from painting, and a return 

Andy Warhol: Self-Portrait (Passport Photograph with Altered Nose), 1956© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

Andy Warhol: Self-Portrait (Passport Photograph with Altered Nose), 1956© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

Warhol in 1945 entered the Carnegie Institute of Technology, where he would received his degree in painting and design. Interestingly, while he was in school, he had a part time job as a window scene creator in stores, by which he became directly exposed to the “world of consumption and advertising.” These would become the subject of his artwork (Warhol and Faerna 97). Faerna in a biography on Warhol writes that the artist had become fascinated with the idea of changing his identity, particularly his physical appearance and often found news ways of representing himself differently through artwork, as shown on the right. In New York during the 50s, he was a free-lance commercial artists for magazines like Glamour and Vogue, through which he began
building his repertoire. In the 1960s, Warhol decided to break from the commercial art world, and enter into fine arts (Faerna 97).

Marilyn Monroe, 1962. The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

But instead of embracing the pre-existing order of fine arts, Warhol wanted to transform it, by bridging the gap between avant-garde and the public. His goal was to make it so that common people, not just the elite and educated classes, could become the audience of his work. His dive into pop art was supposed to be accessible for everyone. He was deeply influenced by the commercial past he had been submerged in, and became interested in the commercial technique of mass production. Thus, in the late 50s and early 60s, he began developing his work in painting and screenprinting and ended up producing some of his most recognizable and most often reproduced work, such as the Campbell’s soup cans and portraits of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe (Faerna 97).

In a brief move away from the world of painting, Warhol then began to become interested in filmmaking, taking up with bands like The Velvet Underground and producing “multimedia ‘happenings”‘. Warhol was becoming even more absorbed into the world of celebrity, becoming accustomed with the reality of fanaticism, when in 1968 a radical feminist even tried to assassinate him (Faerna 97). Truly, Warhol never stopped considering the reality of commodity. For example, Bourdon in Warhol writes about an experience the artist had in meeting John Lennon and Yoko Ono that he couldn’t separate the individuals from the thought of how much money

Yoko Ono, John Lennon, and Andy Warhol, June 5, 1971. Photograph by David Bourdon, David Bourdon Papers, 1953–1998.

Yoko Ono, John Lennon, and Andy Warhol, June 5, 1971. Photograph by David Bourdon, David Bourdon Papers, 1953–1998.

they were making. He quotes Warhol talking to a friend saying, “They must make a million dollars a day!” and proceeding to urge him to have a “little talk with Yoko” and persuade her to commission a portrait of herself (Bourdon 95).  So, not only was Warhol interested in representing commodity through icons, he was also very determined by it–he was a product of the system he sought to represent and even attack. Warhol was always around this theme of surreal life, the type of existence of constant watching, fame, and money.


Accordingly for Warhol, the world of politics were just another form of celebrity. In 1971, the year when the People’s Republic of China renewed relations with the United States, newspapers and other form of American media were filled with articles on the new “climate of the friendliness in the communist regime” (Bourdon 95).  In 72, Warhol, who had become really infatuated with Chinese culture during this time, decided to return to screenprinting and painting to represent it. His reasoning for returning to portraits is evident in one his quotes from Bourbon’s biography, where Warhol is clearly influenced by money, icon worship, and politics in the form of celebrity:

“Since fashion is art now and Chinese is in fashion, I could make a lot of money. Mao would be really nutty…not to believe in it, it’d just be fashion…but the same portrait you can buy in the poster store. Don’t do anything creative, just print it up on canvas” (Bourdon 95).

Warhol was attracted to the idea of producing Mao’s face, because it was both one of the most recognizable faces in the world and a simplified for many American of “alien and threatening form of government. He had the foresight to think that this type of painting would be appealing to “capitalist collectors in the West” (Bourdon 95). Particularly given the context of artistic pursuit in China during the time, Warhol’s work on Mao was popular for paradoxically representing a symbol of hope for the future of arts in China but also being made specifically for a Western audience. During the 60s, artists and intellectuals were regularly silenced in China, and often persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. Even though he purely intended for Mao to be a profitable return to painting, Mao ended up becoming a representation of undermining authoritarianism. Had he been in China, he probably would have ended up in prison (Bourdon 95).

Warhol beside Mao's portrait, Tiananmen Square, 1982.

Warhol beside Mao’s portrait, Tiananmen Square, 1982. From Warhol in China by Christopher Makos. 

The methods of the pop art world, and Warhol’s production of Mao 

The pop art movement was a move to blur the line between “high” and “low” art (The Art Story). Taking a step away from the “elevated” metaphorical subjects on mythology, history, and morality within classical art, pop art tried to move work on popular culture to the status of fine art. While movements like Abstract Expressionism reimagined the real world in a way to represent trauma, pop art took a sort of disinterested and cool approach to discussing the real world in a more direct way. Some critics of the pop art movement claim that it actually endorsed rather than critiqued capitalism and mass media (The Art Story).


American Preparedness 1968. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

For instance, one of Warhol’s contemporaries at the time, Roy Lichtenstein, took images from pop culture and comic books and painted them to look as if they were in an originally printed format. In painting red dots to represent the normally machine printed patterns in comics, Lichtenstein created “low” art in a “high” art format. Warhol flipped Lichtenstein’s technique, by using machines within his artistic style. In doing this, he “acknowledged the commodification of art, proving that paintings were no different from cans of Campbell’s soup” (The Art Story). The essence of the pop art movement was to take normal everyday items and objects and turn them into high-culture pieces, in order to turn an elite art scene into something more generally accessible. At the same time many artists used mass production techniques that were used in advertising to influence consumers to keep buying things in order to actually critique commodity fetishism post- WWII, methods such as commercial silkscreen to printing.

Warhol was a poster-boy for the pop art movement, and through his technique he committed himself to acting like a machine. Kahmolz quotes him in a Sotheby’s article in his response to the origins of his method:

“The reason I’m painting this way is that I want to be a machine, and I feel that whatever I do and do machine-like is what I want to do” (Kahmolz 2013).

"Mao," Musee Falliera, Paris, Feb 23-march 18, 1974, Bourbon 95.

“Mao,” Musee Falliera, Paris, Feb 23-march 18, 1974, Bourbon 95.

Warhol’s technique was to silkscreen print images repeatedly onto the canvas in an effort to undermine any evidence of “the artist’s hand.” Instead, he wanted to create the look of a mass-produced and machine look. To maintain sharp lines and bold colors, Warhol would pass a full ink-filled sponge over mesh that was sitting on top of the silk screen. The ink would seep through the mesh, except for places where Warhol had put glue. For Warhol, areas where the ink didn’t seep through perfectly, were just areas that were unique and added to the machine aesthetic or the “trashy immediacy of a tabloid news photo” (Kamholz 2013). And through reproduction, Warhol addressed “the commodification of fame”.

After becoming fascinated with Mao again in 1972 after an about five year rendezvous with film, Warhol returned to this methodology. Like other work, Mao was produced through screen printing and painting, putting on top of his face the type of glamorous makeup he used for the Marilyn portrait. But in a new technique, he also incorporated drawing, scribbling some lines alongside his face.

First Generation American, Andy Warhol, at The Art Institute of Chicago's Modern Wing.

First Generation American, Andy Warhol, at The Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing, photo from Desert Domicile.

Warhol of course created multiple different prints of Mao in order to achieve the sense of reproduction. One that is particularly noteworthy was displayed on the left at The Art Institute of Chicago. The ways in which Warhol sought to deconstruct the authoritarian nature of Mao and turn his celebrity into the the artwork itself is apparent in the eye make-up and rosy cheeks. The scale of the painting evokes the severe nature of the Chairman, but the image doesn’t maintain an authoritarian overtone, such as the official image of Mao that was reproduced throughout the People’s Republic of China, because in this rendition he looks rather ridiculous and comical. The addition of the beauty mark, along with drawing techniques, like the splattered color at the bottom, shows how Warhol conveyed communist propaganda as a parody commercial advertisement. Both as a statement on culture and perhaps an unintentional political statement, Warhol as a Western artist, applied American pop culture and marketing methodologies to an Eastern figure and offered a critique on mass media at the same time. It’s also representative, given its influences, of how Warhol was also extremely determined by capitalist intentions. Other reproductions also utilize bold distracting colors, as shown in the photo below. The one in Chicago, however, is highly representative of how Warhol managed to deconstruct celebrity, even in politics.

Andy Warhol MAO (F. & S. II.90-99) From

Andy Warhol MAO (F. & S. II.90-99) From

Warhol goes to China, his artwork stays

In 1982, Warhol actually ended up traveling to China. In Christopher Makos’ book Warhol in China, one can through his photos that Warhol was obsessed with rigid nature of the culture– the rules, the repeated photos of Mao everywhere, and sharp architecture. To Warhol, it was a completely separate world. The Chinese lifestyle was evocative of the reproducibility context that he worked in.

Frahm, the director of the Blenheim Art Foundation, wrote for the Huffington Post that Warhol’s visit to Hong Kong and Beijing occurred at a pivotal moment in Chinese history. His depictions of Mao offered a window about the the type of liberal awakening and active Western capitalistic intrusion that would occur throughout China. Warhol, upon visiting, noted immediately that there wasn’t a McDonald’s there, amazed with out how uncommercialized Beijing looked. Though, he foresaw that China too would become a victim to commodity.


Ai Weiwei, COCA COLA VASE, 2011, taken from

His artwork did more than just offer a glimpse into what might occur in the nation; it became a reference point for change in the Chinese artworld at the onset of development in contemporary Chinese art. Frahm writes that when it came to the image of Mao, it would come to characterize the start of more openness, and the ability for artists and intellectuals to begin publicly questioning the order of the system, especially things like propaganda: “As an essential cultural reference point in China, the image of Mao has become a crucial image within contemporary art practices —continually appropriated and repeated (much as Warhol would) as a signifier of skewed ideals and the paradoxical traumas these can cause” (Frahm 2014).

The same type of commodity fetishism that Warhol originally explored through his pop artwork is now emerging heavily within the contemporary Chinese art scene, as modern artists “examine and critique the commoditized values and ideologies in post-revolutionary China” (Frahm 2014). He mentions for instance the artist Ai WeiWei, who like Warhol, uses pop culture references to illuminate commercial aspects of society. He created the piece Han Dynasty Urn with Coca-Cola logo, which suggests that Western commercialism is taking over Chinese history and destroying its cultural heritage (Frahm 2014). But also like Warhol, Ai WeiWei recognizes that he too is apart of the system he is critiquing.

Conclusion: The surreality of celebrity inescapable

Even as an artist, Andy Warhol oozed celebrity. Being so immersed in the world of advertising and commercialism, Warhol’s quick rise to fame only further opened his eyes to the effects of mass consumerism on authenticity in culture. Using his pop art to elevate “low” art to “high” fine art, Warhol was able to break the boundaries of intellectual elitism. Further, through his technique of mass reproduction, Warhol preemptively acknowledges the reality that art too will become commoditized, and manages to turn the commodity back into art. Warhol’s artwork truly highlights the type of insight he had into celebrity culture, as well as how much he thought it permeated different aspects of society. Mao is an example of how even politics and political figures can be commodities to people, as he saw Mao as a figure of a mass cult following and driver of a propaganda machine–the same way he viewed advertising of everyday products like coca cola bottles.

But it’s also important to note, as the essay argues throughout, that Warhol clearly in his background and his reaction to the opportunity to create artwork is a victim to the system he is critiquing. Warhol though he sought to demonstrate the character of consumerism was very much so driven by his own capitalist tendencies, having created Mao for some part because he thought it would have been profitable. His life therefore is an interesting example for how commodity fetishism and consumerism are basically inescapable. However, Warhol deserves credit for taking care to address every aspect of celebrity culture, even as it turns his own artwork would become endlessly reproduced and commodified.

Works Cited

Bourdon, David. Warhol. Abrams, New York, 1989.

Warhol, Andy, 1928-1987, and José M. Faerna. warhol. Cameo/Abrams, New York, 1997.

Warhol, Andy, et al. Warhol in China. Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern, 2013.

Bibliography (Uncited References)

Elmaleh, Eliane. “American Pop Art and Political Engagement in the 1960s.” European Journal of American Culture, vol. 22, no. 3, 2003, pp. 181-191.

Gelder, Ken. “Reconstructing Pop/Subculture: Art, Rock, and Andy Warhol. by Van M. Cagle. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1995. 240 Pp.” Popular Music, vol. 16, no. 1, 1997, pp. 125.

Hung, Ruth Y. Y. “Red Nostalgia: Commemorating Mao in our Time.” Literature Compass, vol. 12, no. 8, 2015, pp. 371-384.

Kang, Kyoung-Lae. “Warhol”s “Faces” as Mimesis in Mass Culture: Reading Serial Portraits, Outer and Inner Spaces (1965), and Screen Tests (1964-1966).” 문학과영상, vol. 16, no. 3, 2015, pp. 489-515.

Koski, Lorna. “Arts & People: Pop Goes the Warhol.” WWD, vol. 198, no. 103, 2009, pp. 15.

Lago, Francesca D. “Personal Mao: Reshaping an Icon in Contemporary Chinese Art.” Art Journal, vol. 58, no. 2, 1999, pp. 46-59.


Warhol, China, and Celebrity: Mao


In the early 1970s, Warhol developed 10 screenprints of the famous Chinese authoritarian figure, Mao Zedong. This series is important because it marked Warhol’s return to painting, as well as intermixed into a critical time in political and social history. Warhol’s fascination with representing the celebrity, such as through figures like Marilyn Monroe, extended onto his Mao portraits, who he considered to be the most important figure in the 20th century. What’s interesting about this piece is that Warhol tears away at Mao’s true celebrity form–the rigidity and authoritative demeanor of his rule (which is the attitude most often depicted in Chinese propaganda of the time). Instead, he depicts a Mao slathered in makeup and donning wild colorful clothing, an appearance which eradicates his communist persona and reinvents his celebrity appeal.

The goal of my final project is to dive deeper into the context of Warhol’s Mao prints–analyzing his history of pop art, the political tone of the 70s and communism in the states, the notion of western painting on eastern figures, and the idea of celebrity. I’d also like to consider Don DeLillo’s book, Mao II, which on has on its front cover Warhol’s painting. DeLillo was intrigued by Warhol’s focus on celebrity and offers a narrative that can give some insight into the type of thinking Warhol has in constructing these pieces. Using biographies and some additional texts on Warhol’s trip to China, as well as DeLillo’s analysis, this paper will explore the role of pop art in a highly politically volatile time. It will further explore the painting’s reception in the West and in China, and how it was understood by different audiences.

Some works I’m considering looking at include:

Bockris, Victor. Warhol. Da Capo Press, New York, 1997.

Karnicky, Jeffrey. “Wallpaper Mao: Don DeLillo, Andy Warhol, and Seriality.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 42.4 (2001): 339-356.

Lago, Francesca Dal. “Personal Mao: reshaping an icon in contemporary Chinese art.” Art Journal 58.2 (1999): 46-59.

“Mao.” Mao | The Art Institute of Chicago. The Art Institute of Chicago, 2013. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

Makos, Christopher. Andy Warhol China 1982. Timezone 8 Limited, 2007.

Rubin, Susan G. Andy Warhol: Pop Art Painter. Abrams Books for Young Readers, New York, 2006.

Warhol, Andy, et al. Warhol in China. Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern, 2013.

Experiencing the Kusama exhibit

dsc_0130By Jing Chen, Shalina Chatlani, and Zhihui Yu

Yayoi Kusama’s exhibit, Infinity Mirrors, is worth all the hype. Featured at the Hirshhorn, the exhibit includes 6 of Kusama’s mirror rooms alongside some of her other iconic artwork. At the same time that her artwork is confusing and chaotic, she constructs the rooms in such a way that is also so unique and beautiful. Each room, with its random shapes, colors, and themes provides the observer with a different sensory experience. For instance, the room with the polka-dotted phallic shape riddled floor is fun and vibrant, while the room with the lanterns is solemn and reflective. dsc_0147

One criticism of the exhibit that we and several of the observers had was that the 30 second time limit in each room made it very difficult to adequately observe and take in the experience of her rooms. Moreover, without background research, the purpose of the rooms themselves get lost in how fantastical they are. The way the exhibit was organized did not offer the visitor as much context as it could have, which means that so much valuable insight into the artwork gets lost. The exhibit generally felt very rushed and overwhelming, but still very interesting and fun. One of the downsides of the exhibit’s popularity is that observers cannot fully experience the artwork. Many do not realize that the artwork itself was a way for Kusama to overcome her psychological issues and that each room targeted a different sentiment.


There are four ’60s “Net” paintings at the Hirshhorn, but you can also see the motif germinating in a clutch of visionary works on paper that Ms. Kusama made while still in Japan. The “Net” motif was further spurred by the sight of the Pacific Ocean as she flew to America, and her impatience with Abstract Expressionism once she got here.

The mirrored rooms include “Love Forever,” from 1966, which presents a floor of tiny lights whose changing patterns and colors you view through a peephole. The most affecting mirrored rooms are “Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity” (2009) and “The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away” (2013), in which tiny colored lights or ones in lantern shapes create the impression of overlooking a sprawling city or drifting in an immense galaxy. The light scattering of paintings, sculptures and works on paper placed in the gaps between the environments offer a tasting menu of Ms. Kusama’s greatness. They seem intended to make the mirrored rooms the ultimate expressions of her vision, her repetitive motifs and her obsession with infinity, which she also likens to obliteration, or a form of death. But this doesn’t quite work. This is partly because the show sanitizes dsc_0148Ms. Kusama; it gives very little sense of her psychological problems or of her genuine wildness, a glossing-over that may be necessary in the capital’s new climate.

“Media aesthetics, then, can focus on how we perceive the world in and through new technologies and new forms of media”

In Jo Applin’s book Infinity Mirror Room — Phalli’s Field, she references Claire Bishop’s analogy comparing Kusama’s use of mirrors to the theory of French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan — specifically, his belief that “the literal act of reflection is formative of the ego.” Looking in the mirror, we encounter ourselves as a deceptively discreet unit, a whole person, a simple and complete. We’re toddlers understanding our personhood for the first time all over again. Look at ourselves in an infinite wonderland of mirrors, however, and we’re everywhere and nowhere, multiplied and fragmented.


Kusama utilized lights and mirrors to express herself in the exhibition. And the museum encouraged social media in the infinity rooms, using the hashtag #InfiniteKusama. And there’s a saying goes that Yayoi Kusama invented the Photo-friendly Art Show for people. “Digital technologies remark our processes of perceiving and thinking”, Snapping a selfie in one of Kusama’s contained wonderlands contributes to the senses of disorientation and proliferation her work hopes to achieve — that dissolution of boundaries that turns viewer into participant into aesthetic element and back again.”

Group Project 

Georges Seurat, Circus Sideshow (Parade de cirque), 1887–88, oil on canvas, 39¼ x 59 inches. THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, NEW YORK, BEQUEST OF STEPHEN C. CLARK, 1960

Inspired by the ongoing exhibition, Seurat’s Circus Sideshow in metropolitan museum of art, we hope to explore more about the Neo-Impressionist and a Pointillist Georges Seurat and his famous work, The Circus. The nighttime scene in The Circus is a demonstration of Seurat’s pointillism technique, creating an image in oil paint using only dots of color. As a native of Paris, Seurat  portrayed his hometown in views of public entertainments mid-performance. In the late nineteenth century, circus was frequented by avant-garde artists such as Degas, Renoir and Seurat. Circuses at the time were hugely popular in Paris and the flourished by finding ever more extravagant ways to shock and astound their audience. Circus performers often included giants, elephants riding cycles and daring acrobatic acts. The core theme of the circus presented in Seurat’s art is one that continued to exist long after his painting was created. In our project, we want to compare the different depictions of the Paris circus scenes in different artworks. ( Such as between the impressionism  and the naturalism paintings).


Jo Applin, Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli’s Field

Jay David Bolter, Maria Engberg, Blair Macintyre, Media studies, Mobile Augmented Reality and Interaction Design

Priscilla Frank, Selfie Obliteration: How Yayoi Kusama Invented The Photo-friendly Art Show.


Skewing perception through remediation

By Shalina Chatlani

Our increasing use of digital interfaces–smartphones, television screens, laptops, etc.–means that the process of visualization has moved further and further away from the real world. Instead of viewing the physicality and natural essence of a thing or object, we more often observe distant representation of it–a reality which results in our missing valuable sensory details. This trend of “remediation” is particularly apparent in the art world, as photographs–transformed renditions–of artwork is posted online in manipulated pixels, filters, and awkward sizes.

As Irvine writes of Andre Malraux, the photographer who saw the development of the art museum through photography–though the online museum or photographic museum does allow for more people to see the artwork or ideas–it still has consequences in terms of our “meaning systems.”  Rather than seeing a painting up close, for instance, we are more likely to see a photo of that painting online, which means that we are incapable of actually seeing the brushstrokes, texture, frame, true color palette, and other contextual information that might give us a better understanding of its purpose.

We have been dealing with remediation throughout history through different development of media. But in terms of our current use of technology, I especially agree with the Bolter and Grusin, who explain in “The Double Logic of Remediation,” that the rapid development of digital media has created a culture where we recognize that our experience of “real world” things and events are not actually real–but, we still demand the “immediacy” of reality. In fact, it seems like “hypermediacy” is more of a commodity to satisfy our desire to pretend we are not actually living through a screen. Think about for instance Pokemon Go: it is not just enough for us to play a video game, but to be in the video game and pretend we are not separated by an interface. In many respects, digital photography gives us this hypermediacy high of thinking we can actually transcend the screen. This first example that comes to mind is the Google street view–which is truly just a serious of photographs, but ones that we can navigate.

I’ve recognized throughout some of my own photography the side effects of remediation–not of another form of media, but of real life. It often seems like photography glorifies the real world and makes us forget what it would actually be like to live in the moment that has been captured. Similarly, a photograph of a painting satisfies our desire to have immediate access to the artwork, but it separates us from its actual physical reality or imperfections through pixels, brightness adjusters, filters, and photoshopping. We lose through remediation the context of purpose.

As I thought about this topic, I considered some of my own photography in India. I wanted to take beautiful images of what I was seeing, but I realize that such a representation–an edited digital photo–fails to really provide the viewer with the instant gut-wrenching meaning of the actual scene itself.

The photo above is one of my favorite captures from my summer trip to Bombay, and structurally it appears to be “beautiful.” But, as a remediation of real life, you lose out on the important context, which actually gives the viewer a better sense of how they should feel when they see this scene. I took this photo from my aunt’s balcony as I was looking out into the sea at low-tide. From my comfortable position, I remember how sad I felt as seeing this common scene in India–of people having to bathe wherever they can because of lack of resources. But, if I were just a third person observing this scene through this photograph, this important context and meaning would be lost. It would just be a compelling photo.

When it comes to remediation, particularly with photography, I think we often lose out on important contextual details of the real world. For instance, a photo of a child in Syria cannot possibly convey the gravity of the situation, though it somehow connects us to what’s happening. Similarly, photography of artwork means that we fail to draw important connections that might be apparent if we were to see the clotted paint, strokes, and true colors.

For this reason, Richard Estes Realism is so fascinating to me, because it really tries to break this boundary of remediation by flipping the process. I appreciate that the artwork is a rendition of real scenes through the process of photorealism. The digital photography of his artwork of seems less obtrusive than a digital photograph of artwork because the context of his work is to be as ‘real as a photo’. In other words, the process of remediation seems to have tampered much less with the artefact itself. And, you can see this online.

This oil painting-Richard Estes’ Times Square- is meant to evoke the sense that the piece is a photograph. Thus, I do not feel like I am missing out on valuable contextual detail, because the point of the work is to make the viewer feel like the piece is the media of photography. Whereas, photography that is meant to represent the “real world” as the first point of visualization seems more likely to lack some meaning at the same time that it is providing the clearest snapshot of what the artist is seeing.

Works Referenced:

Martin Irvine, “André Malraux, La Musée Imaginaire (The Museum Idea) and Interfaces to Art

Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin,Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000



The importance of meaning systems of interpretation-Chatlani


By Shalina Chatlani

Though it sounds cliched, artwork as a format and a practice is entirely subjective not only for the artist, but for the audience. I started thinking about this idea when I was back home in Jackson, MS this summer.  

I had met an artist named Daniel Johnson, who had articulated his concern with the idea of messaging and its increasing inescapability. This anxiety shone through his art shows. He had produced this shield-like metal structure upon which he projected an onslaught of images from pop-culture and media–cartoons, tv shows, music videos–with a deafening white noise to surround the room. He stood behind the shield, while the audience was inundated with the noise and the images–a symbol of how we are constantly victims to messaging on tvs, our phones, advertisements, everywhere. The show was an interface of interpretation to the interface of technology to the interface of the contents of our thoughts–which was both confusing and overwhelming. I immediately interpreted the show as a nod to the effect of all that is digital on what it means to be human.

However, what stood out to me the most was not the show itself, but the conversation I had with Johnson afterwards. I had told him how I had interpreted the artwork– that I saw it as humanity’s inability to create “original thought” due to technology. And he responded that he appreciated my interpretation because he had “never thought about it that way.” I thought this response was so interesting, because this reaction seemed to me to be the most obvious analysis.

He responded that the meaning of his artwork is a product of acquired interpretations. He continued to understand his own art based on how others understood it, and how they understood him.

For something that seemed so literally and metaphorically pointed– a shield to block images from media–it’s interesting to think that even this type of artwork can be interpreted in so many different ways. What seemed obvious was actually more of a collaboration of thoughts and views from the artist himself and the individual’s own background and subjective, contextually created interpretive methodology.

And it’s for this reason the act of considering artwork requires the development of theories in media and mediation, in order for the audience, researcher, or individual to understand how art and all forms of cultural expression can be presented in an interpretive framework.

This reality exists for all forms of artwork no matter how obvious or abstract it might be–without a methodology we run the risk of losing valuable meaning.

This sentiment is the foundation of the concept of an art museum, which seeks to organize artefacts in such a manner, and provide a meaning system, for the audience to more effectively understand and interpret the artwork on display. These institutions provide a venue for the individual to understand an artefact in its truest form, a form that is not detached or reproduced, and organized in a way to provide context.

Had I not spoken to Johnson about the meaning and background of his artwork, absent a museum or meaning system to guide me, I would have almost certainly lost value in my understanding.

Irvine writes about this idea in his discussion on André Malraux, a photographer who sought to organize his work in a universal matter by styles. He wanted to tackle a question of artwork in the modern age, as writes: “If photography as a technology is defined by reproducibility, how can mass reproduction represent art and artefacts understood to be unique objects in a material place and time?” (Irvine) In other words, how can we possibility understand the meaning of something, if we are becoming increasingly detached from the implicit context. How could I have understood Johnson’s artwork practically if I failed to gain the background?

Maulrax saw that photographical representations of art resulted in the issue that “dissociated cultural objects from their material origins (a feature that troubled Benjamin in the 1930s)” demonstrated “an important cultural truth…in the modern era of mass mediated images” that there are “misrepresentations when artefacts are reduced to reproductions” (Irvine).

For him the concept of the museum addressed the reality of misrepresentation by helping the viewer see the artefact, regardless of whether the interface is digital or physical, by “assign[ing] to established categories (periods, cultures, genres, styles, movements, etc.),” to the artefacts. As a meaning system, the “musée imaginaire” generates  is an abstract, ideal meaning system: it generates implementations of the conceptual and ideological system that actual museums and art history books realize in their selections and structures of organization and validation” (Irvine)–an organized manner of answering the questions through a given meaning system that we are unable to ask the artist or cull from the collective interpretation of other observers.

What’s further interesting to me is that my quickness to interpret his artwork, which I perceived to be a take on “remediation” in contemporary media as described by Bolter-Grusin,  was also a product of this remediation being so prevalent in society! While he was representing the idea of interfaces in human thought on the shield, I realized after our conversation that my interpretation was a product of my understanding of technology and artwork in other books, tv shows, and media that I had experienced. I realized this when he explained that the shield was in its truest form “his way” of understanding his place in how he deals with technology and media, rather than necessarily a way of confronting it.

As Bolter-Grusin writes: “The process of remediation makes us aware that all media are at one level a “play of signs,” which is a lesson that we take from poststructuralist literary theory. At the same time, this process insists on the real, effective presence of media in our culture” (Bolter-Grusin). The effect of other forms of media on the formation of my thoughts, even on a piece of work that tries to tackle this idea, is even more apparent to me now. 

Ultimately, I think that this analysis serves to show that the in-person observation and ability to receive the background and contextual information is absolutely critical to the development of any form of valuable meaning system that is not biased. In a sort of meta way, I realized this through a piece of artwork that seemed to tackle this idea, but actually had a different agenda.
Works Cited:

Martin Irvine, “André Malraux, La Musée Imaginaire (The Museum Idea) and Interfaces to Art

Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin,Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000

Toulouse-Lautrec and captured vibrancy of Parisian nightlife


by Shalina Chatlani, Zhihui Yu, and Jing Chen

In 1882, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec moved from Albi to Paris, where he became completely enthralled with the vibrancy and free-spirited nature of the city’s cafes, streets, cabarets, and nightlife. At the turn of the nineteenth century, Lautrec, like artists from all over world, went to also in part because the city had become the art center of the world. He arrived to one of Paris’s golden age, and his career “ coincided with two major developments in late nineteenth-century Paris: the birth of modern printmaking and the explosion of nightlife culture” (Colta,1996). He became fascinated with the modern printmaking industry, which French painters had begun to observe as early as the 1790s, when the chemical  principles of lithography were discovered and it was turned into fine art (Ittmann, P. 11). Lithography became one of the more popular mediums for most painters of any note. With the development of lithography technology, deluxe color printing projects entered the market. Lautrec took great advantage of this new medium to capture the beauty of the Parisian lifestyle, and he became the best poster artist of Paris. Lautrec tapped into the city’s character, where grand boulevards and palaces of commercial entertainment went hand in hand with the ‘zone’, a vast shanty town ringing the city that was occupied by workers and those living a more precarious life. (Edwards & Wood 2013,P29)  Immersed in the urban life, Lautrec spontaneously captured the nature of the city and the people in it.

Lautrec also managed to incorporate international influences into his lithographic posters, which succeeded in adding a unique flair to depictions of Parisian scenes. For example, in the late 1850s, Japanese woodcuts began to seep into European ports. The Japanese prints exerted considerable influence on Impressionist painters in France. The style and content of Lautrec’s posters were heavily influenced by these Japanese ukiyo-e prints. The ukiyo-e, that is, the ‘fleeting’ or ‘floating world’ they depicted, was eminently comparable to that which the Parisian avant-garde were striving to represent. Theatres, the street, nightlife, including places of sexual encounter, as well as music and dancing–these constituted what became known as the ‘floating world’ in Edo (Edwards & Wood 2013,P70). Lautrec tapped into this style and noted that the promotion of individual performers is very similar to the depictions of famous actors, actresses, and courtesans from the “floating world”of Edo-period in Japan(Colta,1996). His ability to capture some of the raw scenes of Paris at night and incorporate unique elements and influences is apparent throughout majority of his artwork, for instance at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.


For example, the poster above, La Troupe De Mlle Eglantine, was one of the pieces at the Phillips Collection. Lautrec’s identity as a post-impressionist painter can be seen through the bold brush strokes and vivid color composition. He, like on of the four main artists —Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul Cézanne —  tried to break free from the Impressionism movement in the late 1880s and provide for the observer a window into the heart and soul of the artist, rather than offer some sort of objective view on the world at large. This artwork above of the four most famous dancers in Paris’s Moulin Rouge cabaret is free rendering of what Lautrec saw and felt while he was observing the women, rather than some sort of literal window into the world. Like in the artwork of his contemporaries, he sought to capture the vibrancy and emotion of Parisian lifestyle through symbolic mixing of bold colors and abstract shapes, which could depict memories and real human interaction with the environment–not just a flat rendition of what the artist physically saw, but rather what the artist was feeling, observing, memorizing, and sensing.

In terms of his international focus-from what we can see from Lautrec’s work, most we can see from the exhibition are his posters, like we mentioned before, the style and content of Lautrec’s posters were heavily influenced by Japanese ukiyo-e prints, and we can see many of the characters and casts in his posters depicted Japanese women. Just like the one that impressed us a lot, Cover for L’Estampe Originale. From this Japanese woman he depicted in this poster, we can see how Lautrec’s work emphasized on the use of color. And beyond its promotion and printmaking functions, the man behind that women who working on the poster also caught our eyes. He was the one worked behind the scenes and had a purely technical role in print production. This poster emphasizes the importance of those figures who working behind the scenes by showing the expert printer Père Cotelle of Edouard Ancourt’s in his workshop with the Parisian cabaret star Jane Avril admiring the product of his effort.

His artwork fits in perfectly with the other work in the museum. We could see his transition and post-impressionist identity by comparing his work work with that of other artists throughout the collection. For example we saw Luncheon of the Boating Party by French impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir and some paintings of American Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko’s paintings in Rothko Room designed by Duncan Philips in 1960. “It’s like a painting about the most perfect meal that ever was—but you can’t tell what most of it was,” says Phillips Collection Chief Curator Eliza Rathbone.

Luncheon of the Boating Party, Renoir, seen at Phillips Collection

Luncheon of the Boating Party by Renoir, seen at Phillips Collection

Luncheon of the Boating Party depicts a group of friends hanging out and relaxing in a balcony, people in this painting are all in comforting and calming posts, while what impressed me most was the vividness and ethereality that comes from the painting which formed sharp contrast with these still lives portrayed in the painting. A sense of movement is realized through the actions and expression of the cast. Facial expressions of these main characters in the painting are so clear and lively. There is a great deal of light throughout the composition of Luncheon of the Boating Party. The main light source is the opening in the balcony and the beaming sunlight is reflected by the table cloth and the vests of the two men in the foreground. And from the glasses on the table as well, we can see how great the painter capture the momentary effects of changing light and color. Similarly Lautrec’s bold colors come through in his depictions of Parisian nightlife; however, like a true post-impressionist artist, he moves away from the standard shapes and observations within a painting like that of Renoir and instead utilizes abstract shapes and symbols to capture a sense of dynamism, not static existence in Parisian life. 

Mark Rothko, as an abstract expressionist and contemporary artist, represents a movement after Lautrec’s time, but another iteration of the post-impressionist style that he was apart of. Lautrec broke free from the chains of dull observation like his contemporaries, and the trend continued forth as artists like Rothko depicted, rather than just scenes, colors and shapes to evoke emotion.

Zhihui, for example, reacts to walking into a Rothko room, where the deep color patterns appealed to her sense of imagination:


The intimate Rothko room holds four paintings by Mark Rothko, and reflects the artist’s preference for exhibiting his art “in a scale of normal living”. To be honest, I cannot appreciate and even cannot understand these pieces of art, and cannot figure out what exactly the artiest want to express. But when you took a deep breath and looked into these “non-sense” paintings, you felt peaceful and pleasure, you suddenly wanted to just simply sit there and enjoy the magical feelings these colors bring you. “My paintings’ surfaces are expansive and push outward in all directions, or their surfaces contract and rush inward in all directions. Between these two poles, you can find everything I want to say.” Colors can spark imagination, and purity can be represented as possibility.

Works Referenced:

Photo at top:

Second photo: Lautrec Foundation


Others seen at Phillips Collection.

Steve Edwards and Paul Wood, eds. Art & Visual Culture, 1850-2010: Modernity to Globalization. London: Tate Publishing and The Open University, 2013

John Ittmann, Post-Impressionist Prints: Paris in the 1890s. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1997.

Colta Feller Ives and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Toulouse-Lautrec in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1996.

For background on post-impressionism:

Contemporary Art & Nam June Paik


By Shalina Chatlani, Jing Chen, and Zhihui Yu

The 1960s as an era was defined by technological innovation, The Cold War, and radicalism. At the same time that the space age was kicking off internationally, skepticism of foreign regimes developed at home. Youth began questioning violence and conflict, as well as the impact of constant media and technology throughout life. This environment of ideological dissonance manifested in a wave of contemporary art throughout the 60s to 90s that focused on pushing against the formal concerns of art and signal a removal from institutionalized thought–a deconstructionist ideology that influenced artists to not rely on traditional mediums of paint and brushes to communicate profound ideas. Artists that spearheaded this trend included people like Jackson Pollock, with his inhibited brush strokes and free form, Mark Rothko, with his bold color blocking, Willem de Kooning, with his broad stroked and undefined figures, and of course, Andy Warhol, with his iconic pop art (Baumgardner).

The styles of artwork that are highlighted during this time period includes forms like minimalism, abstract expressionism, use of industrial materials, conceptual artwork that used words, incorporation of static and performative artwork, and the blending of media through images and film. Nam June Paik, a Korean American artist, fits within this framework of contemporary artwork (Nam June Paik-artsy). In fact, he is considered the father of video art, because he pioneered the use of TVs into his representation, as a way of signifying expression and cultural exchange in music, performances, and static artwork. He was a member of a greater movement called the Fluxus movement, which was a trend in artwork throughout the 60s and 70s that renounced tradition forms of music and theater and instead incorporated experimental forms of sound and film–a way of rebellion (Fluxus artsy). Among the things he did was to address the inescapability of technology He explored the wide reach of media in his video installations, that flickered grotesque and eye-catching images of profanity and cartoons across screens–a nod to predictions of the future of technology by authors like George Orwell. Nam June Paik’s work, “Electronic Superhighway” depicts the United States as a convergence of screens. Our reaction to the sight shows just how fantastic it was: 

We were extremely impressed. The first time we saw Electronic Superhighway on the internet, we were still shocked by its scale and combinatorial order when we physically saw it with our eyes. When we entered the Lincoln Gallery and approached the Nam June Paik’s multimedia work Electronic Superhighway, we first heard the sounds which are rare in other galleries in the American Art museum. Then the giant installation caught our eyes immediately.

Electronic Superhighway made up of three hundred thirty-six televisions, fifty DVD players, and over one hundred seventy meters of neon lights. Paik is the inventor of video arts. He transformed the televisions into his canvas. The artwork itself explained why the televisions are the best medium to convey Paik’s ideas. As Irvine notes, “all forms of cultural expression have addressability and answerability built in: expressions are simultaneously a response to, and an anticipation of, ongoing dialogic meaning.” (Irvine,P22) Besides the information conveyed in the video clips, movies clips, TVs, as the interface itself represented the increasingly prevalent technology at that time. Nam used video imagery to represent each of fifty states. This installation is a great map of the United States showing video images from television shows, movies, each capturing distinctive feature of the different states.

Paik was born in South Korea and grew up in Japan. He moved to New York in 1964. As an immigrant, the choices of the videos clips reflect Paik’s own interpretations of each state which may be more unbiased than people who are born and raised in the country. This reality is reflective of how “selections of combinatorial units are motivated by how they can function dialogically in new or different contexts of meanings associated at the encyclopedic level.” [ii](Irvine, P29) Paik’s selection for each state vary as well. For some states, he used videos shot by himself such as images of his friends.  For some states, such as the Midwestern states, he showed the clips from movies like the Wizard of Oz. Images from the life of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Junior are used to represent the state of Alabama. The many bright images move very quickly in a somehow disorderly and energetic way.

Another of Nam’s work at the Smithsonian American Art Museum is called “Megatron/Matrix”. It has two hundred fifteen television screens that play videos. Each television shows fast moving images of Korean folk traditions, modern dance and the nineteen eighty-eight Olympic games in Seoul. Nam’s work may seem disordered when you see it in certain distance, while when you get closer, larger moving images and videos flow across the screens of each television, creating a magical effect.

He expressed his understandings of these states with “the words of others.” The installation shows how media images defined its cultural expressions. Meanwhile, we began to comprehend Paik’s messages of American culture with our own encyclopedic background. 

Art seems to be “beauty of nihility”, dialogic way of doing arts can make art more accessible to the audience and make the audience introspect themselves. Nam June Paik is well known for his huge, complex video works that involve many televisions. Harry Cooper, the head of the National Gallery of Arts’ modern and contemporary art department, said that an important part of the artist’s message was to reject the blind acceptance of television and its images, and Nam June Paik wanted people to take an active role in the media that is so much a part of modern life. Nam combined selected video clips and presented them in certain order to create “resonate” with its audience, living in the age of information, we accept too many junk messages every day, and we even sometimes forget to regard and consider what we gained or what we actually lost.

Televisions, DVD players, neon lights, these are “daily essentials” we know for life. This kind of combinatorial expression and magical effect make us reconsider about what called originality. We always get use to what we owned and tend to neglect the beauty and passion behind them.

We see Nam’s work and realize what we already know and resonate with him. What we called imagination and creation basically comes from what we already know, or what we never think of mixed together. Mix and recombined daily objects that we are used to trigger our inspiration and make ‘things’ sparkle.

Works Referenced:


“Fluxus.” Artsy. Artsy, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.

“Name June Paik.” Artsy. Artsy, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.

Julie Baumgardner. “How the 1960’s Most Iconic Artists Made Art Contemporary.” Artsy. Artsy, Aug 4, 2015. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.

Martin Irvine, “Remix and the Dialogic Engine of Culture: A Model for Generative Combinatoriality.” In The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies, ed. Eduardo Navas, et al. (New York: Routledge, 2014), 15-42.

Martin Irvine, “Remix and the Dialogic Engine of Culture: A Model for Generative Combinatoriality.” In The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies, ed. Eduardo Navas, et al. (New York: Routledge, 2014), 15-42.

Dalí’s “Bather” and meaning


Beigneuse (Bather), 1928

By Shalina Chatlani

Salvador Dalí is well known throughout the world for his iconic painting genre–surrealism. This term is difficult to define but can be narrowed down as a 20th century avant-garde movement throughout literary and artistic culture to challenge norms of traditional understanding and creation (Strom 2004, pg. 37).

Understanding Surrealism 

Kirsten Strom in her article on surrealism as political culture says that generally there is a consensus on what avant-garde means, but she references to several other terms that could be used to understand it, such as those offered by  Italian academic Renato Poggioli: “activism, or the spirit of the adventure, agonism, or the spirit of sacrifice, futurism, or the present subordinated to the future, unpopularity and fashion, or the continual oscillation of old and new; finally, alienation as seen especially in its cultural, aesthetic, and stylistic connections” (Strom 2004, pg. 38). Looking at surrealism within this context is limiting, while at the same time still incredibly confusing. One cannot imagine the concept of surrealism in visual form by just reading this description. And Strom goes on to say that surrealist during the time “fought seemingly incessant battle against public misinterpretation of their intentions” (Strom 2004, pg. 39). The confusion brought artists together to come up with their own manifesto on “What is Surrealism?,” and their insight offers some help into understanding the work of Salvador Dalí, who is one of the most perplexing surrealist painters in the 20th century. In this manifesto they write:

“Surrealism is not a new or an easier mean of expression nor even a metaphysics of poetry. It is a means of total liberation of the mind and of all that resembles it.” (Strom 2004, pg. 40).

salvador_dali_-_bather01_1928_frHad I known the context and description of surrealism before I had gone to the Picasso Museum in Barcelona about five years ago, I probably would have had an easier time understanding this painting by Dalí from 1928. Beigneuse, or “Bather,” depicts a scene of a bather on the beach but in the form of a large amorphous toe. It is a continuation of another 1928 “Bather” painting, where the lady being represented is in whole form, but still at first glance, incredibly disfigured.  This artwork was born at the burst of surrealist thought in the 20th century. So while at first glance, I was confused by the painting and what Dali could have possibly hoped to achieve from it, I realized as I began to look around the room it was in within the Picasso museum that it was a part of a larger movement of aesthetics in art culture. Dalí’s association with Picasso, particularly in the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, where the artist’s most famous work is housed, shows that Dalí was not just part of the conversation. He was a visionary and leader throughout this artistic movement–a reality which is only affirmed by the unique quality, and truly singular voice of his work and the fact that this painting was made at the start of his Transitional Period. This was a time after his initial painting as a teenager that he actually started to become aware of surrealists in Paris and become a part of their movement; it was the beginning of his more celebrated surrealist work. The fact that it is in this museum with Picasso from such an early point in his professional surrealist career shows that he is an incredibly impressive painter, even though at the time his work was controversial and often determined as being highly grotesque.

And, in looking at the painting with its bold, uninhibited brushstrokes and lack of structure and mixing of physical medium (oil and sand), the impression that does come to mind, now understanding the surrealist movement is “total liberation of the mind.”

Applying the ‘meaning’ to the artwork

As Irvine writes in “Introduction to Visual and Pictorial Semiotics,” when the individual looks toward something physical, there is an understanding of value beyond the physical surface (Irvine 2017). We interpret what we see based on pattern-relations to better understand which ideas to focus on. The items which can help in this process are the representation, objects, and interpretant (which is a product of greater cultural background into the genre and time period). To better understand “Bather,” the observer can start to digest the piece through these terms.

Representation: Bather is a difficult piece for the observer to asses because what is represented is not immediately obvious. There is a woman at the beach, but her body is transfigured into a large toe. The impression that comes to mind from this technique is that perhaps Dalí had a difficult relationship with women in his past, or that he is fascinated by the idea of body morphology. The part of this painting that we are immediately drawn to though is clearly the large toe.

Objects: This is what we can talk about. When it comes to “Bather” the object of thought immediately is the surrealist quality. The “aboutness” of the painting is that is out of the ordinary, unusual, and somewhat grotesque. It’s hard to process because we want to see a whole body, but all we see is a something that is morphed.

Idalinterpretant: And the interpretant is outside the context of the museum. The only way to understand the “Why” of Dalí’s work is to understand his background, as a “more developed” sign. Why did he paint this image in this way? It’s a part of a pattern of becoming a part of a surrealist movement– this “genre code” one answer to the question. The other answer, an important cultural insight into his work, is that it was paint
ing is part of Dalí’s quest to understand the irrational.

As Martinez-Herrera et. al write on Dali and Pscyhoanalysis, “Salvador Dali was immersed in the conquest of the irrational and never ending search for the unconscious,” and he did this by using “disquieting pictorial symbolism and language” (Martinez-Herrera et. al, abstract). Or, a large ugly toe.

The article quotes Dalí in 1945, and it truly reflects the type of mind he had in painting: “The dream… a huge, heavy head on a threadlike body supported by the prongs of reality.. falling into space just as the dream is about to begin.”

An important interpretant of this work is Dalí’s life, the fact that he often struggled to prove his existence especially because he was named after his brother, who had died before his birth. His father regularly visited prostitutes and tried to teach him lessons with grotesque images of STDs. Such experiences morphed his notions of the body, sexuality, and his existence altogether. Becoming a part of the surrealist movement was just another factor to his psychological development (Martinez-Herrera 2003, pg. 855-6).

These factors were lost to me when I first visited the museum in Barcelona. But having the sufficient background to Dalí’s life makes the toe as an image of a woman bathing “make sense.”

Works Cited

Irvine, Martin. “Introduction to Visual and Pictorial Semiotics: De-Blackboxing Meaning-Making in Art and VIsual Media.” Communication, Culture & Technology Program. Georgetown University. 2017.

Martinez-Herrera, M., Antonio G. Alcantara, and Lorena Garcia-Fernandez. “Dali (1904-1989): Psychoanalysis and Pictorial Surrealism.” The American Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 160, no. 5, 2003., pp. 855-6 Research Library; Science Database; Social Science Database,

Strom, Kirsten. “‘Avant-Garde of What?”: Surrealism Reconceived as Political Culture.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 62, no. 1, 2004, pp. 37–49.

Image locations:

Bather, full form:

Bather, toe:


Samuel B. Morse and the National Gallery of Art

By Jing Chen, Shalina Chatlani, and Zhihui Yu


We visited the National Gallery of Art during last week’s class in order to understand museums or art galleries’ roles and functions more practically and deeply. During this tour, we got the chance to appreciate great American paintings in National Gallery of Art, from which we could have a better understanding of  American art history.

First, we ran into the Voyage of life series(1842) by Thomas Cole. His work traces the journey of an archetypal hero along the “River of Life.” The NGA says that Cole’s paintings depict an “intrepid voyager” who “may be read as a personification of America, itself at an adolescent stage of development.” In the early 1800s, sons of the newborn country were ambitious to establish their own traditions and genres. Samuel Morse was one of the artists who practiced to advance arts in America. When we enter the room where there is The House of Representatives (1822-23), we felt like we should be prepared to the see some serious works.

It’s clear that Morse was dedicated to his craft of being an American historical painter. As Alexander and Alexander write in Museums in Motion, “exhibition, education, or interpretation-the conveyance of culture and a commitment to community or social welfare have grown to be important aims for the museum in the last century.” Thinking of Morse’s other masterwork Gallery of the Louvre(1833), we can feel his ambitions to create works with historical significances of American national identity and transport European art traditions to the US. There are many portraits of important historical figures hanging in the room. They are all witnesses of American history. We sensed this “reality” of museum that cannot be sensed when you just scan your computer through your cold screen at home. The canvas included careful renderings of architecture and people.

Stepping outside of the artwork, its frame, the room it’s inside, and the museum itself allows the individual to better understand the role of the artwork within a larger context. One way to understand these dimensions of experience is seeing them as ‘interfaces,’ or windows to meaning. Alexander and Alexander in Museums in Motion reflect upon the original function of museums as transitioning over time based on both intentional and unintentional political, aesthetic, and educational purposes. In analyzing the artwork, it’s helpful to understand the context within which artifacts were chosen to be placed in the Museum. For instance, Alexander and Alexander explained how in Rome ‘museums’ included artifacts that the state had acquired after conquering another region. This context of acquisition is important to understand, because the artifact is not just a stand alone piece; it’s actually very political. At the time, the variety of pieces showed the grandeur of the Roman empire and its military strength.  By stepping outside of the work and looking toward the purpose of the rooms within the museum, the visitor can gain a clear idea of why certain artifacts were important to the curators and the content of the artifact might have had importance in society.

According to McClellan in his book on art museums, the mission of Washington’s National Gallery of Art “is to serve the United States of America…by preserving, collecting, exhibiting, and fostering the understanding of works of art.” The National Gallery’s historic American collection was transformative, allowing for an enriched and enhanced presentation of the history of American painting in the permanent collection galleries.  In Morse’s time, the American Arts were not treated very seriously, but thanks to the efforts of him and his peers, American collectors started to collect and support their own arts. And seeing the room within which Samuel B. Morse’s painting House of Representatives was placed, one can tell that it is important. Looking around the room, the visitor can see that many of the pieces were part of the Corcoran collection and the Andrew W. Mellon collection. Mellon was instrumental in acquiring historical artifacts throughout American history, and many of these pieces were obviously important to have come under his radar. And, Morse’s painting, which was part of the Corcoran collection, must be very important to the museum, since it is being placed within this group of works.

The way the pieces are arranged within the room itself shows that Morse is considered to be part of an important collection of historical paintings on American politics and culture–which is exactly what Morse had been working for his entire life. He’s placed within a room with his teacher, Benjamin West, as well as other artists that were known for depicting important historical figures and events. Understanding this concept is important to recognizing the context within the artwork itself should be interpreted. Just blindly looking toward a painting without the background of the interface museum may result in the visitor losing out on some important details. At first glance, it just seems like a painting of congressional figures, but it’s truly much more symbolic and complex. Finally, seeing the artwork itself as an interface for what was happening during society at the time is important as well. The painting is more than just a depiction of an event; it is truly a “window” into what might have been happening during a particular time period, and it’s the artist’s attempt to steer the viewer toward a particular viewpoint. This painting represents a functioning congressional house, which was not the case at the time. But, it was the ideal that Morse wanted.

Works Cited:

Alexander, Edward P. Museums in Motion: An Introduction to the History and Functions of Museums. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1979. Print.

Corcoran Gallery of Art et al., eds. Corcoran Gallery of Art: American Paintings to 1945. Washington, D.C. : Manchester,Vt: Corcoran Gallery of Art ; in association with Hudson Hills Press, 2011. Print.  

McClellan, Andrew. The Art Museum from Boullée to Bilbao. Berkeley, CA: U of California, 2008. Print.