2023-2024 Catalog

ARTH 391 Curatorial Seminar in Art History

A seminar focusing on a topic in the history of art taught by a practicing curator at a Los Angeles cultural institution. Course topic(s) change annually and will include off-campus hands-on work within the context of curatorial and exhibition practices. Course may be repeated for credit with a different topic.


Collecting Value: Photography Archives of Los Angeles (4 units)

This course examines photography collections and archives of Los Angeles. Rather than looking at a single artist, time period, or approach to the photographic medium, we will look at the dynamics of photo collections held by institutions and individuals: how they are formed, what they contain, and which histories and narratives they uphold, counter, or exceed. 

Each week, the class will visit a different collection across the city, exploring venues such as museums, libraries, galleries, and historical archives. We will also meet with contemporary artists who use and collect vernacular images in their practice. With each module, we will explore and complicate histories of the medium and set out to understand how institutions use photography collections to produce and reinforce cultural, historical, and economic value. 

The class will also correspond to the organizing of a forthcoming exhibition of Chinese photography from the 1980s and 90s, recently acquired by the Hammer Museum. The course will teach methodologies of curatorial practice with a focus on archival research, material preservation, and museum writing.


Drawing from Life and the Imagination: 17th-century Dutch Drawings at the Getty Museum (4 units)

Taught in the study room of the J. Paul Getty Museum by the Curator of Drawings at the J. Paul Getty Museum, this course examines 17th-century Dutch drawings. Using Getty drawings made by Rembrandt van Rijn and his contemporaries, this class offers students a unique opportunity to study Dutch works on paper firsthand. Classes will be structured around a thematic selection of drawings and discussion topics include natural history illustration, landscape, figure studies and portraiture, religion, and travel by land and sea. Students will gain a better understanding of various drawing media and techniques as well as obtain a detailed overview of the function of Dutch drawings from the 1600s. Students will read primary sources (in English) about art theoretical debates of the time. Particularly important is the debate about whether artists should draw from life or from their imagination. This two-pronged approach to draftsmanship accounts for the meticulously rendered, vibrant 17th-century Dutch drawings that continue to delight and provoke us today.


East Asian Gardens: China, Japan, Korea—and California? (4 units)

What kinds of gardens have existed in East Asia, and what sorts of functions have they fulfilled? How have they engaged with broader visions of the cosmos, and how have they expressed such understandings? What happens to such gardens when they are translated into a cultural context very different from that in which they emerged? To answer these questions, this course, taught by a curator at the Huntington Library, will take a broad view of the history of East Asian garden-making, examining images, texts, films, and gardens from the 2nd century BCE to the present. We will investigate hunting parks constructed as microcosms of empires, holey rocks that inspired dream-journeys to immortal realms, Buddhist paradises accessible in this-worldly estates, and textual fantasies of gardens of the mind. Taking advantage of the Chinese and Japanese Gardens at the Huntington, this course will also explore how such concepts have been put into practice in the physical spaces of these gardens, where the course will be held each week. Moreover, we shall trace the very different histories of these two gardens in order to gain insights into California's shifting relationship to East Asia over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In taking this course, students will ultimately gain an understanding of the diversity of garden forms in East Asia; familiarity with key concepts used in garden-making; practice with the skills of visual and spatial analysis, as well as cultural and historical contextualization, necessary to discuss gardens meaningfully; and experience with curatorial strategies for making East Asian gardens accessible to diverse audiences. The final project will involve developing an interpretive program for one section of the Huntington’s gardens. This course meets at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical GardensAdditional Core Requirement Met: Regional Focus and Pre-1800.


Introduction to Curatorial Practice (4 units)

This seminar explores the conceptual and practical aspects of making exhibitions. Students will investigate curatorial strategies through readings, class discussions, and trips to local galleries and museums. Seminar discussions will emphasize the ethics and social impact of curators’ work. These concerns include accessibility, repatriation, the care and display of indigenous objects, exhibiting Blackness, power and labor dynamics.

This course uses exhibitions as case studies and examines the strategies of curators including David Driskell, Okwui Enwezor, Thelma Golden, Wanda Nanibush, and Marcia Tucker. It also investigates the structure and influence of international art fairs like Documenta, Dak’Art, and the Whitney Biennial. Students will also have an opportunity to respond to the professor’s current curatorial projects.

Students will conceive an exhibition for their final project. They will compile a list of artworks, write a project description, and write select exhibition texts. By the end of the semester, students will have critically examined a variety of curatorial strategies and assessed their intended and unintended outcomes. Students will gain knowledge about the practice of conceiving and organizing exhibitions.


The Art of Describing: 17th- century Dutch Paintings and Drawings at the Getty Museum (2 units)

Taught on site at the Getty Museum every other Friday, this class fosters a close study of 17th-century Dutch drawings and paintings. Examining the Getty’s collection of Dutch art through the lens of Svetlana Alpers’ groundbreaking book, The Art of Describing, this class explores the craft of representation and questions the narrative of the “Dutch Golden Age.”


The Los Angeles Photo Archive (4 units)

This course examines photography collections and archives of Los Angeles. Rather than looking at a single artist, time period, or approach to the photographic medium, we will focus on photo collections held by local institutions and individuals, examining how they are formed, what they contain, and which histories and narratives they uphold or counter. Each week, the class will engage with different photo collections through site visits to museums, libraries, galleries, and historical archives, as well as in-class guest lectures by collectors and contemporary artists who use and collect images in their practice. Through assignments and group discussions, the course will also teach methodologies of curatorial practice with a focus on archival research and museum writing.


TRUE GRIT: American Prints from 1900 to 1950 (2 units)

This seminar engages the exhibition and the J. Paul Getty Museum: "True Grit: American Prints from 1900 to 1950" which opens on October 15, 2019.  This exhibition, drawn from local museums and a private collection in Los Angeles, provides a vibrant survey of early twentieth-century American printmaking. Compelling depictions by Peggy Bacon, George Bellows, Mabel Dwight, Edward Hopper, Martin Lewis, Kyra Markham, and John Sloan convey a broad view of American culture that include dance halls and boxing rings, skyscrapers and subways, parks and tenement apartments. Using innovative printmaking techniques, these American artists captured the gritty world around them and came to terms with modern life. This seminar will examine the nature of American printmaking in the early twentieth century. In addition to working with the Getty curator in planning the installation of the exhibition itself, topics will include evolving printmaking techniques and the evolution of a uniquely American subject matter.


2 or 4 units


Any 100- or 200-level Art History course

Core Requirements Met

  • Fine Arts