Symposium & Public Talks: International Perspectives in the Era of John Sloan and the Ashcan School

November 3, 2017 @ 9:00 am – 6:30 pm
$20 Members, $25 Non-Members, Students FREE w/valid student I.D

John Sloan never traveled outside the United States. He was exposed to other cultures through friends who studied abroad, international art exhibitions, the transatlantic trade in prints and publications, and immigrants living in the U.S. This symposium will shed light on the international exchange of art and ideas that influenced the work of Sloan and his circle and shaped American art during his career. Leading scholars will explore the global conversations that inflected the work and critical reception of Sloan and his contemporaries.

Symposium supported by the Delaware Humanities Forum.

Schedule for Thursday, November 2

Free admission and open to the public. Advanced registration recommended.

6:00 p.m. Inside Look Gallery Discussion: Sloan’s Self- Portraits with Alba Campo Rosillo
7:00 p.m. Keynote lecture: Avis Berman, “The Butterfly and the Ashcan: The Impact of Whistler on Sloan and Glackens”

Schedule for Friday, November 3

$20 Members, $25 Non-Members, Students FREE w/valid student I.D. Advanced registration required. Registration includes admission to public talks on November 2.

Registration, 9:00 a.m.

Morning Session, 9:30 a.m.

  • Margarita Karasoulas, “Tasting the Sights: John Sloan’s Chinese Restaurant and Immigrant New York”
  • James Glisson, “Sloan’s Crowds”
  • John Fagg, “‘Unscienced but alive:’ The Transatlantic Origins of the Ashcan School Nude”
  • Respondent: Rebecca Zurier

Lunch and exhibition viewing

Graduate student lightning round, 1:15 pm

  • Ginny Badgett (PhD candidate, UCSB), Hannah Braun (MA, Boston University), Lee Ann Custer (PhD candidate, UPenn), Kelsey Gustin (PhD candidate, Boston University), Elizabeth Hawley (PhD candidate, Graduate Center at City University of New York), Jordan Hillman (PhD student in Art History, University of Delaware), Kristen Nassif (PhD student in Art History, University of Delaware), Alice Walkiewicz (PhD candidate, Graduate Center, CUNY)

Afternoon Session, 2:00 p.m.

  • Valerie Leeds, “Robert Henri: Reconciling Nationalism and Internationalism in His Art and Ideas”
  • Rachel Sanders, Sloan’s Legacy and Left-Wing Artists of the Depression Era
  • Adam Thomas, “Hopper and Sloan on High: Rooftops from Paris to Manhattan”

Archives Tour, 4:00 p.m.

Reception, 5:00 p.m.

Avis Berman, “The Butterfly and the Ashcan: The Impact of Whistler on Sloan and Glackens”

The names of John Sloan and William Glackens are not often paired with the nineteenth-century American expatriate James McNeill Whistler, yet the connections among the three are deep and abiding.  Glackens happily appropriated Whistler’s work as a vehicle for experiment, whereas Sloan was often influenced by it against his will.  Whistler was an extraordinarily prominent artist, so positing him as an inspiration may seem obvious. However, these artists – advocates of urban realism and affiliated with the Ashcan School – are typically presented as countering the aesthetic approach epitomized by Whistler. In truth, they were his admirers and emulators, even when their response appeared to be ambivalent, as Avis Berman will illustrate with comparative examples of paintings and works on paper.

 Avis Berman is an independent writer and art historian. She is the author of many books, articles, and catalogue essays on Whistler, on Sloan, and on other members of The Eight. In 2014-2015 she organized the first museum survey of Glackens’s work in nearly fifty years.

John Fagg, “Unscienced but alive”: The Transatlantic Origins of the Ashcan School Nude

While Thomas Eakins’ commitment to “the nude as the basis of art and art instruction” has long been recognised, the significance of the life class, studio practice and nude studies for the Ashcan School artists is rarely discussed. This talk follows Robert Henri’s journey from the dissection room at PAFA, through endless studies from the nude at the Académie Julian, and back to (reluctantly) drawing from casts at the École des Beaux-Arts before coming to his own “unscienced” approach to the body, which developed into increasing formalised pedagogy at the Charcoal Club in Philadelphia and the New York School of Art. It then considers male and female nudes made by John Sloan and George Bellows that were shaped by Henri’s teaching but also by the ideas of Walt Whitman, Emma Goldman and Havelock Ellis.

John Fagg is Lecturer and Director of the American and Canadian Studies Center, University of Birmingham, UK. He earned a BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Leeds, and my MA and PhD in American Studies at the University of Nottingham, where he then held a Leverhulme Postdoctoral Research Fellowship followed by a Lectureship in American Literature. In 2015 his Terra-prize-winning essay “Bedpans and Gibson Girls: Clutter and Matter in John Sloan’s Graphic Art” appeared in American Art in 2015.

James Glisson, “Sloan’s Crowds “

Painted after Sloan’s arrival from Philadelphia in April 1904, Coffee Line (winter 1904/5) and Ferry Slip, Winter (winter 1905/6) are two of his earliest New York paintings.  The stylized patterns that render the dark line of unemployed men waiting for a warm handout in Coffee Line and the impatient passengers waiting to disembark in Ferry Slip make for somber and melancholy pictures, especially as compared to the rollicking groups in Election Night (1907) or Return from Toil (1915). In Coffee Line and Ferry Slip, no individual face emerges as a point of sympathetic identification.  This is no small point.  Sloan’s reputation from 1905-1906 to the present is of a painter of humanity who portrayed urban types and engendered empathy with New York City’s working class. This paper reconsiders these two paintings with their abstractly rendered groups in light of Sloan’s difficult adjustment to New York life and turn-of-the-century discourse around crowds. A visual metaphor for social dislocation as well as the fragility of the Unites States’s democratic and economic system, the figure of the crowd permeated the popular press and shaped the emerging fields of sociology and psychology. As this paper shows in these two early paintings, Sloan was also a sort of social scientist, except he worked in oil paint and used proto-abstraction to describe the inequality and shifting circumstances of modern life.

James Glisson is Bradford and Christine Mishler Assistant Curator of American Art at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, in San Marino, California.


Margarita Karasoulas, “Tasting the Sights: John Sloan’s Chinese Restaurant and Immigrant New York”

This paper examines John Sloan’s 1909 painting Chinese Restaurant through the lens of food and taste to explore the growing presence of immigrants and the changing food culture in New York. Locating an escalating preoccupation with Chinatown—and particularly Chinese restaurants—in turn-of-the-century urban guidebooks, newspapers, magazines, and films, it elucidates how these sites offered multisensory experiences of racial others. By focusing on the senses and situating Sloan’s painting in dialogue with other ways that race was produced in this moment, an understanding of the Chinese restaurant as a key site for the negotiation of issues pertaining to racial difference emerges. Close examination of a related Chinese restaurant scene by Everett Shinn, set in Chinatown as opposed to the Tenderloin a decade earlier, provides further insights into the sensory construction of race at work in such imagery.

Margarita Karasoulas is Assistant Curator of American Art at the Brooklyn Museum, and a current doctoral candidate in the Department of Art History at the University of Delaware. Her dissertation, “Mapping Immigrant New York: Race and Place in Ashcan Visual Culture,” explores the racial significance of Ashcan School imagery in the context of period debates about immigration. She has received fellowship support from the Luce Foundation/American Council of Learned Societies, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and University of Delaware. Most recently, she curated The Puzzling World of John Sloan at the Delaware Art Museum and Electric Paris at the Bruce Museum.

Adam Thomas, “Hopper and Sloan on High: Rooftops from Paris to Manhattan”

Edward Hopper and John Sloan were perhaps the American artists most preoccupied with the urban rooftop in the early twentieth century. This paper examines their different approaches to depicting the setting and traces how French precedents informed the unruly and improvisational associations of elevated urban spaces.

Adam M. Thomas is Curator of American Art at the Palmer Museum of Art at the Pennsylvania State University, where he also teaches in the art history department. In 2016, he co-organized the exhibition Wild Spaces, Open Seasons: Hunting and Fishing in American Art and contributed to the catalogue (University of Oklahoma Press). Among his current projects is an exhibition devoted to the rooftop imagery of John Sloan and other artists in New York City.

Valerie Leeds, “Robert Henri: Reconciling Nationalism and Internationalism in His Art and Ideas”

Robert Henri (1865–1929), an influential painter and teacher, and close friend of John Sloan, made pointed reference in his writings to nationalism and the creation of a distinctly American art. At the same time, he maintained a global outlook in his own work and teachings, and this had a very profound impact on the work he created for which he is best known. This talk will explore and reconcile these two seemingly opposing ideologies and how they are manifested within his creative output.

Valerie Ann Leeds is an independent curator and, scholar specializing in American art, in particular, the work of Robert Henri and his circle. She received a PhD from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in American art and architecture, an MA from Syracuse University, and a BA from the University of Rochester, and has held curatorial positions at the Flint Institute of Arts, Orlando Museum of Art, Tampa Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. She has organized numerous exhibitions for museums around the country, and lectured and published widely on a variety of topics in American art.

Rachel Sanders, Sloan’s Legacy and Left-Wing Artists of the Depression Era

The pictorial forms pursued by the American left in the early decades of the twentieth century were political cartoons and realist paintings and prints. An exchange between these practices was cultivated in a series of periodicals, The Masses (1911-17), The Liberator (1918-24) and New Masses (1926-48), which functioned as forums for dialogue between artists, theorists and critics concerned with politics and culture. The aesthetic of The Masses shared much with that of the Ashcan School, a group of early twentieth-century American realists who pictured the seamier aspects of New York. This was largely due to chief ideologue and teacher Robert Henri. As the most politically active member of the Ashcan School and as a prolific cartoonist and art editor for The Masses John Sloan’s role in forging a critical realism that acquired left-wing and national associations is significant. It was this practice that offered fertile ground to many politically motivated artists working in the thirties. Idiomatic and iconographic similarities abound between The Masses-Ashcan imagery and the work of Louis Ribak, Nicolai Cikovsky, Harry Sternberg, Joseph Biel, Philip Reisman and Raphael, Moses and Isaac Soyer. As many artists and intellectuals became politicised by economic crisis the Communist Party of the United States of America gained increased importance in theoretical discourse. Nevertheless, few artists advocated Russian cultural directives. Rather American artists saw in the work of Sloan and his peers a viable foundation on which Social Realism and much of the art of New Masses could build. To assess this is to ensure that the early twentieth-century realists’ roles as propagators of a contentious aesthetic remains unobscured.

Rachel Sanders received her MA and PhD in History of Art from University College, London in 2011. She has taught at a number of institutions and currently lectures on the history of art and design at the City Literary Institute in London and Oxford Brookes University. Her research interest is early twentieth-century American political paintings and cartoons. She has published a number of articles on her research specialism and is currently writing a book on New Masses magazine.