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LibrlSt 722: Special Topics in Contemporary Culture:
Public Spaces, Social Ordering, and Popular Cultures


Associate Professor Joe Austin, History
Department of History
Thursday, 6-8:40pm, Curtin Hall 939
jaustin@uwm.edu

Course Description

Where is the "proper place" of art in the city? How do we make sense of the myriad American popular art forms that have developed in public spaces beyond the gallery-museum-fine arts-complex during the last half-century? Given that these art forms have often developed in relative isolation from those designated as fine arts, how do we create a coherent history of American art from these multiple, fragmented art worlds in America? How do we reconcile the qualities of fine art with notions of the popular and of shared public space?

This course takes up these questions through a series of case studies of popular arts in the post-1945 period, including graffiti, street art, and community murals; customized cars and motorcycles; posters, billboards, and signage; corporate plazas and "authorized" public art; and the public spaces of parks, yards, and streets. Repeatedly, cultural forms developed within more marginalized or popular spaces (public walls, streets, abandoned buildings and lots) by stigmatized groups (young people, racial and sexual minorities, self-taught artists) are selectively incorporated into the fine and commercial arts, and thus potentially into our considerations as American art history. Almost as frequently, these forms are made controversial, as violations of propriety, property, and proper order. If the dynamic between the social margins and the fine art mainstream is key to a uniquely American art, why are the originators of these art forms so often left out of history? How do we, as public citizens, position this group of producers in a common historical narrative that accounts for all?

Readings will be draw from a wide variety of authors and authorities, and include manifestos and condemnations; debates about the definition of art, art history, and the formation of separate art worlds (outsider, street, gallery); and conflicts over public/private property and the "rights to the city"; and histories of gender, race, sexuality, and public spaces within a democratic national culture.

Readings Include:

Henri Lefebvre, "The Right to the City" in Writings on Cities
Marcel Henaff and Tracy Strong, "The Conditions of Public Space: Vision, Speech, and Theatricality" in Public Space and Democracy
Wesley Skogan, "Introduction" from Disorder and Decline
Selections: Howard Becker, Art Worlds
Marcos Sanchez-Tranquilno, "Space, Power, and Youth Culture: Mexican American Graffiti and Chicano Murals in East Los Angeles, 1972-1978" and Brenda Jo Bright, "Remappings: Los Angeles Low Riders" in Looking High and Low: Art and Cultural Identity
Sarah Schrank, "Imagining the Watts Towers" in Art and the City
Selections: Roger Gastman and Caleb Neelon, The History of American Graffiti
Selections: Christoph Gurnenberg, Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic Era
Selections: Simon Moreley, Writing on the Wall: Word and Image in Modern Art
Selections: John Baeder, Sign Language: Street Signs as Folk Art



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