This course will examine the notion of the ephemeral, in other words, objects and materials of short duration, and how they raise questions of time, materiality, and matter that relate to changing political, social, and cultural contexts. Art historians have long focused their attention on the singular masterpiece and their attendant notions of enduring value, aesthetic perfection, and the ideal. Yet recent scholarship in fields such as media studies have demonstrated that the ephemeral and obsolescence or the outdated have played an equal role in our understanding of the work of art and its materials. What if a work of art was meant to last for just 15 minutes? What would it mean to make a work of art that lasted the span of a snapchat? We will explore the notion of the ephemeral through a series of readings organized around conceptual terms such as dust, the archive, the monumental, celebrity, and happenings. Theoretical readings and class discussions will be anchored in the study of works of art ranging from paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, film, and performance art, from antiquity to the present. These discussions will be supplemented by visits to museum collections and conservation labs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Morgan Library and Museum, and other institutions in the New York area. The aim of the course is to demonstrate that artworks are not only the object of an artist’s intentionality, but subject to changing cultural perceptions of time.
Course Code: HTA 306