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Research by Author and Art History Professor "Emerita" Alessandra Comini Honored by Egon Schiele Museum in Tulln, Austria

Comini’s in-depth work on Expressionist artist Egon Schiele key part of new exhibit

Alessandra Comini, center, with Johanna Miki-Leitner, governor of Lower Austria, left, and Christian Bauer, curator of the Egon Schiele Museum Tulln. The plaque, written in German, translates to: “... The golden honor of merit for services to the state of Lower Austria, awarded April 6, 2018 ... to Dr. Alessandra Comini.” This is the second time Comini has received a service award from Austria for her research and work on artist Egon Schiele. Photo by NLK Pfeiffer, courtesy of the Egon Schiele Museum Tulln.

What Do Meadows Art History Professors Research?

The legacy of scholarly research and the publication of books, journal articles and more runs deep at SMU Meadows’ Department of Art History. Below is a list of current faculty and a brief summation of their areas of expertise:

Chair of the department:

Adam Herring, The Emily Rich Summers Endowed Professor in Art History and director of graduate studies. Specialist in the art of the pre-Columbian Americas. Research interests include visual theory and semiotics, anthropological and materialist critique of visual experience, and the history of the discipline. 2017 Guggenheim Fellow.

Faculty:

Beatriz Balanta, assistant professor of art history. Scholarly work and interests include analysis of the photographic and literary dimensions of racial formation in Latin America; 19th-century debates regarding freedom, citizenship, and nation building in Brazil, Colombia, and the United States; contemporary theorizations of art practices from the Global South.

Roberto Conduru, Endowed Distinguished Professor of Art History. Research addresses modern and contemporary art and architecture in Brazil, with an emphasis on Afro-Brazilian art and on Constructivist architecture. Interests include global art history and current debates in the visual cultures of Latin America and the transatlantic world.

Elizabeth Bacon Eager, assistant professor of art history. Specializes in the transatlantic history of 18th- and 19th-century art and material culture, with a focus on intersections between art, science and technology.

Amy Freund, associate professor and The Kleinheinz Family Endowment for the Arts and Education Endowed Chair in Art History. Specialist in 18th-century European art. Research: politics and visual culture; portraiture and the history of selfhood; the visual representation of animals; and the history and decoration of mechanical objects, especially guns.

Randall Griffin, University Distinguished Professor. Research: different uses of nature in American modernism, along with depictions of the "abnormal body." Multiple awards and distinctions for his teaching and books.

Adam Jasienski, assistant professor of art history. Specializes in 16th- and 17th-century visual culture, particularly in Spain and Latin America. Research: Portraiture and identity; art in legal proceedings; distortion and imperfection in religious art; and the tension between official and unofficial forms of interacting with images.

Danielle Joyner, visiting assistant professor. Specializes in the arts and manuscript traditions of the European Middle Ages. Current research: ecocriticism and environmental histories to examine intersections among medieval arts, people and the environment.

Stephanie Langin-Hooper, assistant professor and Karl Kilinski II Endowed Chair of Hellenic Visual Culture. Primary research analyzes the terracotta figurines of Hellenistic Babylonia utilizing perspectives of miniaturization affect, postcolonialism, gender theory and materiality. Other research: miniaturization in the broader Hellenistic world, monuments and issues of monumentality in Mesopotamian art history, and Hellenistic Babylonian prosopography.

Lisa Pon, professor of art history. Specializes in early modern European art, architecture and material culture. Current research and teaching: the mobilities of art, the authority of the artist and the work of art as religious image.

Eric Stryker, assistant professor of art history. Scholar of modern and contemporary art, film, and photography, with particular interest in post-war Britain and Europe. Primary research: the use of visual media as techné in reconfigurations of social identity and human geography. Interests: technologies of the body, visual rhetoric and the production of space.

The life of Expressionist artist Egon Schiele (1890-1918) is explored in depth in a new exhibit at the Egon Schiele Museum in Tulln, Austria, featuring research by SMU Meadows Distinguished Professor of Art History Emerita Alessandra Comini.

Comini’s contributions to the “Egon Schiele Private: A Biographical Approach” exhibit include six video monitor stations where visitors can learn about the life of Schiele, based on taped interviews she conducted with Schiele’s two sisters and sister-in-law 49 years after his death. The presentations, which use actors to represent Comini and the Schiele relatives, use Comini’s original interview recordings from 1967.

According to a 2011 article by William Boyd in The Guardian, Schiele’s paintings of candid and erotic nudes shocked 20th-century Vienna. The artistic talent shown by Schiele, a protégé of Gustav Klimt, was thought of as exceptional by many of his time. Others found his art to be obscene. In 1912 he was arrested on public immorality charges and spent 24 days in jail. On October 31, 1918, Schiele died from the Spanish flu at age 28, after which his art receded into the background for decades before interest in his work returned in the 1970s.

“Schiele, because of his extraordinary talent and unreserved depiction of sexuality, speaks to each new generation as they question the meaning of life and its secrets,” says Comini. “He broke away from the elegant style of art nouveau practiced by his mentor Gustav Klimt, and worked in a terse, angular style that did away with façade and penetrated into the psyche. Moving from the environmental to the existential, he thus mirrored what was happening in music, literature, dance and architecture in Freud’s Vienna.”

The State of Lower Austria honored Comini with a gold medal and service award on the opening day of the “Egon Schiele Private” exhibit at the new Schiele Museum in Tulln in April. It was the second time she received a service award from Austria for her work on Schiele. In 1990 the Republic of Austria gave Comini a similar service-to-the-nation award for her research, which included her 1963 discovery of the location of Schiele’s unknown, forgotten Neulengbach prison cell.

Schiele’s work can also be seen in four additional museums including the Egon Schiele Museum in Neulengbach, and in the Leopold, Belvedere and Albertina museums in Vienna.

“This speaks to the preservation of one of Austria’s truly great artists on whom there are novels, movies and even ballets,” says Comini.

Life of Egon Schiele
Museum visitors in front of one of the video displays about the life of Schiele. Photo by Martina Siebenhandl, courtesy of the Egon Schiele Museum Tulln.

About Alessandra Comini

Alessandra Comini, SMU University Distinguished Professor of Art History Emerita, has published eight scholarly books and numerous reviews, essays and articles for national and international publications. She was awarded the Grand Cross of Honor by the Republic of Austria for her work on Germanic art and music in 1990 and the Golden Honor of Merit for Services to the State of Lower Austria in 2018. She has contributed chapters to a wide variety of specialist books while authoring a number of exhibition catalogues and opera booklets. Comini also offers several illustrated lectures, many of which have been commissioned by institutions such as The Guggenheim Museum, Metropolitan Museum, American Musicological Society and Curtis Institute of Music, among others. Her work has been translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch and Swedish. In 2014 she began writing the Megan Crispi series of art history murder mystery books, including The Schiele Slaughters, The Kokoschka Capers, The Munch Murders and The Kandinsky Conundrum, among other titles.

“Egon Schiele Private: A Biographical Approach” opened on April 7 and will run through November 11, 2018 at the Egon Schiele Museum Tulln, in Tulln, Austria.

Read more about Alessandra Comini, the SMU Meadows Art History Department, and the Egon Schiele Museum Tulln.

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