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SBMA Curator's Choice Lectures

Curator's Choice is an innovative lecture series featuring prominent speakers hand-picked by the Museum’s curators. Distinguished experts offer fresh perspectives on the visual arts and provide stimulating opportunities for discovery in the Santa Barbara community.

The Curator's Choice lecture series is made possible through the sponsorship of the Museu's curatorial support groups: Friends of Asian Art (FOAA), Dead Artists Society (D.A.S.), PhotoFutures, and The Museum Contemporaries (TMC). To receive information about one or more of these support groups please contact Hanna Ashcraft at or call 805.884.6425.

Past Lectures:

2013 – 2014
2011 – 2012

Kobayashi KIYOCHIKA, The Painter’s Gesture; Eye of the Needle; Blowing the Fire; Haircut, from the series “OneHundred Faces: Supplement to Thirty-Two Faces,” March 1883. Color woodblock print. SBMA, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Roland A. Way.

Sponsored by

Miriam Wattles

Mastering Light and Darkness: The Art of Kobayashi KIYOCHIKA

May 3, 2015

One of the last great ukiyo-e (floating world picture) masters of Japan, Kobayashi KIYOCHIKA (1847–1915) is well known for his intense engagement with Western artistic practices in his prints and paintings. Having studied under both Western and Japanese artists, his range and output was astounding. His oeuvre included radical experimentations with light and shadow in Tokyo landscapes, battle scenes of the Sino- and Russo-Japanese wars, biting political satire and militaristic propaganda, as well as paintings and prints that gave a comical twist to traditional themes. Focusing on Kiyochika’s paintings and prints from the Museum’s permanent collection, Professor Wattles will highlight the way he combined dark and light humor in his satirical cartoons and propaganda series.

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), Head of a Man, c. 1508-10. Oil on canvas, 21.2 x 17.2 inches. Purchased by Glasgow Museums, 1971 (3283). © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection. Courtesy American Federation of Arts.

Sponsored by

James Clifton

The Italianness of Italian Art

April 9, 2015

What makes Italian art Italian? Can we identify an “Italianness” of Italian art that is consistent through the centuries and from one end of the country to the other? Drawing on the splendid examples in the exhibition Botticelli, Titian and Beyond: Italian Masterpieces from Glasgow Museums, this lecture attempts to describe a geohistory of Italian art while delicately negotiating a minefield of gross generalizations and ethnic stereotyping.

James Clifton is director of the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation and a curator in Renaissance and Baroque painting at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. He earned his doctorate at Princeton University with a dissertation on Neapolitan painting of the 17th century. Clifton has curated exhibitions, written film scripts, and published widely on the arts of early-modern Europe.

Guerchino, Samson Captured by the Philistines 1619. Oil on canvas. Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1984.

Sponsored by

Michael Fried

Guercino’s Anni Mirabiles (1619-1620)

January 15, 2015

The years 1619-20 saw the young Italian painter Guercino produce major painting after major painting, seemingly without pausing to catch his breath.  Everyone interested in 17th-century Italian art knows this and yet the paintings themselves have remained curiously unexamined by scholars seeking to understand what exactly is going on in them.  In this lecture Michael Fried tries to break that spell and say something about the deeper importance of Guercino's art.

Michael Fried holds the J.R. Herbert Boone Chair in the Humanities at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. Fried is one of the most influential art historians, art critics, and literary critics working today and has published richly and variously on a wide range of subjects, from Caravaggio through contemporary “art” photography.

Giorgio Morandi, Still Life (Natura morta), 1956. Oil on canvas. Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, B.A. 1929. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE Rome

Sponsored by

Carol Armstrong

The Matter of Still Life

November 6, 2014

Carol Armstrong will consider examples of the ways in which still-life painting have engaged with the human meaning of materiality. Matter was originally argued to be the opposite of thought; but more recently, painting (and art more generally) has developed as a form of “material thought.” In this lecture, Armstrong will look closely at a wide-ranging series of objects that “think” about what it means to be a material thing.

Armstrong teaches and writes about 19th-century French painting, the history of photography, the history and practice of art criticism, feminist theory, and the representation of women and gender in art and visual culture. She received her Ph.D. from Princeton University and has taught at prestigious colleges on both coasts. She has published books and essays on Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Paul Cézanne, and 19th- and 20th-century photography, and has curated numerous exhibitions.

Left: Portrait of the artist. Right: Jorge Pardo, Untitled (Sea Urchin), 2012 Aluminum, molded Plexiglas, canvas, electrical cords, lightbulbs. SBMA, Museum Purchase with funds provided by The Museum Contemporaries and 20th Century Art Quasi Endowment Fund.

Sponsored by

Jorge Pardo

October 23, 2014

Artist Jorge Pardo is known for sculptures and large-scale installations that deftly straddle art, design, and architecture — challenging the conventional boundaries of these realms as well as the protocols of the museum exhibition. In conjunction with the Contemporary/Modern exhibition, which features Pardo’s colossal lamp sculpture Untitled (Sea Urchin) (2012), this lecture is a special opportunity to hear the artist reflect on his work and process.

Pardo received a BFA from Art Center College of Design in 1988. He was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2010 and his works have been presented in solo exhibitions at numerous national and international venues.

Landmark: The Fields of Photography. Farnborough: Thames & Hudson, 2014. 215. Print.Image: Almond, Darren. Night + Fog (Norilsk) (26). 2007. Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin.

Sponsored by

William A. Ewing

Landmark: The Fields of Photography: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

October 14, 2014

Contemporary photographers have reexamined the rich tradition of landscape photography through technological developments and evolving techniques, causing a shift from pristine landscapes to heavily man-altered environments. Stemming from his most recent publication, William A. Ewing will present 120 works made by 21st-century photographers for an in-depth study of this evolving field: untouched regions of the earth, scarred terrain, and entirely conceptual landscapes.

Ewing is a curator, author, and museum director whose 40-year career has been split equally on both sides of the Atlantic. After serving as director at multiple international museums, Ewing was appointed as the director of the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne, Switzerland.

Beatrice Wood, A Nun’s Dream, 1996. Pencil and colored pencil on paper. Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Gift of Francis M. Naumann and Marie T. Keller.

Sponsored by

Francis M. Naumann

Not the Mama of Dada: Beatrice Wood’s Early Career in New York

May 22, 2014

Dada and Surrealist specialist Francis M. Naumann traces Beatrice Wood’s early artistic career and involvement with the New York Dada community, contextualizing the formative experiences that shaped her unique persona and art. These include her significant relationships with collectors Walter and Louise Arensberg, artist Marcel Duchamp, writer and diplomat Henri-Pierre Roché, and others. Naumann met Wood in 1976, when the two formed a friendship that would last until her death in 1998.

Naumann is author of the definitive New York Dada 1915–25 (1994), among other books. He curated the exhibitions Making Mischief: Dada Invades New York, Whitney Museum of American Art (1996), and Beatrice Wood: A Centennial Tribute, American Craft Museum in New York (1997) [traveled to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art].
Sponsored by

Sugimoto Setsuko, photo courtesy of Kateigaho International Edition (left), Katayama Kuroemon on stage, photo courtesy of Katayama Kuroemon (center), Ise Shrine (right)

Katayama Kuroemon, Sugimoto Setsuko, and Masuura Yukihito

Master Artists from Japan: Theater, Culinary Arts, and the Rebuilding of the Shrine

January 29, 2014

As part of UC Santa Barbara’s week-long program, Master Artists from Japan: Living Traditions, three renowned Japanese artists, each representing a living cultural heritage, will present an evening of Noh performance, culinary demonstrations, and a discussion of the rebuilding and rededication process for Japan’s sacred shrines. As Kofuku Taishi Ambassadors, these artists will share their cultural traditions in gratitude for the American public’s helpful response after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Imogen Cunningham, Edward and Margrethe, 1922. Collection of George Eastman House. ©The Imogen Cunningham Trust.
Sponsored by

Beth Gates Warren

The "Lost" Years

January 19, 2014

Margrethe Mather and Edward Weston met in Los Angeles in 1913 and established a fondness for one another that extended past their professional working relationship as artists. Ms. Warren will focus on her own research surrounding the two artists, the complexity of their relationship and their resulting photographic works of early Twentieth-Century Los Angeles. Their photographs combined with Ms. Warren’s research provide insight into the history of Los Angeles during the rise of Hollywood as well as the economic and political unrest at the time.

Beth Gates-Warren is a Photographic Historian and former Director of the Photography Department at Sotheby’s. She curated the SBMA-sponsored exhibition: Margrethe Mather & Edward Weston: A Passionate Collaboration in 2005.

Sponsored by


Miriam Wattles

Gossip Afloat: Itcho and Asazuma Boat in 18th and 19th Century Japan

December 8, 2013

Miriam Wattles Ph.D., Associate Professor, History of Art and Architecture, University of California at Santa Barbara.Currently Tokyo Study Center Director for UC Education Abroad Program, Visiting Professor, International Christian University, Tokyo.

The simple image of a lady seated in a boat, moored by a gnarled willow is now recognized by only a few as “Asazuma Boat.” Yet for many generations this motif was well known and widespread in Japan, appearing in paintings, woodcuts, drama, dance, parody books, novels and fashion accesso­ries. In fact, a whiff of scandal propelled its popularity. Its first rendition was commonly thought to have been political satire, and the cause of exile for its painter, Hanabusa Itch(1652-1724). Using SBMA’s own “Asazuma Boat” painting by Seitei in the late 19th century as a point of departure, Professor Wattles will discuss the legend surrounding this notorious motif and the renegade artist Itch, revealing something of the undercurrents that circulated through early modern Japanese politics, media, and art.

Luca Cambiaso, The Holy Family with the Infant St. John, n.d. (ca. 1570). Pen and ink, mounted on cardboard. SBMA, Gift of the Women’s Board.

Sponsored by


Catherine Loisel

The Role of Drawing in Rome and Florence in the Seventeenth Century

June 6, 2013

This lecture highlights drawings by Giacomo Cavedone, Michel François Dandré-Bardon, and Bernardino Poccetti, which are featured in the SBMA exhibition, Idea into Image: Selected Old Master Drawings from the Permanent Collection, guest curated by Dr. Catherine Loisel. Dr. Loisel specializes in Italian Drawings of the XVIth to XVIIIth centuries, and recently curated the exhibition, Italian Drawings in French Public Collections (2006). In 2004, she published the catalogue of drawings by Ludovico, Agostino, and Annibale Carracci in the Louvre. She is currently preparing the second volume of the catalogue of Bolognese drawings.

Danny Lyon, SNCC workers outside funeral. The Menil Collec¬tion, Houston. © 2012 Danny Lyon/Magnum Photos. Courtesy the Edwynn Houk Gallery

Sponsored by


Julian Cox

Danny Lyon: The Road to Freedom

February 17, 2013

In 2008, Julian Cox organized a ground-breaking exhibition and publication titled Road to Freedom: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement, 1956-1968. Since 2010, he has served as Founding Curator of Photography and Chief Curator of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. He recently hosted the exhibition This World Is Not My Home from the Menil Collection, opening at SBMA on February 16.

Mr. Cox will spoke about the Civil Rights movement with a special focus on photographer Danny Lyon's contribution as a SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) photographer. Within this framework, he also spoke about the exhibition on view and the importance of the recently-acquired Civil Rights portfolio produced by Danny Lyon as a young man.

Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1949, National
Gallery of Art, Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc.

Sponsored by


Michael Leja

Explosive Serenity, Divine Hellfire: Rothko's Abstractions

January 10, 2013

Although he occasionally professed to hate art critics, Mark Rothko had a surprisingly productive relationship with some of them. They helped him understand and explain his work by giving him words and metaphors to embrace and reject. His art, while deliberately abstract, was deeply invested in allusive references that he tried to control, multiply, and balance. His critics helped him meet this persistent challenge: together they engaged in a contradictory process of invoking, layering, and disavowing allusions and associations. The “explosive serenity” and “divine hellfire” evoked through finely tuned combinations of composition, color, density, and edges sought to instill in viewers experiences of intense conflict.

Rothko wanted to make abstract form generate contradictory feelings experienced simultaneously: calm and agitation, stability and instability, hope and despair. “The nobility and the contemplative exaltation of art is a hollow shell unless it has as its core, unless it is filled to the point of bulging by the wild,” he wrote.

Sol LeWitt, Splotch 15, 2005. Acrylic on fiber­glass. 12” x 8’4” x 6’8”. LeWitt Collection, Chester, CT. Photo: Jason Wyche.

Sponsored by


Nicholas Baume

Making Art Public

December 16, 2012

In recent years public art has emerged as a newly vibrant focus of creativity in contemporary art. Artists relish the challenge, immediacy and contextual richness of urban spaces, while enlightened cities recognize the value of investing in quality of life and education through dynamic cultural programs in the public sphere.

Nicholas Baume, appointed Director and Chief Curator of the Public Art Fund in September 2009, leads New York City’s preeminent presenter of art in the public realm. In this capacity, he has overseen recent projects including solo installations by Ryan Gander, Paola Pivi, Rob Pruitt, and Eva Rothschild; the group exhibitions Statuesque and Common Ground; the major career survey Sol LeWitt: Structures 1965 - 2006; and Tatzu Nishi: Discovering Columbus, the artist’s first-ever public work in the United States.

Shitao, Landscapes for Huang
Lü, leaf 1 (detail), 1694. Ink and color
on paper, album of eight leaves, Los
Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Fund.

Sponsored by


Stephen Little

Esablishing Authenticity in Traditional Chinese Painting

November 18, 2012

Issues of connoisseurship have been central to the appreciation and study of traditional Chinese paintings. How does one determine an authentic Chinese painting from a copy or forgery, and what determines the difference between a copy and a forgery? This lecture examines some of the key issues and techniques involved in the connoisseurship of Chinese painting.

John Frederick Peto, Still Life with Cake, n.d. Oil on board. Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Gift of Charles C. and Elma Ralphs Shoemaker.

Sponsored by


Peter John Brownlee

SCENERY, STORY, SPIRIT: American Painting and Sculpture from the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

May 17, 2012

This lecture highlights particular trends in painting and sculpture of the United States made during the century extending from the Second Great Awakening of the early 1800s to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Exploring the cultural contexts in which American art evolved during this period, the lecture will touch on key historical developments as addressed in landscape, genre, still-life, and portrait paint¬ings, as well as in selected sculptures.

Brownlee is Associate Curator at the Terra Foundation for American Art in Chicago, where he recently organized the exhibitions Manifest Destiny / Manifest Responsibility: Environmentalism and the Art of the American Landscape (Loyola University Museum of Art, 2008) and A New Look: Samuel F. B. Morse’s Gallery of the Louvre (National Gallery of Art, 2011-12; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 2012-13). Prior to joining the Terra Foundation, Brownlee served as a research associate for the exhibition, Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination, co-organized by the Peabody Essex Museum and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Martin Parr, England. Cambridge. 2005. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos / RoseGallery

Sponsored by


Martin Parr


January 29, 2012

A world-renowned photographer, curator, publisher, and editor, Martin Parr is an acute observer of contemporary culture and an unflinching chronicler of the times. In his more than fifty publications, Parr visually explores how we present ourselves to others, what we value and how we really look.

Mr. Parr's Curator's Choice lecture will be the culminating event to his week in Santa Barbara and promises to be witty, provocative and challenging.

Dr. Sharada in dancing Shiva pose near Nandi mandapa Tanjavur Brhadisvara temple

Sponsored by


Dr. Sharada Srinivasan

Cosmic Dance of Shiva: Art, Science, and Dance Explorations in Indian Sculpture

September 25, 2011

In celebration of the opening of renovated Asian galleries, Dr. Sharada Srinivasan, scientist, art historian, archaeometallurgist, and exponent of the classical south Indian temple dance tradition of Bharata Natyam, will present an illustrated lecture and dance performance elucidating the relationship between south Indian sculptures and dance. Dr. Srinivasan will explore the aesthetics and technique of South Indian bronze casting, the artistic milieu enriched by the devotional poetry, and perceptions of the cosmos.
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