Professor, Contemporary Art History & Theory, Art History and Archaeology
4204 Parren J. Mitchell Art-Sociology Building
Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley
Modern and Contemporary
Joshua Shannon is an art historian specializing in modern and contemporary visual art, photography, and architecture. His publications and courses focus on art’s relationships to social and cultural history during and since the Cold War period, with special interests in ecology, landscape, and cities. He is now working on a book called The Human Being Problem: Man and Other Unsustainable Myths in Modern American Art and co-editing a volume called Humans for the series Terra Foundation Essays (forthcoming, 2021).
Professor Shannon’s 2017 book, The Recording Machine: Art and Fact During the Cold War (Yale University Press) offers a new understanding of the transformation of the visual arts around 1968. Uncovering a stringent realism in the period’s art, this book traces many artists’ rejection of essential truths in favor of mere facts and surface appearances. Dubbing this tendency factualism, Professor Shannon illuminates its relationship to the Cold War’s preoccupation with data as well as the longer rise of a pervasive culture of fact. The book focuses on the United States and West Germany, closely reading works ranging from conceptual photography and earthworks to photorealist painting and abstraction. The Recording Machine is the winner of a Terra Foundation for American Art International Publication Grant. (An excerpt from the book is available here).
Professor Shannon's first book, The Disappearance of Objects: New York Art and the Rise of the Postmodern City (Yale University Press, 2009) considers how art in New York understood the transformation of the economy and of everyday life around 1960. A finalist for the book prize of the Phillips Collection's Center for the Study of Modern Art, the book also won a Wyeth Foundation Publication Grant from the College Art Association. (Excerpts from reviews are available here.)
Professor Shannon has published essays and reviews in American Art, The Art Bulletin, The Journal of Modern Craft, Modernism/Modernity, October, and Raritan, as well as in major exhibition catalogues and edited volumes. He has lectured across the United States and Europe. In 2007, he co-founded both the Society of Contemporary Art Historians and Contemporary Art Think Tank, and he served in the leadership of both organizations until 2012. In addition to other awards, Shannon has held the Terra Visiting Professorship at the Freie Universität Berlin (twice), the Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the University of Michigan, and two General Research Board Fellowships at the University of Maryland.
In 2012, Shannon founded The Potomac Center for the Study of Modernity, an interdisciplinary and inter-institutional research initiative hosting scholarly symposia in Washington, DC.
Professor Shannon's teaching is informed by deep concerns over sustainability and justice, by critical theory, and by the practice of close looking. Topics of his current and recent courses include portraiture, art and climate change, modernist architecture, photography, and ideas of the human being in contemporary art.
In 2020-21, Professor Shannon is on sabbatical in Berlin.
The Recording Machine: Art and Fact During the Cold War
Investigates art's obsession with facts during the Cold War, revealing hidden aspects of 1960s culture
Art History and Archaeology
The Disappearance of Objects: New York Art and the Rise of the Postmodern City
Uncovers the meanings of postwar art in New York as a revealing meditation on a rapidly changing society
Art History and Archaeology