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The Top 10 Must-See Sessions at the College Art Association Conference

This is Hawaii, not LA, but it's all the same, right?  (photo by author)
This is Hawaii, not LA, but it's all the same, right? (photo by author)

Flipping through the 2012 College Art Association Conference Information and Registration booklet, I get the kind of excitement a football fan might get when creating a fantasy football team. Next week I’ll be heading to the 100th CAA Conference in Los Angeles — an event that brings together thousands of academic practitioners in the visual arts culture — so I want to get a head start on some of the presentations I want to attend.

There’s a lot of stuff to do at the conference, like attend alumni parties, go shopping for books and hand out business cards, but my favorite thing is listening to very smart people talk about very interesting art topics.

I like to focus on they way they deliver their talks and what kinds of strategies they use to really get the audience excited. And I like to learn and one day I hope to present, too! It’s not as spectacular as say, TED talks, but eventually it could become something outsiders to the organization might desire to attend.

In the wake of Alli Farer’s “Beyonce Songs Re-Imagined as Undergraduate Theses in Women’s and Gender Studies” titles, I have an even grander time inspecting academic text. So now, collected from a list of over 100 sessions, I want to share my top 10 must-see sessions at the CAA conference. These 90-minute sessions include multiple papers and presentations from different speakers. In this booklet, there are no descriptions beyond the session’s title and name of the chair. For the complete list of sessions with the names and schools of presenters, check out the sessions page on the official site, which again, have no supplemental descriptions.

 10. Is it Time to Question the “Privileging” of Visual Art?

What’s the point of putting a word of a session title in quotation marks?  Is this one of those sneaky euphemisms like saying, “play time” instead of “sex”?  The topic could be about anything: the 1%, academic institutions, the hierarchies of genres within the arts, who knows!  The sessions includes “A Conversation about Ocular Centricity,” “Brain Music,” and “Sniffing Booth,” which suggests a theme of physical responses to art and perhaps an emphasis in art on sight before our other senses.

9. Perceptions and Assumptions: Whiteness

It’s like Reverse Black History Month at CAA! I never learned that white was an ethnicity until I got to college and had specific texts to read. Growing up, white was normal, like heterosexual couples were normal, and so for me as an Asian and a gay, I was abnormal. I was an Asian guy, not just a guy, or I was a gay bartender, not a bartender. Now that I live in San Francisco, I’m the most normalized person here! I’m excited to see what is presented at this session, and even more so to see who is present in the audience. I love white people!

8. Flying Solo: The Opportunities and Challenges Presented to the Solitary Art Historian in a Small College

My, what a long title for such a specific topic! I would actually think this would be a rather popular session to attend since many fresh graduates in Art History will be attending and will want some words of wisdom starting out at a small school before heading to Harvard! CAA is the height of academic networking, too, so this session will be where the superheroes team up together and figure out how to rule the world, one document at a time.

7. “Disrupt this Session”: Rebellion in Art Practices Today

In the middle of this session I’m going to take my clothes off and run around the perimeter of the room. Just kidding. Look, I’m in my 20s, so a session title like this — starting with a presentation titled “WTF: It’s Only a Sticker” by Catherine Tedford of St. Lawrence University — makes me giddy. And with all the revolutionary Marxist theory I learned in graduate school, I just want to bring a can of fuel and a match and light myself on fire while tweeting how awesome this session is. #CAArocks

6. “Your Labels Make Me Feel Stupid:” Museum Labels as Art Historical Practice

Whoa!  Who is the audience for this?  Is this the session where I’ll find all the curators with lower self-esteem than me that I can convince to include me in a group show this summer? “You’re doing an exhibition about politics? I love politics! My favorite colors are red white and blue!”

5. Accumulation

If there’s one thing I know I’m going to do while I’m at the conference its this: get stuff. There are booths at CAA, like any other conference, with stuff like coupons, samples, and hopefully keychains. I love keychains. One day, I’ll probably make a sculpture with keychains. And a presentation about Rachel Harrison will obviously get any conspicuous consumer like me in the front row of this session.

4. Finish Fetish Sculpture from Los Angeles 1960s—1970s: Conservation Dilemma

Thanks to simple alliteration, I was immediately hooked on this title, which compelled me to google “Finish Fetish”. At first, I thought it was a spelling error of “Finnish,” but then I thought an academic booklet would have no such thing! According to Damon Willick’s article “Ooh LA LA” in the Winter 2007 publication of X-TRA, “Starting in the 1960s, East Coast critics labeled West Coast Minimalism ‘Finish Fetish’ or ‘The LA Look’ for its polished and oftentimes colored sculpture made from non-traditional art materials such as glass, plastic and polyurethane resin.” My five Apple products want me to go to there.

3. Sigmar Polke: (Art) History of Everything?

This title makes me want to jump out my college dorm room window so my roommate can get straight A’s. A colon, parentheses, and a question mark: is this real? I’m nowhere near a Polkeaphile, so for all y’all out there gunning for a seat here, please take mine.

2. The “Man” in Mannequin: Humankind on Display

“And we can build this thing together, stand in stone forever, nothing’s gonna stop us now … ” Yes? Anyone? Those are the famous lyrics to the Academy Award nominated Original Song “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” by Albert Hammond and Diane Warren and performed by Starship for the film Mannequin. If not one presenter at this session busts out this song, I’ll do it myself.  I’m paying good money to be here!

1. Urbanization and Contemporary Art in Asia

I feel like Hennessy Youngman should chair this session and begin by saying, “Yo, what up internet? This episode is about Contemporary Art in Asia. You know, internet, I don’t know when you last looked at a map, but for real – Asia?  Man, it’s kinda big.” My favorite thing about being an American artist is that I went through an American education. Asia! We can cover it in 3 hours!

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So for any of you CAA fans out there, please let us know what sessions you plan on attending or avoiding in the comments below.  It’s a small world out there, but once you get to a giant conference center and you realize we all fit in a quarter of the building, the world seems even smaller. Who knows what this entire hubbub about the academization of art is, but I’m sure there’s a session about that, too. See ya there!

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