Friday, February 11, 2011

A Gathering of Nerds: #CAA2011

Gruesome detail of Hilton interior. (and note the sensible black pumps, clearly a Renaissance or Baroque scholar)

It's that time again when sufferers of academentia descend on the garish post-mid-century-modern behemoth that is the 53rd Street Hilton like the flock of doomed blackbirds careening to their death in Arkansas. Indeed, among the overheard comments I noted while sashaying past a hallway was "Art history is in crisis." (this turned out to be among the attention-grabbing session titles that I look forward to each year) and at a panel, "only 13% of teaching jobs in the Humanities are tenure-track." Since thankfully, I happen to be among those academics that are as rare as a camel that can pass through the eye of a needle (ie. I am not looking for a job), I'm largely skipping the conference.

Let me cut the suspense short, here are my nominees for Best CAA Session Titles 2011:
Against Acknowledgment: Sexuality and the Instrumentalization of Knowledge
Recurating: New Practices in Exhibition Making
Interdependent Identity: Paradigm and Paradox in Contemporary Israeli and Palestinian Art
The Art of Pranks
Creating the Queer Diaspora
Dark Matter of the Art World
Will You Friend Me? Social Media Possibilities, Responsibilities and Challenges in Art Administration and Teaching

So this contest is not as fun as Toddlers & Tiaras, one of my antidotes against academentia, but it's fodder for snark and knowing sideyes among nerds such as myself (not that I am exempted from coining similar verbiage). However, my peeps in language departments always top me with their list of the MLA best of (see it here: ) In any case, I particularly adore it when academics try to come up with "sexy" titles (particularly since I have been toiling to find one for my book since probably Y2K, oy). I also love when we nerds try to over-analyze things like social media, or deploy alliteration to draw out a barrage of theory-speak. Good times.

I was as usual underwhelmed by the fashion, and as I was tweeted from on site, it consisted of a lot of severe haircuts (guilty) and eyeglasses (guilty), black clothing, the latter sometimes adorned with a particularly aggressive geometric/ethnic/or brightly-hued item of jewelry (on women). I did see one attendee rocking a neo-Boy George look featuring a fierce white fur in a very 1980s cut, rocked with leggings, short lace up boots and topped by a bowler style hat. Props. (above) Some out-of-NYC-based peeps noted that CAA features "better-dressed" people when held in NY. I am not so sure.

My favorite things besides the fashion runway and the session titles is (no, not the lukewarm Starbuck's coffee) the book fair. This year, as one doom-saying colleague pointed out, it was comprised mainly of art supplies rather than recondite and costly art history publications. I did a drive by so I will report later on the trends for the year. Based on perusal of book editorial catalogues, it seems like relational art, South Asian art, global art history, fashion, and propaganda are hot topics (some of these are among my favorite subjects). In one pamphlet I noted that there is one section headed simply "James Elkins." This man produces new books as frequently as Kim Kardashian changes short skintight low cut dresses and Laobutins. How does he do it? Does he never sleep? I imagine a Fordist plant in which thousands of drone art history doctoral student research assistants toil over iMacs, microfilms, and manuscripts.

For 2009 bulletins see:

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