Art Buzz February 21, 2012: Alan Pizer: Time abroad adds spice to art history professor’s lectures

ART & ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY NEWS

ART HISTORIANS’ NEWS

Time abroad adds spice to art history professor’s lectures

Source: The University Star, 2-21-12

A globetrotting Texas State professor regales students with stories of past less-than-legal antics.

Alan Pizer, art history professor, was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin when he studied abroad in Israel. While overseas, he traveled the world and took photographs, some of which were illegal.

Alan Pizer, senior art lecturer, reviews a photo from his office Feb. 20 taken inside an Egyptian tomb, where photography is prohibited.

Pizer studied in Israel at the University of Haifa. During his free time, he traveled to different parts of the Middle East taking photographs along the way.

In the 1980s, Pizer traveled to Egypt. He visited Tel el-Amarna, an Egyptian archaeological site that was once a powerful city ruled by Pharaoh Akhenaten.

Pizer said he went to the ancient tombs in Tel el-Amarna after he’d studied them in school.

His girlfriend, who was traveling with him, was sick with a stomach virus the day they planned on visiting the city. Later he discovered there was a travel warning issued to U.S. citizens in regards to an Islamist group known as the Muslim Brotherhood.

Pizer said as soon as he entered the city, an Egyptian police officer started to follow him. Pizer took this as a good sign, believing he would have protection if needed.

At the site, Pizer found a tomb that hadn’t been destroyed. He said an Egyptian police officer tricked him into taking a picture of the tomb, knowing it was against the law.

After taking the picture, the officer threatened to arrest Pizer unless he paid a bribe of $25. In response, Pizer said he would report the officer to the tourist police.

Pizer said the officer agreed to let him go, but the forbidden photograph has never been put on display.

While a student in Israel, Pizer traveled to Syria as well. He said he lied about his religion to acquire a visa.

“Looking back, I must’ve had a death wish,” he said. “In Syria, I pretended to take pictures of my then girlfriend. Instead, I took pictures of the Syrian army.”

Pizer said he met an Israeli journalist when he returned. When she asked him why he went to Syria, he said it was because “you can’t.”

Pizer said his students and colleagues tend to embellish the stories he tells.

Cody Marshall, photography senior, said he took Pizer’s class two years ago. Marshall said he vaguely remembers Pizer telling the class about his time in Tel el-Amarna.

“I really enjoyed having him as a professor,” Marshall said. “He’s like the Indiana Jones of Art History.”

Pizer received a master’s in art history at the University of Texas and is currently working on his dissertation. Alison Ricketson, art history senior, has seen the effects Pizer’s stories have on his students.

Ricketson is currently Pizer’s student assistant. She said his stories make him more personable as a professor.

“He has a lot of amazing photos to teach from that are not in the book,” she said. “What he’s seen has inspired me to travel.”

Pizer said he hasn’t had time to travel alone in recent years. He is currently the study abroad program director for Art and Design students and leads a trip to Florence every summer.

“As a student, I had a certain kind of rush,” he said. “I’ve seen things people will never see and experienced things people will never experience. I miss that freedom.”

Advertisements

Art Buzz February 21, 2012: James Johnson: Unmasking the Past Boston University history professor examines mask-wearing in 18th-century Venice

ART & ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY NEWS

ART BOOK NEWS

Unmasking the Past

CAS prof examines mask-wearing in 18th-century Venice

Source: BU Today, 2-21-12
Woman Holding a Mask and a Pomegranate, James Johnson author of book Venice Incognito: Masks in the Serene Republic For his new book, James Johnson, a CAS associate professor of history, researched how masks were used by 18th-century Venetians. Woman Holding a Mask and a Pomegranate, Lorenzi Lippi, Musée d’Angers. Courtesy of Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resources, NY

James Johnson is the kind of historian who wants to get inside people’s heads.

In his 1996 book Listening in Paris: A Cultural History, the College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of history, explored what it was like for people 200 years ago to attend concerts and how they experienced music differently from modern audiences. His newest book, Venice Incognito: Masks in the Serene Republic (University of California Press, 2011), investigates the subject of identity by focusing on the role that masks played in 18th-century Venice.

“As a historian I’m drawn to the inner experience of people who lived centuries ago,” he says. “That’s very elusive to research. You have to generalize from other clues, such as behavior.”

Why focus on mask-wearing as a way to research people’s ideas of self? Johnson, winner of a 1996 Metcalf Award, one of the University’s highest teaching honors, reasoned that uncovering why people disguised themselves in the past might reveal how they thought about identity. As he writes in the preface to Venice Incognito, he was drawn naturally to Venice, where the tradition of masking dates back to the 13th-century. The city’s history of mask-wearing continues today with Carnevale, the annual festival that begins 58 days before Easter and concludes today, Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday, the last day before Lent.

Modern Carnevale revelers don masks largely for celebratory reasons. But as Johnson found through his research, the 18th-century masks themselves, and the reasons people wore them then, bear little resemblance to the feathered, sequined versions you see on partiers parading through the streets of Venice today.

BU Today spoke to Johnson about his research and his book, which recently won the 2011 George Mosse Prize from the American Historical Association.
Spectators buying tickets outside the theater, James Johnson author of book Venice Incognito: Masks in the Serene RepublicVenetians, Johnson found, wore masks six months of the year. Spectators buying tickets outside the theater, Carlo Goldoni, Commedie (1788-95), vol. 21. Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University

BU Today: What surprised you most in your research?

Johnson: To learn that Venetians wore masks six months out of the year, from when the theater season started in the fall through Carnevale. Also, they were not wearing masks to disguise themselves or for intrigue or corruption, as people visiting Venice at the time thought. It was a custom, a fashion….READ MORE