Art history in LA

With 300 ninety-minute scholarly sessions, rigorous panel discussions, discipline-specific workshops, and excellent special events and exhibitions, and between 3,500 and 4,000 delegates in attendance over four days from 21 to 24 February, CAA 2018 was, as always, an epic affair. Set in downtown Los Angeles, the 106th annual conference of the College Art Association was staged in the vast, soulless LA Convention Center. The key to navigating such a boundless melting pot of art-historical prowess was very much about deciding which sessions to attend in advance and sticking with the decision, making use of the conference app and committing to a session for the duration where possible. This strategy yielded both positive and negative results of course, but on the whole gave a more meaningful experience to the encounter with this particular version of academic excess. Whilst individual papers ranged from the prosaic to the brilliant, most academic sessions attended by the Editors of Art History provided us all with a good sense of current and future directions for both the discipline and the journal.

Outside of the Convention Center, LA also had much to offer to the itinerant art historian, especially in terms of its architectural spectacle. Imagine the schadenfreude experienced by the Editors of Art History on finding themselves based in the Westin Bonaventure Hotel, designed and built in the mid-1970s by John Portman Associates. This confection of postmodern architectural conceit, famously subject to a substantive critique by both Edward Soja in Postmodern Georgraphies (1989), and Frederic Jameson in his classic account Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991), did not disappoint. Now somewhat faded from its glory days, the sense of the hotel as a micro-city, mitigating the need to ever want to leave for the space outside was a source of much incredulity, especially over breakfast when we were assailed by small birds fluttering aimlessly around the atrium; nature trapped in a prison of concrete unable to find escape. Indeed, as Soja comments, the hotel is ‘a concentrated representation of the restructured spatiality of the late capitalist city: fragmented and fragmenting, homogeneous and homogenizing, divertingly packaged yet curiously incomprehensible.’

It was amidst this backdrop, then, that the editorial team of Art History was out in force representing the journal, meeting old friends and making new ones, listening to papers and soliciting high quality submissions. On Thursday evening, we hosted a reception sponsored by our publisher, Wiley, reiterated the editorial vision for the journal, and were able to welcome members of our Editorial Board, our International Advisory Board, our authors old, new and prospective, and our readers from across the globe.

Dorothy Price, Editor of Art History