COLLEGE ART ASSOCIATION ANNUAL CONFERENCE
FEBRUARY 22-25, 2006
Since its founding in 1912, the annual conference of the College Art Association (CAA) has expanded to serve an abundance of needs, both professional and educational. The breadth of its mission has made it one of the major American academic conferences in the arts, with nearly two hundred sessions, a forum for practicing artists, a Career Fair with a centralized interview facility and professional development functions, a Book and Trade Fair, a social event with receptions, and a launching pad for local exhibitions. CAA's efforts to expand the mission of the organization while maintaining a core of excellence in terms of promoting scholarship and studio practice were fully tangible during the four packed days of this year's ninety-fourth annual conference, held in Boston. The diversity of professions, institutions, and professional roles requires the conference to create an expansive program year after year. This diversity has prompted the CAA organizers to continually expand its programs to maintain interest for all in attendance.
For many of this year's 5,400 attendees, the CAA conference was linked to the search for full-time employment. While the job postings formerly collected in the publication CAA Careers are now found online, the annual conference still hosts on-site personal interviews in the legendary interview hall and hotel suites. This year, 170 institutions interviewed for positions in academia and museums. The Book and Trade Fair is another perpetual highlight, this year featuring more than one hundred exhibitors, most of them scholarly presses or art suppliers, although some arts organizations were present as well.
The convocation served to inform participants of the state of the organization as well as to honor numerous awardees. In her presidential address, Ellen K. Levy discussed changes at CAA. Levy called attention to the complex intersections of technology, visual culture, and law in the form of copyright, intellectual property, and legal use of technology, stressing the "need to find ways to build visual culture into our legal systems." Internal changes at CAA include positions of leadership: outgoing President Levy introduced President-elect Nicola Courtright and honored long-time Executive Director Susan Ball, who is departing this year.
The awards ceremony recognized outstanding publications, teaching, criticism, and distinguished bodies of work. Awardees included Elizabeth Murray (Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement), Linda Nochlin (Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing on Art), and Andrea Zittel (Distinguished Body of Work Award) as well as Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who received a Special Award for Lifetime Achievement on Behalf of the Arts and Humanities.
The convocation culminated in a keynote address given by Arthur C. Danto, Emeritus Johnsonian Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University and art critic for The Nation. Danto's keynote, "Art and Interpretation," stressed the necessity of interpreting art beyond its solely aesthetic properties. Danto concluded by discussing "The Art of 9/11," a 2005 exhibition that he curated for the nonprofit exhibition space apexart in New York City. Danto suggested that works of art continue to be important because they function as "embodied meanings."
The scale of the CAA Annual Conference is such that any account of the conference sessions is bound to be partial and situated. Each time slot featured thirteen to eighteen concurrent selections. What follows, then, are observations from sessions on contemporary art history and visual culture. Visual culture, a topic that has allowed for lively debate in CAA conferences of recent years, has become thoroughly entrenched in the field of art history. This situation seems to have left the practiced field of visual culture at a critical impasse. …