First-year doctoral student Rachel Fesperman has received a Kress Foundation Fellowship in Art History to attend Middlebury College’s immersive French Language School this summer. As a 2017 Kress Fellow, Fesperman will spend seven weeks deepening her French language skills in service of her dissertation on the tirs (“shooting paintings”) of French-American nouveau réaliste Niki de Saint Phalle (1930–2002).
Fesperman intends to use the experience as a Kress Fellow at Middlebury as she works toward the drafting of her dissertation prospectus and research at the Niki Charitable Art Foundation, Centre Pompidou, and other Francophone archives. As what she terms an “intersectional art historian,” she applies methodological frameworks found in gender and decolonial theory to approach Franco-American visual culture after World War II. Immersion in the French language will offer Fesperman vital insight into the world in which Saint Phalle, lived, worked, and fired a .22 caliber rifle at assemblages that “bled” paint. At this stage, much of Fesperman’s research focuses on the artist’s practice in light of violence, public protest, Cold War politics, and (sub)urban tensions within Parisian social space in the swing of the tumultuous 1960s. As such, her dissertation aims to situate Niki de Saint Phalle within the contexts of the neo-avant-garde, performance art, and the assemblage.