Congratulations to Dr. Rachel S. Fesperman, who earned her PhD in Art History from FSU in the spring of 2021 and accepted a faculty position at Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer, NC in August. Dr. Fesperman joins the Art Program in Pfeiffer’s Department of Humanities as an Art History Lecturer. She looks forward to teaching introductory survey courses and upper-level lectures through a global and intersectional lens. She is also excited to be close to family and able to exercise her interests in fiber arts, gardening and plant cultivation.
Dr. Fesperman’s research focuses on contemporary visual culture, specifically performance, ephemeral, and multimedia art particularly as they relate to themes of gender, sexuality, and coloniality. Her dissertation, “Feu à Volonté—Fire at Will! The Tirs of Niki de Saint Phalle, 1961–1964,” was written under the direction of Dr. Adam Jolles, who writes:
Rachel’s dissertation addresses the raucous ‘shooting paintings’ (tirs) that Niki de Saint Phalle produced by firing rifles at assemblages adorned with bags of paint, notably with the assistance of other artists and audiences in Paris and the United States throughout the 1960s. These works, of which Saint Phalle made nearly one hundred, brought the art world into violent contact with contemporaneous discourses on public civility and colonialism during and immediately after the final years of the Algerian War of Independence, a particularly painful chapter in French history and one steeped in complex and evolving notions of both artistic invention and civic participation.
Although Saint Phalle’s work has long been exhibited and collected in the United States, it has been associated on this side of the Atlantic more with Robert Rauschenberg’s Combines than with developments specific to France. Rachel’s work expands Saint Phalle’s relationship to American artists, especially those in New York and Los Angeles, providing the first in-depth analysis of the significance of the large-scale tableaux the artist created, shot, and displayed in the United States. In this way, her dissertation is as transatlantic as the works themselves. By drawing attention to the political unrest and artistic iconoclasm associated with the onset of the Fifth Republic and the rich critical tradition inherent in these discourses, Rachel’s dissertation possesses tremendous potential for radically reorienting our understanding of Saint Phalle’s work, steering it away as well from the nouveau réalisme with which it is so frequently connected in France.