Meet our 2023-24 UVA Predoctoral Fellow in Modern and Contemporary Art History. As part of our institutional values and commitment to diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion, the art history and archeology fellow does independent scholarly work that broadens and diversifies their previous research. They will work at the Phillips, allowing them to fully utilize the museum’s resources. Meaghan M. Walsh is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Art at the University of Virginia, specializing in early 20th-century American art and visual culture. Her research examines the intersections of race, identity, and humor in turn-of-the-20th century American painting and illustration.
Why are you interested in working at a museum?
My scholarship and teaching practice are object-based, so I find inspiration from working with art objects. The Phillips offers a unique opportunity for its fellows to view the works up close in both the galleries and storage and work with conservation to learn more about the objects beyond their visual elements. Plus, there is nothing better than being able to go see art in person when you feel stuck in your writing or just need a mental break.
What brought you to The Phillips Collection?
The Phillips Collection and the University of Virginia partnered to create a Predoctoral Fellowship in Modern and Contemporary Art History last year and I JUMPED at the opportunity to apply. Duncan Phillips was one of the individuals who led me to my dissertation topic. In his recollections of George Luks, Phillips commented that Luks had a “humorous understanding” of his subjects. As an Ashcan artist, Luks and his colleagues are often discussed in terms of representing the gritty realities of life in New York City at the turn of the 20th century. Reading Phillips’s musings and seeing the same evaluations of Luks from other contemporary critics, I found myself asking: How are these works, which have long been discussed as depictions of serious matters, “funny”? And who is laughing at these works? As Phillips was one of the individuals who helped frame my project, I thought that concluding my graduate career at his museum was the perfect full-circle moment.
Please tell us about the projects that you will be working on during your fellowship. What do you hope to accomplish during your fellowship?
The primary goal of my fellowship is to finish my dissertation, “Modern Masquerades: Realism, Humor, and Identity in the Works of George Luks.” Beyond my dissertation, I am hoping to collaborate with the other fellows and departments to reexamine the earliest collecting practices of the museum.
What is your favorite painting/artist here?
I am a sucker for Louis Michel Eilshemius’s works. His art is so weird and haunting, and I am delighted whenever I visit a museum and see his works on the wall. It is why I am very excited about the exhibition on his and Ugo Rondinone’s works at the Phillips this fall!
If you were to describe the Phillips in one word, what would that word be?
Future Forward. I know that’s two words, but I think this embodies the Phillips’s goals in their collecting practices, exhibitions, and community engagement. The focus is looking toward the future and actively working to create a collection that represents the diversity of artists, media, and perspectives in modern and contemporary art today.
What is a fun fact about you?
I used to be a bus driver! In undergrad, I drove the transit buses at UVA, which was such a fun experience. I love working with students and the public, and that passion has driven (pun intended) my career choices ever since.