College Art Association Annual Conference, New York City, February 10-13, 2021
Chairs: Nicole Pulichene (Harvard University) and Nancy Thebaut (Skidmore College)
Double-sided images are pervasive across art historical time and place, yet they are not always considered in their full physical integrity: one side is often studied, displayed, and photographed more than its counterpart. In the historiography of pre-modern art, for example, privileging one side of a work might reflect methodologies borrowed from the study of easel painting. This approach, however, risks flattening an object’s material complexity and obscuring evidence of making and use.
This panel seeks papers that consider the history and historiography of double-sided objects by attending to their many facets, whether “front” and “back,” oblique angles, or otherwise hidden images. We ask how more holistic approaches to works of art might complicate, or even confirm, long-standing art historical narratives. Topics and questions might include: if makers emphasized or concealed the multi-sidedness of an object; if (and how) one side became dominant over time; emergent iconographic or material patterns within an object corpus; and multifarious or changing viewing conditions. Participants might offer solutions to unsatisfying yet common descriptors like front/back, recto/verso, or obverse/reverse, which so often reinforce material hierarchies. In keeping with this year’s CAA theme of climate crisis, contributors may wish to explore double-sidedness as a solution to material scarcity, namely through reuse and recycling. Proposals dealing with multi-sided works of art are also encouraged to apply. We hope that this panel creates a unique space to confront methodological and visual blind spots within our discipline by revising and challenging one-dimensional modes of looking.