B.A. Brown University, 1997
M.A. Yale University, 2002
Ph.D. Yale University, 2008
Irene V. Small specializes in contemporary art and criticism within a global context. Her areas of interest include experimental practices of the 1960s and ’70s, legacies of abstraction, temporalities of art, problems of methodology and interpretation, relationality and the social implications of form. Small’s work engages a variety of geopolitical formations and transnational, translocal contexts, and has paid particular attention to art and theory in Latin America, notably Brazil.
Small is the author of Hélio Oiticica: Folding the Frame (University of Chicago Press, 2016), the first English-language monograph devoted to the pioneering Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica, who worked in Rio de Janeiro, London, and New York from the mid-1950s through the late 1970s. The book examines discourses of developmentalism and organic processes of emergence as they intersect in the articulation of a participatory art paradigm in mid-1960s Brazil. But its genesis lies in a simple question: how do we imagine the efficacy of works of art if and when they cease be “art” at all? Small’s essays have considered such topics as radical pedagogy and expanded cinema; the Brazilian avant-garde movement Neoconcretism and the historiographic interventions of critics such as Ronaldo Brito and Ferreira Gullar; pigment and post-painterly practice; the concepts of medium specificity (or aspecificity) and autopoietic form; and social sculpture in the wake of the “expanded field.” Recent work has examined the body, speech, and the afterlives of slavery; the political potential of ecstatic mimicry in carnival practices; and decolonizing interventions by artists in South Africa such as the collaborative Center for Historical Reenactments.
Small is currently at work on a new book that takes as its point of departure the Brazilian artist Lygia Clark’s notion of the “organic line,” a line of space that appears between a painting and its frame, a door and its lintel, or tiles on the floor. The book tracks the emergence of the concept in Clark’s work circa 1954, but also comprehends the organic line as a generative conceptual tool, one that does expansive aesthetic, epistemological, and political work well beyond Clark’s immediate context. In addition, Small is at work on several essays that examine media-based practices: one considers the typed drawings of the Swiss-Brazilian artist Mira Schendel in relation to the nomadic philosopher Vilém Flusser’s notion of the “technical image”; another treats the proto-photographic experiments of the 19th century French-Brazilian inventor Hércules Florence through rubrics of remediation and digitalization.
Small is an active critic; she has written about contemporary artists such as Allora & Calzadilla, Gabriel Sierra, Zilia Sánchez, Matheus Rocha Pitta, and Leonilson, and sits on the advisory board of Texte zur Kunst. As a curator, she co-organized Blind Field, an exhibition of emerging and mid-career artists working in Brazil, presented at the Krannert Art Museum and the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum in 2013, and Multitude, a group exhibition thematizing proliferation and mutability at Artists Space, New York City, in 2002. In 2006, she curated Verbivocovisual: Brazilian Concrete Poetry at Sterling Memorial Library, and in 2015 led a student-curated exhibition, From Frame to Life: Experiential Activation, at the Princeton University Art Museum.
Small’s research has been supported by a number of fellowships and grants, including the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, the Graham Foundation, the Getty Research Foundation, the Dedalus Foundation, the Creative Capital and Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant, the Lemann Institute of Brazilian Studies, and the Research Board of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. At Princeton, Small has acted as a member of the Executive Committees of the Program in Media and Modernity, the Program in Latin American Studies, and the Gauss Seminars in Criticism. She is also an affiliated faculty member of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.
(Page last updated October 2021.)