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Saul Nelson

Saul Nelson joined the Ruskin in 2017, as an Ertegun Scholar on the DPhil Programme.

I am currently reading for a DPhil in Contemporary Art History and Theory at the Ruskin School of Art under the supervision of Prof. Jane Garnett and Prof. Jason Gaiger. I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Cambridge, graduating with a Starred First in History of Art in 2015. Having moved to the University of Oxford I read for an MSt in Women’s Studies, graduating with a distinction. My work has been published, in print and online, in The Oxford Art Journal and the London Review of Books. 

My primary focus is upon genealogical and philosophical analyses of modernist art. These methodologies allow us to read against the historical grain, to uncover international and interdisciplinary circuits of communication, and provide intellectually grounded means of engagement with art objects. My master’s dissertation, ‘“I was not a Surrealist, I was an Existentialist”: Louise Bourgeois Reconsidered’, applied these concerns to the art of Louise Bourgeois. The article reinterprets her early work as a critical, proto-feminist engagement with contemporary European existentialist philosophy and literature, subverting the traditional picture of her as an isolated introvert whose main intellectual debt was to psychoanalysis. My DPhil project builds on this research by analysing the interconnection of European philosophy and social identity in the work of New York artists in the aftermath of WW2, asking how this interplay helped determine aesthetic concerns. Insisting on this essentially dialectical relation shifts the boundaries and definitions of American modernism, opening discursive space for excluded meanings and practices, particularly those of hitherto marginalised African-American and women artists.