Karen Fiss’s research examines the history of nation branding in the production of visual culture, from the rise of the nation-state to its contemporary role in shaping the social, artistic, and built environments. Her current book project, From Nation Building to Nation Branding, relates global branding practices to the mechanisms of globalization in the contemporary art world and its accompanying exhibition economies, with a focus on how citizenship and historical memory are visually produced. Her case studies examine different post-Cold War “brandscapes” in Vietnam, Germany, and South Africa, where the expediency of culture is accelerated in order to meet the demands of unification in the wake of political upheaval or trauma.
FIss is co-curator with Kym Pinder of the exhibition Necessary Force: Art in a Police State, on view at the Art Museum of the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, from September 11 – December 12, 2015. The exhibition interrogates law enforcement’s longstanding history of violence, and the systemic forces that continue to sanction and promote the violation of civil rights in this country. The contemporary artists in the exhibition address a range of issues including surveillance and imprisonment, police brutality, racial profiling, as well as the power of collective protest (Danny Lyon, Hank Willis Thomas, Dread Scott, Otobenga Jones & Associates, Trevor Paglen, Hito Steyerl, Mel Chin, Melvin Edwards, Center for Tactical Magic, Nafis White, Danny Lyon, LaShawnda Crowe Storm, among others).
Fiss also served as film curator for the international exhibition Encounters with the 1930s at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (on view October 2012-January 2013). In addition to serving on the curatorial team headed by Jordana Mendelson, Fiss curated a 10-session film program for the Reina Sofia entitled El cine de 1930. Flores azules en un paisaje catastrófico (Cinema of the 1930s: Blue Flowers in a Catastrophic Landscape).
Her book, Grand Illusion: The Third Reich, the Paris Exposition, and the Cultural Seduction of France, published by the University of Chicago Press (2010), examined related developments across fine arts, film, architecture, and mass pageantry in order to illuminate the role of National Socialist propaganda in the French decision to ignore Hitler’s war preparations and pursue an untenable policy of appeasement. By examining how cultural exchange shifted toward political collaboration, Grand Illusion casts new light on the power of art to influence history.
Fiss is also co-author of Modernity on Display (University of Pittsburg Press, November 2015) with Robert Kargon, Art Molella, and Morris Low. The book examines nationalism and technology in relation to political regimes and the visual culture of international exhibitions held in the US, Japan, France, Italy, and Germany.
In 2009, Fiss coedited with Hazel Clark a special volume of Design Issues examining issues and case studies concerning globalization, postcolonialism, and design (MIT Press). Fiss is coeditor of the anthology Discourses: Conversations in Postmodern Art and Culture (MIT Press and the New Museum, 1992) and has contributed to Art, Culture and Media under the Third Reich (ed. Richard Etlin, University of Chicago Press), in addition to other scholarly publications and catalogues. Fiss has also published articles for the magazines and websites of Print, CMYK, Metropolis,and SFMOMA’s Open Space. In 2010, she served as Jury Chair for USA Artists Awards in Architecture and Design, and also served on the selection panel for the USA fellowships in 2009.
In January 2015, Fiss was in residence at the Lab of Sàn Art, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, in collaboration with the programming of “Prod/Ponder, Conscious Realities.” http://san-art.org/conscious-realities/prod-ponder/
Fiss’s writing and research has been supported by grants from the Graham Foundation, Getty Grant Program, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD), and the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art. Before coming to CCA, she was an assistant professor of modern and contemporary art at Washington University St. Louis, and also previously held positions in the curatorial departments of The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, and the Institute for Contemporary Arts, London.
Recent or upcoming public presentations/ articles:
“True Tales from the Tactical Magic Trenches: How To Make Art in a Police State,” panel discussion with Aaron Gach, Karen Fiss, and Nancy Zastudil, November 19, 2015.
“Brand the Beloved Country: the IMC’s role in South Africa,” Center for African Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, November 10, 2015.
“Images, Imaginations, Embodiement and Contemporary Art,” (chair) International Institute for Asian Studies/ICAS/A-Asia, University of Ghana, Accra. September, 2015.
Eric Baudelaire: The Secession Sessions (Letters to Max, BAM/PFA MATRIX 257, curated by Apsara DiQuinzio). “The Anembassy Is Open” – with Karen Fiss, Maxim Gvinjia, Eric Baudelaire, Apsara DiQuinzio, and Joseph del Pesco. Kadist Foundation, February 2015.
“Brand the Beloved Country: Navigating Global Economies in Contemporary South African Art,” Sàn Art (Conscious Realities), Saigon.
“Imaginary of the Present: Current Images of African Worlds” (Neuer Berliner Kunstverein and SAVVY Contemporary Berlin), in conjunction with the exhibition and research project GIVING CONTOURS TO SHADOWS. June 2014.http://givingcontours.net/index.php/roundtable/
“(Des)encuentros: Por qué es necesario volver a los clásicos del cine?” L’Atalante (Julio-Diciembre 2014). With introduction by Javier Alcoriza Vento, and discussion with Gonzalo Aguilar, Patricia Keller, José Antonio Pérez Bowie, and Hidenori Okada.
“The Propeller Group: ‘The World Tour,’ Vietnamese nation branding, and the politics of censorship.” University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, June 2014.
“On Nation Branding,” SFMOMA Open Space. 2012. http://openspace.sfmoma.org/2012/11/rebrand-usa-karen-fiss/
Haus der Kunst, Munich: “75/20,” June 9 – 10, 2012. Symposium organized by Okwui Enwezor to mark the 75th year of the Haus der Kunst. The conference interrogated the international dimension of the Haus der Kunst’s history, contextualizing the building’s architecture against the backdrop of the political and social democratization of West Germany.
lecture posted at: http://www.hausderkunst.de/index.php?id=751&L=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=2…
“National Socialism on Display: Technology, Design, and the Four-Year Plan at Schaffendes Volk,” ICOHTEC (International Committee for the History of Technology) Symposium on Technology, the Arts and Industrial Culture, Barcelona, July 2012.
College Art Association, Los Angeles: “The Challenge of Nazi Art,” 2012. Panel organized by James van Dyke, University of Missouri, Columbia, and Christian Fuhrmeister, Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, Munich.
“On Ana Mendieta,” SFMOMA Open Space. 2012.http://openspace.sfmoma.org/2012/02/fiss-on-mendieta/
Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid: “”From Nation Building to Nation Branding,” Encounters with the 1930s,” March 2011
College Art Association, New York City: “Nation Building: Politics of Space and the African City,” co-chair with Mabel O. Wilson, Columbia University, February 2011.
“Parametri-Cities: Jo-burg,” GSAPP Architecture, Columbia University, Advanced Studio Global Topologies with Mario Gooden and Mokena Makeka, Makeka Design Laboratory. New York City, February 2011.
“Mbeki’s Pan-Africanism:Tradition, Heritage, and National Identity at Pretoria’s Freedom Park.” African Diaspora and Diasporas in Africa, Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association, San Francisco, November 2010.
“Beyond Product: The Problem of HCD Design Ethnography and Postcolonial Anthropological Frameworks,” The State of Design Research, symposium at the California College of the Arts, San Francisco, December 2010.