Virginia Commonwealth University
VCU School of the Arts

Robert Hobbs

Rhoda Thalhimer Endowed Chair in American Art

Professor Hobbs holds the Rhoda Thalhimer Endowed Chair of American Art at Virginia Commonwealth University and is a regular visiting professor at Yale University. Before coming to VCU he was a lecturer at Yale and later an associate professor at Cornell University. In addition, he has held posts at the University of Iowa where he was Director of the University’s Museum of Art and at Florida State University where he was an associate professor.

“My scholarship relies on a combination of theoretical, empirical, and art historical approaches that stem from my experiences as a teacher, scholar, and curator at Virginia Commonwealth University and also Cornell University, where I was an associate professor.  In addition to my affiliation with VCU, I teach a graduate seminar at Yale University every fall.  My exhibitions have been shown at such institutions as the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Drawing Center (New York), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Philips Collection, and Whitney Museum of American Art.  In addition, my show on Robert Smithson was selected as the U.S. official representation at the Venice Biennale, and the Kara Walker exhibition was chosen to be the U.S. submission to the São Paulo Bienal.

My work joins social history with literary criticism and aesthetics; it also relies on feminist and postcolonial theory. In addition to researching mainstream modern and post-modern artists, my published scholarship includes in-depth studies of regional, self-taught, African-American, and American Indian artists, as well as investigations of contemporary craft media.  Examples of my work can be found at

For four years, I served on the College Art Association’s Millard Meiss Committee, the only one to award money to publishers for commendable art historical publications. More recently, I have become a member of the Editorial Board of the forthcoming Grove Encyclopedia of American Art (Oxford University Press).

A number of my seminars at VCU have focused on art from the mid-twentieth century to the present.  In these courses art is theorized as an eminently creative mode for responding to established discourses by perpetuating and redirecting them as well for engendering them.  In recent years these classes have emphasized looking at individual works of art in terms of ongoing debates between competing discourses rather than as unified and thus straightforward ideological propositions.  Graduate seminars include: Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Conceptual Art, Postmodern Painting, Duchamp, Form Revisited: From Kant to Rancière, Art and Politics, and the Art of the Sublime. The purpose of these courses is to empower students to become involved in independent, in-depth, and meaningful research by learning to read critically.  In these classes the introduction of recently developed theoretical views enables students to pose new questions, and the ensuing seminar discussions, directed at specific readings, are intended to serve as models for students’ undertaking their own rigorous analyses of the most important literature on a given topic.  When students carry out intensive critical readings, they invariably discern historical gaps that can become the basis for new approaches; and their new ideas, when tested by thoroughgoing research, can in turn lead to developing publishable research.

In addition to these graduate seminars, I regularly teach a spring-break travel course on such topics as Duchamp’s impact, New York painting, the Hudson River School, Robert Smithson’s Earth Art, Art of the ‘90s, and Pop Art.  These courses include museum visits, tours of sites important to artists, and visits to contemporary New York artists’ studios and galleries.

In the past, my students have written dissertations on a wide range of topics such as Rodin’s concept of genius and Michelangelo’s terribilità, Eakin’s portrayals of women after the Civil War, Marcel Duchamp and n-dimensional geometry, masking in the Diane Arbus’s and Eugene Meatyard’s photography, the formation of the new professional category of interior designer in the 1940s and ‘50s, Robert Ryman’s early interest in jazz and his performative painting in the 1950s and ‘60s, and Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology and American mazes and labyrinths in the 1960s and ‘70s.  Currently, students with me are writing dissertations on Stuart Davis’s theory of art in the 1920s, Fred Kabotie and the formation of the Santa Fe School, Life magazine and Cold War politics, John Baldessari Blasted Allegories, and Vancouver conceptualism.  Because of their new perspectives and rigorous scholarship, students working with me have been gainfully employed in art historical and related fields and have gone on to publish their own original research.” (

 Selected Publications:

Alice Aycock: Sculpture and Projects. Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 2005.

“Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism: From Psychic to Plastic Automatism” in Isabelle Dervaux, Surrealism USA. New York: National Academy Museum in conjunction with Hatje Cantz Publishers, 2005.

“The Term ‘Color Field’ in The Shape of Colour Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 2005.

“Conceptual Art, Affluence, and the Brokering of Knowledge” in Michael Corris, ed., Conceptual Art: Theory, Myth, and Practice. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

“Reading Black Through White: Kara Walker and the Question of Racial Stereotyping. A Discussion between Michael Corris and Robert Hobbs,” Art History 26, no. 3 (June 2003, rpt. In gill Perry, ed, Differences and Excess in Contemporary Art: The Visibility of Women’s Practices. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

“Jonathan Lasker’s Dramatis Personae” in Jonathan Lasker. Madrid Palacio Vel‡szuez, Reina Sof’a, 2003.

Mark Lombardi: Global Networks. New York: D.A.P., 2003.

Kara Walker: Slavery! Slavery! Washington, D.C.: FUND FOR U.S. ARTISTS AT INTERNATIONAL FESTIVALS AND EXHIBITIONS, a public/private partnership of the United States Department Of State, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, and The Pew Charitable Trusts, with administrative support from Arts International, 2002. Catalogue for 25th International Bienal of S‹o Paulo, Brazil.

“Kara Walker’s White Shadow in Blackface” in For the Benefit OF universe the Races OF one child (MOS specially the masters one, Race) At Exhibition OF Artifacts, Remnants, and Effluvis EXCAVATE from the Black hear OF A Negress . Hanover Germany: Hanover Kunstverein, 2002.

“Pierre Huyghe’s Asymmetries,” Parkett 66 [Fall, 2002].

Frank Stella, Then and Now” in Frank Stella: Recent Work. Singapore Tyler Print Institute, 2002.

“Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology and Installation Art” in Claudia Giannini, ed., Installations Mattress Factory 1990-1999. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001, pp. 18-23.

Milton Avery: The Late Paintings. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 2001.

Graduate Courses:

  • Topis in Advanced Art and Architectural History: New York Painting
  • Duchamp: Then and Now
  • Minimalism
  • Problems in Advanced Art History: Postmodern Painting


Virginia Commonwealth University
School of the Arts
Department of Art History
VCU School of the Arts
922 W. Franklin
P.O. Box 843046
Richmond, VA 23284-3046


Phone: 804.828.2784
Fax: 804.828.7468
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