Wondering what to register for?

Registration for Summer and Fall semesters is going on now! If you’re wondering what to register for we encourage you to meet with your faculty advisor or any of the art history faculty to plan your courses and make sure you’re on the path to graduation. To help you make informed decisions about the upper-division courses being offered here is a list of what is coming up for summer and fall:

Summer 2017

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ARTH 3340: Asian Art

Description: This course is a survey of the art of India, China, and Japan. It will include a study of the cultural, historical, and religious factors that have influenced the development of visual cultures in these three particular civilizations. A key theme is the interaction among cultural traditions not only within India, China, and Japan but also through international processes of trade, colonialism, and nationalism. Special attention will be placed on works found in the Denver Art Museum.

Credits: 3; Prerequisite(s): ARTH 1600 with “C-” or better; or permission of department

Fall 2017

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ARTH 3310: African Art

Description: This course examines the art of the continent of Africa and evaluates the ways it has been studied and displayed. It traces historical relationships between regions, from the shores of the Mediterranean and the Nile Valley, the west and Ivory Coast, to the central regions and east and south to the Swahili Coast and the Cape.

Credits: 3; Prerequisite(s): ENG 1009 or ENG 1010 and ENG 1020 or ENG 1021; or permission of department; Cross Listed Course(s): AAS 3310


ARTH 3421: Medieval Art

Description: This course is a study of art and culture from the 4th to the 14th centuries in Europe and the Mediterranean. The art of this period is considered within a larger social history tied to the changing and overlapping influences of various religious beliefs, political systems, and economic structures. Stylistic development, patronage, iconography, and functionality are explored in addition to considerations of materials, techniques, and aesthetic theories. The course includes the arts of sculpture, metalwork, manuscript illumination, tapestry, stained glass, painting, and architecture.

Credits: 3; Prerequisite(s): ARTH 1700 with “C-” or better; or permission of department  

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ARTH 3690: History of Communication Design                                                                            
Description: This course presents a comprehensive study of communication design using the interpretive framework of “Technologies of Change.” This framework allows focus on movements, people, places, and processes that have revolutionized society’s relationship with visual communication. Contemporary scholarship in design is contextualized with this historical framework so that recent innovations in the field may be explored. Students identify historical problems in the field of study and examine variations in scholarly interpretations of works of design.

Credits: 3; Prerequisite(s): ARTH 1700 with “C-” or better; or permission of department


ARTH 3790: Photography and Modernism

Description: This course examines relationships between photography, modernity as a social condition, and modernism as an artistic movement. The study is broad in scope, including photographs from the late 19th century through the 21stcentury, but takes a thematic approach. Case studies of particular photographs, movements, and exhibitions provide course content, and students relate images to scholarly articles on the social, aesthetic, and political context of modernism and modernity. Critical approaches to modernism, including postmodernism, deconstruction and post-colonialism, are also explored and related to contemporary practices in photographic art.

Credits: 3; Prerequisite(s): ARTH 2080 or ARTH 3080 with “C-” or better; or permission of department


ARTH 450A: VT: Critical Issues Public Art

Description: This course examines critical issues in public art, monuments, and memorials from the advent of the Art in Architecture program at the General Services Administration in 1934 to the present. The first section of the course outlines the theoretical discourses surrounding public art, including the definition of a public/publics, theories on public and private space, and issues with memory and memorialization. Students then study current scholarship on site-specific issues in public art, monuments and memorials located in the United States and beyond. Throughout the course, students consider how public art functions in the context of its local community, varying modes of interaction between artists and publics in the creation of such works, and how public art can reveal the often conflicting ideologies of the groups creating the works, and the publics they purport to represent. Site visits to local public art, monuments, and memorials will be required.

Credits: 3; Prerequisite(s): ARTH 1700 and ARTH 2080 with “C-” or better and satisfaction of Written Communication, Oral Communication, and Quantitative Literacy requirements; or permission of department)

Whitney Biennial controversy

The Whitney Biennial is embroiled in quite the controversy right now over a painting by artist Dana Schutz, which is based on a famous photograph of Emmett Till. Emmett Till was a young black man from Chicago who was viciously beaten and lynched in 1955 while visiting relatives in Mississippi. Till’s mother held an open casket funeral so people could see the violence done to her son’s body, and photographs of his body became a flashpoint for the civil rights movements. Criticism of the painting was swift, and there have been daily protestors who stand in front of the painting, blocking it from view, claiming it sensationalizes black death and black suffering. Amidst numerous calls for its removal, artist Kara Walker – whose own work has been critiqued in the past for its representations of stereotypes – argued against the removal of the work. Arguments in favor of leaving the work on view usually revolve around the idea that the work could generate conversation on a topic that is pressing; indeed the Whitney Biennial’s statement on the show says that it “…arrives at a time rife with racial tensions, economic inequities, and polarizing politics.” Now, mysteriously, Schutz’s painting has been removed due to a water leak. Coincidence? What are your thoughts on censoring the image? Is it ever ok to censor an image? What about imagery that incites violence and hate against an ethnic, racial, or religious minority? Perhaps the work is working precisely as intended, by stirring up all of the controversy.OpenCasket2016

Dana Schutz, Open Casket, 2016, oil on canvas

Winterim in Morocco

Over winter break, eleven students and I went to Morocco for a short term study abroad. Our journey began in Casablanca, the largest city in Morocco, with a population of approximately seven million people. Up until 1912 Casablanca was a modest port town, but after the signing of the French Protectorate, the population grew from around 10,000 to over 100,000 within the span of ten years. On the first day, we attended a series of lectures at the University of Hassan II, and made friends with some of the students there. In the afternoon, we took a walking tour guided by a professor from the Casa Memoire project and looked at the Art Deco and Neo-Mooresque buildings of Casablanca. During the colonial period, French architects used Casablanca as a sort of laboratory for new styles, building methods, and materials.

The next day, we went to the Academie of the Mosque of Hassan II and were treated to a tour of their workshops there. The Academie seeks to train students in the traditional crafts of Morocco (leather, wood, ceramics, stucco, textiles) using both premodern and contemporary techniques in production, as well as both traditional and contemporary styles. We were then treated to a private tour of the Mosque of Hassan II, designed by French architect Michel Pinseau and completed in 1993. The site can accommodate over 100,000 worshippers (over 25,000 of them inside!)

Our next stop was in Marrakech, where we stayed at the Riad Haraka. Riads are courtyard style houses, and nowadays, they are often run as bed and breakfast style inns. Each morning they served Moroccan style breakfasts with a variety of breads, jams, honeys, and coffee; at night we had traditional dinners of couscous and tagines.

We started our day at the Kutubiyya Mosque, which was built in 1160 by the Almohad dynasty (r. 1120 – 1269). Kutubiyya means Mosque of the Booksellers, and when it was originally built, the market of the booksellers was closest to the entrance. It is an excellent example of the T-plan mosque that developed in North Africa, where there is an aisle perpendicular to the qibla wall (the wall that indicates the direction of prayer) that is wider than the rest of the aisles, thus creating a T in the plan. Finally, the Kutubiyya has a prominent minaret (tower) rising 221 feet, from which the call to prayer is done. The exterior of the mosque is largely undecorated except for the minaret, which features different decoration on each side including windows framed by cusped arches, poly-lobed arches, and polychrome tile.

After the Kutubiyya mosque, we visited two Almohad period gardens, the Menara gardens and the Agdal gardens. Gardens feature prominently in majority Muslim countries across the world, and the Koran (the holy book of Islam). Both gardens feature an artificial basin raised above the surrounding beds, and were watered by an ingenuous system call qanat or khettara. In this system, a vertical well is dug at into the water table at the base of a mountain (in this case, the Atlas Mountains) and from this well, a vertical channel is dug that runs at a slight slope until it eventually meets the surface. The qanat is entirely underground, with vertical ventilation and repair access holes at regular intervals. The system is ingenuous in relatively dry climates where water running through a simple canal would evaporate. Once the water reaches the artificial basins, they fill up, and that water is then distributed by a system of smaller pipes throughout the surrounding beds. Both the Menara and Agdal gardens were productive (olives and oranges primarily) and for pleasure, as attested to by the pavilions that grace one end of the basin at each garden. And, you could take camel rides around the gardens.

After the gardens, we traveled up into the foothills of the Atlas Mountains to have lunch at a Berber house. The Berbers, or Amazigh, are the indigenous peoples of North Africa. Their origins are uncertain, but they’ve been there (and traversing the Sahara Desert) for millennia. After lunch, we returned to Marrakech to walk through the medina (old city). Medinas in North Africa are generally walled, medieval cities that have grown organically over centuries into maze like zig-zag of streets and alleys. Walls were often built as protection against outside invaders, and the walls of the medina of Marrakech were built primarily in the 12th century of pisé (rammed earth). The earth around Marrakech has a distinct reddish tint to it, leading to the pink color of the walls. We ended up at the Djemma al-Fna, a square in the heart of the medina that has been used as a public gathering space since the 11th century. Today, the square is populated with food stands throughout the day, snake charmers, monkeys, herbal healers, and the like. As night falls, storytellers, dancers, and musicians take over. The square is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site of intangible and oral culture.

Our next day out and about in Marrakech, we started at the Ben Youssef madrasa. A madrasa is a theological college which were originally attached to mosques. One would study the Koran and the hadith (the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad) there. Madrasas were often founded by the ruling family as means to enhance the prestige of the sovereign. They were also often founded to combat the heresies of competing dynasties. The Ben Youssef madrasa was founded during the Marinid Dynasty (r. 1244-1465), but the current building dates to the Saadian Dynasty (r. 1549-1659). There building is arranged around a main courtyard with a fountain in the center, with student cells (approximately 100) radiating out from there. These student cells are also arranged around (smaller) courtyards, which allow light and air to flow throughout the building. Ben Youssef madrasa is richly decorated with carved stucco, mashrabiya screens, and zellij tilework.

Mashrabiya screens are generally made of wood (though there are examples in marble, stone, and stucco as well) that are cut into intricate geometric patterns. A wooden mashrabiya is generally created by cutting wood on a lathe. The screen allows for air to flow into a room, while maintaining the privacy of the rooms occupants. Zellij is the art of glazed, cut tiles arranged in complex geometric patterns, and has been in use as a decorative element of Islamic architecture for centuries.

Next we visited the Badi’ Palace and the Saadian Tombs. Palace architecture in Morocco from the Marinid dynasty onwards is in constant dialogue with the architecture or southern Spain, in particular the Alhambra Palace in Granada. Spain and Portugal were ruled by Islamic dynasties from the 7th century to the 15th century when the peninsula was taken back by the Spanish monarchy. The Spanish slowly chipped away at Islamic holdings on the Iberian peninsula until all that was left was Granada and the Nasrid Dynasty. Although small, the Nasrid Dynasty created beautiful palaces, and was a vibrant intellectual and artistic court center. The Badi’ Palace was constructed between 1578 – 1594 for the Saadian Dynasty, and though today it reveals little of its original luxury, the name Badi’ derives from al Badi, one of the ninety nine names given for God in the Koran, meaning “the incomparable”. As contemporary sources attest, the Badi’ Palace was indeed incomparable at the time, a masterpiece of stucco carving, marble, and zellij tilework. After the fall of the Saadians’ much of the decoration was plundered and taken the Meknes.

The Saadian tombs give an idea of how the Badi’ Palace might have looked during its heyday. Burial rituals in Islam generally encompass four things: washing the body, shrouding the body, funeral prayers, and prompt burial. The Prophet Muhammad disapproved of tombs, and was himself originally buried in an unmarked grave. There was a contrast between the humility of Islam and Muslims with the grand tombs built for Christian rulers such as Constantine. This injunction didn’t last long, as dynastic pretensions led to tombs in Islamic dynasties within 100 years of the death of Muhammad. The Saadian Tomb complex features two mausolea and a garden with tiled walkways. The ceilings are covered in muqaranas, a stalactite-like stucco decoration the proliferated in North Africa from the medieval period well into the 17th century. The gardens were planted to create a variety of textures, colors, and smells. The hedges are actually rosemary plants, complimented by basil; and orange trees dot the garden.

That evening, we returned to riad, where we were treated to a performance by a group of traditional Berber musicians. Berber music is an amalgam of indigenous, Arabian, and sub-Saharan instruments, melodies, and dances.


Our next stop was Fez, established in the 9th century. Today the medina is a tightly knit web of buildings held together by walls and fortifications, with the ‘ville nouvelle’, built by the French during the colonial period, rising to the southwest. The contrast between the two is stark; the ville nouvelle has broad, tree lined avenues while the medina of Fez is cramped and generally lacks public green spaces. The French purposely set the ville nouvelle against the medieval medina to show the innovations of the colonizers, while at the same time creating in essence a museum of the medina. The medina of Fez has several world renowned buildings which we had the opportunity to visit. We stayed in the medina, at the Riad Taha, which is 900 years old.

Our first stop in Fez was the water clock opposite the Bou Inania madrasa. The clock is made of twelve windows with platforms that hold brass bowls. Each hour, one of the doors opened, and a metal ball dropped into the bowl. Although the exact mechanism by which it worked is unknown, presumably a cart ran behind the doors, attached to a rope with with a weight on it. The weight floated on the surface of a water reservoir that drained at a regular pace. The bowls have been removed, and the clock is currently being renovated.


Across from the water clock, the Bou Inania is a masterpiece of madrasa architecture in North Africa. It was founded in the 9th century, with additions and renovations continuing throughout the 13th century. It is the only madrasa in Fez with a minaret. The Bou Inania is also characteristic of the way the Marinid dynasty translated Nasrid palatial designs and materials into a religious context. Zellij dadoes, carved wood, and panels of carved stucco decorate every surface. Mashrabiya screens separate the marble paved courtyard from the arcaded corridors that lead to the students’ cells. The students cells here are spare, but the courtyard, as the public “face” of the building – mosque, official ceremonies, etc. – was the focus of the ornament, and reflected the generosity of the founder.

The Qarawiyyin Mosque mosque was founded in 857 by Fatima bint Muhammad al-Fihri a woman from Kairouan (hence the moniker) who spent all of her fortune on it. The Qarawiyyin is the seat of a traditional university that was one of the principal intellectual centers of the Maghreb or more than 1000 years. It was known throughout the Islamic world, and is still highly respected today. The site has been respected by every dynasty to rule Morocco, and has been object of careful restoration work and development throughout its history. As non-Muslims, we were not allowed to enter the mosque, but were able to peek through the doorway.


A funduq was an urban inn for travelers, and they functioned as the end point of the journey, as warehouses, and places for commercial transactions. We visited the Funduq al Najjrin, an example of the standard type of urban caravanserai, built in 1711. The funduq opens onto the square of the Najjarin (Arabic: carpenters) and it provided lodging and storage space for visiting merchants. It is three stories, arranged around the central courtyard. The monumental portal and adjacent fountain are focal points of the Najjarin square, and are decorated with carved cedar, mosaic tile, and carved stucco. After that, we stopped at the tanneries of Fez, where the make world renowned leather products by hand. It’s a sight to behold, but the smell is awful (they give you a bunch of mint to hold to your nostrils while you’re there!)

We walked through the mellah of Fez the next day. Jewish communities of Morocco have ancient roots; archaeological evidence from the Roman site of Volubilis suggests that Jewish communities were established in Morocco during that period, and Jews were among the first settlers of Fez in the 8th century. Morocco was closely linked to developments in Spain, where one of the largest and most prosperous Jewish populations lived in the Middle Ages. During the Reconquista Jews in Spain were increasingly persecuted and a wave of anti-Jewish violence there in 1391 cause many of them to flee to Morocco – an event known as the Sephardic (Spanish) diaspora. Fez received a large number of immigrants, and as the population of Jews in the city grew, the Marinid sultan decided to confine them to a special quarter near the new palace in 1438. The spot chosen was called mellah, which means ‘salty marsh’, and was anecdotally named so because the Jews had to salt the severed heads of prisoners before their public display. Mellah came to be used for Jewish quarters across Morocco. Although the mellah appears to correlate to European ghettos, there really is no comparison. Jews were allowed to move freely in and out of the quarter (as were Muslims), they were allowed to freely practice their religion, and were considered a vital part of the community. The houses in the mellah of Fez are set apart from the rest of the houses in the medina in that they have outward facing balconies and windows. In the 17th century, the ‘Alawid dynasty sought to revitalize Fez. To jumpstart economic activity, the sultan transplanted a large Jewish population from another town to the mellah of Fez. The influx of people required the enlarging of the mellah and the construction of a new synagogue, the Ibn Dana synagogue.

The ceramics coop, Art Naji, is located in an industrial district of Fez, and has been producing tile mosaics and a variety of ceramic wares for the better part of the 20th century using traditional techniques. On our tour, we saw artisans hand throwing and painting tagines, a traditional cooking vessel (and name for a dish of cooked meats and vegetables). The master artisan painting the tagines did not use a pattern, he drew and painted the designs on the vessels freehand, from memory. One of the tile cutters showed us a 12-pointed star he cut for use in a zellij mosaic that was smaller than the tip of my little finger. They also let one of our students play on the kick wheel!

We squeezed in a quick visit to Volubulis on our way to Meknes. Volubilis had been inhabited since the Neolithic period, and is now the site of fantastic Roman ruins. At its peak, the city had 20,000 inhabitants, and judging by the excavated villas and floor mosaics, it was a wealthy town.

Our visit ended in Rabat, the capital of Morocco. Rabat dates back to the Roman period (and possibly earlier) when an outpost known as Sala Colonia south of the present city was built. Excavations have revealed several buildings from the time of Trajan (98-117 CE) including a triumphal arch and a forum. The modern city owes its existence and name to the Almohads. ‘Abd al-Mumin, the first sovereign of the Almohad dynasty, built a small fort known as a ribat in 1150, on the ruins of Sala Colonia. The fort was enlarged by the Almohads as base from which to launch excursions against the Christian kings of Spain. The fortress contained a residence for the sovereign, a mosque, and reservoirs fed by aqueducts.

Nothing remains of the original ribat, but at the end of the 12th century, the Almohad ruler Abu Yusuf Ya’qub al-Mansur founded a city here, named ribat al-fath (fortress of victory, after a major victory over the Christian forces in Spain. The founded of the city was commemorative, and he commissioned a mosque to serve as the principal mosque of the Almohad empire. If fully constructed, the mosque would have been the second largest in the Islamic world. The project required a veritable army of workers, and the corps included some 700 captured Christians. When al-Mansur died in 1199, the mosque was unfinished, and it remains in that state to this day.

img_1857The partly preserved minaret shows the monumental scale on which the mosque was designed. The minaret is a large square, 49 feet to a side, located in the center of the north end opposite the mihrab. There are four stairways on the north elevation of the platform, two of which flank the minaret. The stairways lead to the neighborhood below the platform, where an arcade was planned. The minaret is 144 feet tall, and it was likely intended to reach twice that height. Despite its incomplete state, the minaret is decorated on all sides with delicate sculptural relief work. The surfaces of the square sandstone tower feature fields of interlacing polylobed arches, while small slit windows topped by horseshoe arches allow a small amount of light into the interior space of the minaret.

One of the most distinctive features of Rabat are fortification walls. The walls were built for the most part during the reign of al-Mansur (1184-1199). They are approximately 3.1 miles long, and protected the city to the west and the south, with the other side benefitting from the natural shelter afforded by cliffs, the river, and the ocean. The walls which, are a mixture of lime, brick and stone, have stood up well to the erosions of time, and have a distinctive orange-red patina.

You can reach the medina through one of six gates built during the Almohad period. The Bab Udaya leads into the Kasbah of the Udaya. The Kasbah of the Udaya was originally built in 1140 AD under the Almoravids as protection against the Almohads. The Almohads besieged and eventually destroyed the original fort, but reconstructed it in 1150, naming it al-Mahdiyya, after the founder, al-Mahdi Ibn Tumart. After the death of Yacub Mansur, the Kasbah, much like the mosque, were abandoned. The area at large was revitalized in the 17th century after the expulsion of the remaining Muslims in Spain. The medina of Rabat was largely built by these mudejars (Muslims who remained in Spain after the Reconquista). Uncommon in Moroccan medinas, the medina of Rabat has a grid plan that was likely modeled on Spanish towns. Although the mudejars didn’t build any monumental buildings, they did have a lasting influence on the architecture and craftsman ship of the area, such as plaster moldings piled up over the areas of the door and wrought iron over doors and windows. We had tea and sweets at a cafe near the water, and made a new friend.

The Chellah is a necropolis located on the outskirts of Rabat, on the site of the Roman Sala Colonia. Lush gardens cascade down the hillside to the estuary below, but much of the site fell into ruins after an earthquake in 1755. In 1336 the ensemble comprised several tombs, a mosque, a hospice, two minarets, and several other unidentified buildings. It was surrounded by a wall with a monumental entrance. Although in ruins, some idea of the lavish decoration can be gleaned from the exterior of one of the sovereign’s tombs, which has a relief panel reminiscent of the lozenge net decoration at the Hassan Mosque. Rabat had remained almost completely unpopulated after the Almohads abandoned it, and its deserted condition made a fitting site for a necropolis. The site remains largely unbuilt to this day, and is currently home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, and a nesting ground for a large stork population.

The summer study abroad to Italy is full (though they are accepting waitlist students), but don’t worry, there’s plenty more coming up over the next few years. We’ve got Barcelona, Paris, and possibly Morocco again, so start saving now, you don’t want to  miss out on all the fun!!!

Transfer Student Event @ the CVA

Are you a new or prospective transfer student looking to meet other students in a relaxed and fun social setting? Then come on out to the Center for Visual Art this Friday, March 3rd for the TAG First Friday event!


The Transfer Success Program and the CVA are jointly hosting this social gathering for all transfer students (or future transfer students) at the gallery, located at 965 Santa Fe Drive, Denver. The evening will feature refreshments and a portrait workshop for those who are feeling creative.  After the event you can continue your evening by exploring the festivities during the First Friday art walk along Santa Fe.

For more information email bwetzel@msudenver.edu or call 303-556-5144.

February Happenings

There’s a lot going on this month in the Denver art world! This Friday, February 3rd, Presence: Reflections on the Middle East opens at the CVA, and Iranian-American artist Samira Yamin, whose work is featured in the show, will be at the opening. Yamin and Professor Leila Armstrong will be taking over the CVA’s Instagram for the weekend, so if you don’t follow the CVA, you should do it now! Next up, University of Denver Professor and artist Laleh Mehran will be giving a talk on Wednesday February 8th about her work in the show (and more). If you can’t make it to the opening or the talk, the CVA is open Tuesday-Friday 11 AM – 6 Pm, and Saturdays from 12 PM – 5 PM.


If you haven’t been by RedLine’s Nice Work if You Can Get It, you should definitely do so before it closes at the end of the month. The show features two MSU Denver professors (Mario Zoots and Sarah Rocket) and an alumnus, Molly Bounds. The Museo de las Americas’ Tornaviaje: The Return Route opens on February 9th, and MCA Denver’s winter exhibitions, Basquiat Before Basquiat, Ryan McGinley: The Kids Were Alright, and Wall Writers: Grafitti in its Innocence opens on February 11th.