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July 22, 2022

Stephen D. Houston of Brown University to Present 2023 A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts

Stephen Houston

Stephen D. Houston of Brown University will deliver the 72nd A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in spring 2023. Photo courtesy of Stephen D. Houston

Washington, DC—The Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art (the Center) has announced that Stephen D. Houston, Dupee Family Professor of Social Science at Brown University, will give the 72nd A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts in spring 2023.

Houston’s lecture series, entitled Vital Signs: The Visual Cultures of Maya Writing, will take place in the East Building Auditorium at the National Gallery on Sundays from April 16 through May 21, 2023.

Over six lectures, Houston will explore Maya writing (“glyphs”) of ancient Mexico and Central America, uncovering the essence of a system of script and picture that never quite split apart yet never quite fused. Recent decipherments of glyphs enable us to probe how language intersected with visual experience, who devised these innovations, by what means, and for what reasons. The lectures will explore the perceived vitality of these glyphs; what text and image were thought to look like; what was held to be beautiful, ugly, or amusing; how action and motion—so central to the overall content—were categorized verbally and organized visually; and how size and scale configured paintings and carvings. In doing so, a world long silent and static will come back to life: emoting, voicing, acting, and convincing with a force not felt for over a millennium.

About the A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts

Since 1949 the preeminent A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts have presented the best in contemporary thought and scholarship on the subject of the fine arts. The program itself is named for Andrew W. Mellon, founder of the National Gallery of Art, who gave the nation his art collection and funds to build the West Building, which opened to the public in 1941.

Past speakers have included Sir Kenneth Clark, T. J. Clark, Thomas Crow, Hal Foster, Michael Fried, E. H. Gombrich, Mary Miller, Alexander Nemerov, Helen Vendler, Irene J. Winter, Wu Hung, and, most recently, Richard J. Powell. See the full list.

About Stephen D. Houston

Stephen D. Houston serves as the Dupee Family Professor of Social Science at Brown University, where he has taught since 2004. Houston has prepared numerous books and articles, most recently Temple of the Night Sun: A Royal Maya Tomb at El Diablo, Guatemala. His work The Life Within: Classic Maya and the Matter of Permanence won the PROSE Award for Art History and Criticism in 2015. He also cocurated Fiery Pool: The Maya and the Mythic Sea, an exhibition exploring ecological aesthetics in Maya civilization.

Houston has been honored with a MacArthur Fellowship as well as fellowships and grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, National Science Foundation, Dumbarton Oaks, Clark Art Institute, and National Endowment for the Humanities. From 2018 to 2019, he served as the inaugural Kislak Chair at the Library of Congress, supporting interdisciplinary, in-depth research projects. In recognition of Houston’s scholarship, the president of Guatemala awarded him the Grand Cross of the Order of the Quetzal, the country’s highest honor. Houston is a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, and he earned his PhD at Yale University.

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