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Karen Kurczynski

Assistant Professor | Modern & Contemporary Art

(413) 545-4414

South College W313

Ph.D., New York University, 2005

Karen Kurczynski studied art history as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and continued for an MA and PhD at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. She completed her PhD in 2005 on the Danish artist and Situationist Asger Jorn. That project is the basis for her recent book, a scholarly introduction to Jorn's work in English called The Art and Politics of Asger Jorn: The Avant-Garde Won't Give Up, (Asghate, 2014). She teaches courses on Modern Art, Contemporary Art, Identity Politics, Methodology, and the Global 1950s. Her research interests include the relationship of art to politics and activism, feminist and critical theory, problems of expression and the social, and the legacy of early-20th-century cultural encounters in contemporary discourses of identity and globalization. She is now researching a new scholarly book on the Cobra movement entitled Animal Culture: The Art of Cobra, as well as a third book project, Drawing Is the New Painting. The latter project examines the rise of drawing as a major medium or “anti-medium” in the contemporary period, ranging from expressive and reproductive practices to the relationship of hand drawing to technology. Students explored these topics and curated their own exhibition on drawing at the University Museum of Contemporary Art in her Spring 2017 seminar, "Drawing Connections: Drawing in Contemporary Art." They published the results of their curating and research online on the UMASS blog page "Drawing Connections."

Karen has taught extensively in museums as a former gallery lecturer at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. In 2014, she co-curated with Karen Friis Herbsleb of the Museum Jorn, Denmark, an Asger Jorn centennial exhibition entitled ”Expo Jorn: Art is a Festival.” It set Jorn's work in dialogue with artistic inspirations and collaborations from Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró to Karel Appel, Jean Dubuffet, Jacqueline de Jong, and Guy Debord. She is also curating a major traveling U.S. exhibition and scholarly catalogue on the Cobra movement entitled "Human Animals: The Art of Cobra.” It will open at the University Museum of Contemporary Art at UMass in September, 2016, and travel to the Nova Southeastern University Art Museum, Fort Lauderdale, in 2017.

Research Areas

  • Modern and Contemporary Art
  • Critical Theory


Books and Catalogues:


  • "Thinking Through Drawing with William Kentridge," KAHOMA Journal of the History of Modern Art (Seoul, Korea) no. 39 (June 2016).
  • “Materializing Intersubjectivity in Cobra,” commissioned for Art History, special issue on Material Practice and Critical Consciousness in Postwar European Art, 1946-1971, ed. Steven Harris and Natalie Adamson, Autumn 2016
  •  “Asger Jorn and Cobra: A Multi-Headed Beast,” in Benedikt Hjartarson, Andrea Kollnitz, Per Stounbjerg and Tania Ørum, eds., The Avant-Gardes in the Nordic Countries 1925-1950: History, Culture and Aesthetics (Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen, 2015).
  •  “An Abstract Art that Does Not Believe in Abstraction: Asger Jorn’s Painterly Expression,” Asger Jorn: Restless Rebel, ed. Dorthe Aagesen and Helle Brøns (Copenhagen: Statens Museum for Kunst, 2014).
  •  “Asger Jorn, Popular Art, and the Kitsch-Avant-Garde,” Kitsch: History, Theory, Practice, ed. Monica Kjellman-Chapin. London: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2013.
  •  “Michel Ragon et COBRA: Un dialogue sur l’expression populaire,” Actes du Colloque Michel Ragon, ed. Serge Guilbaut, Hélène Jannière, Richard Leeman, and Jean-Marc Poinsot (Paris: Institut National de l'Histoire de l'Art, 2013).
  •  “No Man’s Land,” October 141 (Summer 2012), special issue on Asger Jorn, co-edited with Hal Foster and Niels Henriksen.
  •  “Drawing Is the New Painting,” Art Journal 70, no. 1 (Spring 2011).
  •  “Primitivism, Humanism, and Ambivalence: Cobra and Post-Cobra,” co-written with Nicola Pezolet, commissioned article, RES 59/60 (Spring/Autumn 2011).
  •  “Red Herrings: Eccentric Morphologies in the Situationist Times,” Expect Everything, Fear Nothing: Scandinavian Situationism in Perspective, ed. Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen and Jakob Jakobsen. Copenhagen, Nebula Books, 2011.
  • “Expression as Vandalism: Asger Jorn’s Modifications,” RES 53/54 (Summer 2008).
  • “Leveraging Situationism?” Third Text 22, no. 5, special issue on Tactical Media, ed. Gregory Sholette and Gene Ray (September 2008).
  • “Fordrejet Udtryk [Detourned Expression],” Billedkunst 15, no. 3 (December 2007).
  • “Ironic Gestures: Asger Jorn, Informel, and Abstract Expressionism,” in Abstract
  • Expressionism: An International Language, ed. Joan Marter. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2006.
  • “Asger Jorn and the Avant-Garde,” Rutgers Art Review 21 (2005). Translated as “Asger Jorn og avant-gardebevægelserne,” in En tradition af opbrud: Avantgardernes tradition og politik, ed. Tania Ørum, Marianne Ping Huang, and Charlotte Engberg. Copenhagen: Spring Press, 2005.

Courses Recently Taught

  • ARTHIST 324/624 Modern Art
  • ARTHIST  725 Graduate seminar: Problems in Contemporary Art: Identity Politics and Art, 1960s-present
  • ARTHIST 383/673 Great Themes in Art: Issues in Contemporary Art
  • ARTHIST 391 Undergraduate seminar: Beyond Abstract Expressionism: The Global 1950s
  • ARTHIST 791 Methods, co-taught with Sonja Drimmer


Find out more about Professor Kurcynski, here