Hyewon Yi *02
I came to the U.S. in January 1999 in order to pursue a master’s in art history at UMass Amherst. Coming from Korea in my mid-twenties, with less than perfect English, my first semester was a very stressful time. My undergraduate education had been in studio art, so studying for the first time in a foreign language proved a daunting challenge, but the Art History faculty gave me such constructive and heartfelt support that I persevered.
I have especially fond memories of my classes with Professors Harbison, Mochon, Oedel, LaFollette, Denny, and Schmitter. The strength of the program lay not only in their fine teaching skills and impressive breadth of knowledge, but also in the terrific student-faculty ratio, which afforded significant attention and care for individual students. The Art History graduate program at UMASS was an ideal place for an international student, and I owe my academic success to these fine people.
I went on to study in the PhD Program in Art History at CUNY Graduate Center, where the atmosphere is highly competitive and there is less opportunity for personal attention from faculty. A student must be quite motivated and self-directed to succeed in this highly regarded doctoral program, and UMASS had prepared me well for the challenge. I studied the history of photography and contemporary art at the Graduate Center and began curating and teaching. I wrote my doctoral dissertation ⎯ Photographer as Participant Observer: Larry Clark, Nan Goldin, Richard Billingham, and Nobuyoshi Araki ⎯ on four living proponents of the ‘quasi’ or ‘gonzo’ documentary photographic and filmic method, which evidences a shift toward a subjectivized or autobiographical photography that I view as trans-cultural and trans-national.
Living in New York City expanded my world beyond school and into the art world. Since 2006, I have curated contemporary art exhibitions in a wide range of media at the Amelie A. Wallace Gallery at SUNY Old Westbury, and as an independent curator, I have mounted exhibitions at both commercial and not-for-profit galleries in New York City and in Seoul. My skill set has proven particularly useful to the Korean-American arts community in New York, where I have served as a juror and curator for competitions.
I have taught a number of art history courses at SUNY College at Old Westbury: History of Photography; Warhol to the Present; New Media Art; Nineteenth Century European Art; Twentieth Century Art History; and Introduction to the Arts. Teaching these classes would have been unthinkable had Walter Denny not shown confidence in me by giving me the opportunity to serve as his teaching assistant.
Had I not found in Craig Harbison a mentor who nurtured my nascent ideas and motivated me to be a self-directed thinker, I could not have become a scholar. And had I not had the great good fortune to find in Laetitia LaFollette a graduate program director and role model who offered not only practical guidance, but also unflagging encouragement, I would have been lost.
I often recall my time at UMass Amherst with warmth and affection. For me, it was more than a place to acquire a master’s degree, it was the place that changed my life.