Contact details


South College

150 Hicks Way
Amherst, MA 01003-9274
United States



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. She has published a scholarly introduction to Jorn's work in English called The Art and Politics of Asger Jorn: The Avant-Garde Won't Give Up, (Ashgate/Routledge, 2014), and a new evaluation of the Cobra movement, The Cobra Movement in Postwar Europe: Reanimating Art (Routledge, 2020). She teaches courses on Modern Art, Contemporary Art, Postwar European 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. Her scholarly book on the Cobra movement entitled The Cobra Movement in Postwar Europe: Reanimating Art will appear in 2020 in Routledge's Research in Art History series. She is also researching a third book project, Drawing in Color. The latter project discusses 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. It examines practices of whiteness and blackness in recent drawing, as well as the intersectionality of race with other categories of identity such as gender and sexuality, investigating why drawing is uniquely able to comment on those today. Students explored these topics and curated their own exhibition on drawing at the University Museum of Contemporary Art in her Spring 2017 and Spring 2018 seminar, "Drawing Connections: Drawing in Contemporary Art." They published the results of their curating and research online on the UMASS blog page "Drawing Connections" (2017) and "Drawing Connections" (2018).

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 also curated a major traveling U.S. exhibition and scholarly catalogue on the Cobra movement entitled "Human Animals: The Art of Cobra.” It opened at the University Museum of Contemporary Art at UMass in September, 2016, and traveled to the Nova Southeastern University Art Museum, Fort Lauderdale, in 2017.

In 2019-20, Karen launched “Making Art Yours,” a collaboration with the University Museum of Contemporary Art that welcomed diverse audiences into the museum space. Read more about this initiative here. Making Art Yours is just one of many pedagogical and community engagement initiatives through which Professor Kurczynski expands her approach to teaching modern and contemporary art according to the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion.


Books and Catalogues


  • Asger Jorn and Cobra: A Multi-Headed Beast in Benedikt Hjartarson, Andrea Kollnitz, Per Stounbjerg and Tania Ørum, eds., A Cultural History of the Avant-Garde in the Nordic Countries 1925-1950: History, Culture and Aesthetics (Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen, 2019).
  • "Cobra and the Human Animal," in Cynthia Sue Henger, ed., Golda and Meyer Marks Cobra Collection: NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale (Milan: Skira, 2017).
  • "The "International Spirit" of Cobra," in The Avant-Garde Won't Give Up: Cobra and Its Legacy, ed. Alison Gingeras (New York and Los Angeles: Blum and Poe Gallery, 2017).
  • "Thinking Through Drawing with William Kentridge," KAHOMA Journal of the History of Modern Art (Seoul, Korea) no. 39 (June 2016).
  • “Materializing Intersubjectivity in Cobra,” Art History, special issue on Material Practice and Critical Consciousness in Postwar European Art, 1946-1971, ed. Steven Harris and Natalie Adamson, Autumn 2016
  • “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). Reprinted in Iteralia (January 2016), preview online at
  • “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, now a global diversity DG/AT Gen Ed course
  • ARTHIST 397B/697B Biology and Art
  • ARTHIST 797D Graduate Seminar: Drawing in Color
  • ARTHIST 782 Museum Studies
  • ARTHIST 391P/691P Identity Politics and Art, 1960s–Present
  • ARTHIST 391A Undergraduate Seminar: Drawing Connections: Drawing in Contemporary Art
  • ARTHIST 725 Graduate seminar: Postwar European Art
  • ARTHIST 327/627 Contemporary Art
  • ARTHIST 391 Undergraduate seminar: Beyond Abstract Expressionism: The Global 1950s
  • ARTHIST 791 Art History Methods, co-taught with Sonja Drimmer