History + Theory of Contemporary Art

Housed in one of the oldest art schools in the county, the program offers students the unique opportunity to develop their studies while mingling with the ghosts of (post)modernism and working side-by-side with current, practicing artists and scholars.

SFAI’s History and Theory of Contemporary Art (HTCA) programs provide an in-depth critical understanding of the history of the ideas, conditions, institutions, and discourses surrounding contemporary art and culture, and the ways that these factors inform the study, interpretation, analysis, and exhibition of art today.

The HTCA programs provide students with a thorough understanding of the long, global history of art, which is complemented by advanced, topic-based seminars in contemporary art history and theory, and by public programs designed to directly introduce students to a broad variety of transnational artists and scholars. Emphasizing research, writing, critical thinking, and methods of analysis that value cultural and social differences, HTCA prepares students to become advanced critics and scholars of art history and theory in a global context.


From SFAI’s MA Program to UC Irvine’s Ph.D. program, scholar Sharrissa Iqbal (MA 2014) looks for meaning in the visual arts within California’s cultural context.


  • Le Mot Peint: Dada Vandals of French Nationhood
  • The Enigma of the Sphinx: Kara Walker’s A Subtlety
  • Kaufman Hasn’t Left the Building: Epic Performance and Virality
  • Queering the Dream: Immigrant Activism and Defending the Right to Dream Differently 
  • Skull Fucked: Power and Masculinity in Skateboard Graphic Design
  • Dirty Pretty Things: Confronting the Pleasures and Pitfalls of Excess in Fashion and Environmental Sustainability
  • In or Out, but Always Chilango. An Analysis of Mexico City’s Contemporary Art Scene through the Life and Work of Dr. Lakra and Gabriel Orozco
  • Forms of Reality: Perceptual and Spiritual Dimensions of John McCracken’s Sculpture
  • Paris Petrified and the Kiss of Displaced Things; or, The Lamp and the Mirror
  • Facing the Effaced Photographs: Indelible Ignorance on Illicit Subjects of History 
  • Honey under the Tongue: Performing Intimacy in the Relationship between Artists and Audiences
  • Sweetness Is a Simple Citizen: Lê Huy Hoàng’s Installation Works as an Example of Vietnamese Hybrid Art 


Claire Daigle
Associate Professor; MA Director
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Meredith Tromble
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