Anthony Lee

Citation for 2002 Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship

Books are hard to put down. With crisp prose and elegant use of visual and literary evidence he draws readers into his narratives of the interconnections of art with social and political history. As one critic concluded "we are. . . exhilarated to have been participants in the unfolding of this drama."

In Painting on the Left (1999) he tells the history of mural painting in San Francisco and the catalytic effect of Diego Rivera's murals on the work of radical artists there. Picturing Chinatown (2001) examines, with little-known photographs, the image of San Francisco's Chinatown and its residents in the non-Chinese imagination and how the quarter's history was intertwined with that of the city that surrounded and isolated it. Tony's focus moves from close-ups of single events, persons, and places to wide-angle views of San Francisco's social movements, political struggles, and popular perceptions and prejudices. His skill as an art historian in presenting and decoding the visual images, and the rich body of supporting material he has found, make each piece of his story engrossing. His narrative becomes even more compelling as he moves from microanalysis to larger questions and longer histories of national and international importance.

Tony is a prodigious worker. Much of his evidence was unearthed in archives and in obscure periodical literature. His research on San Francisco's murals was groundbreaking and that on Chinatown has been called "a great achievement of sheer historical retrieval." He brings to these raw materials the talents and tools of a sophisticated theorist. Critics commend him for his knowledge of the wide range of contemporary theory and his insightful use of it without resort to jargon or name-dropping. He is especially concerned with issues of race and class. His analysis in Picturing Chinatown is praised for building on "the insights on race, representation, and nationality put forth by scholars of African-America and the Caribbean," and for its application of Edward Said's concept of Orientalism to describe how non-Chinese represented Chinese immigrants to justify and maintain dominance over them.

Scholars laud Tony's books for their lucid prose, their even-handedness, the newly discovered material they contain, and their fresh and insightful analysis of works previously known. Tony is seen as making significant contributions not only to art history, but also to American, Latin American and urban studies. Painting on the Left was described by an eminent scholar of Latin American art as "the most penetrating, sensitively reasoned, and readable book to appear on. . .[Diego Rivera's] work and intellectual milieu in a long time." Picturing Chinatown, published two years later, was thought even better and a work that makes Tony "one of the country's leading historians of American art and culture."

Tony's publications include a number of essays and reviews related to his two books but also articles on, for example, African ceremonial art and numerous reviews of contemporary art exhibitions. His breadth of interests is reflected in the range of courses he has offered at Mount Holyoke: surveys of 19th century, modern and contemporary art, and seminars on sex and gender, Chinatown, French painting in the 1880's, and theory and interpretation. He has been very active in the American Studies Program and in the development of Asian-American Studies at Mount Holyoke and the Five Colleges.

His new research projects continue his commitment to social and political concerns and his meditative use of photographic images. He is working on a monograph on Diego Rivera, a study of immigrant Chinese shoemakers' lives in a nineteenth century New England factory town, and a co-authored book and exhibition on photographs by Diane Arbus. All who know Tony's work must look forward with excitement to where he will take us next and what we will learn from this path-breaking scholar.