Mimi Hellman will be coming to speak at the Françoise and Georges Selz Lecture on 18th- and 19th-Century French Decorative Arts and Culture Wednesday, March 30, 2011, on “Forms of Distraction: Towards a Decorative Imagination in Eighteenth-Century France.”

Mimi Hellman is Associate Professor in the Department of Art History at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York, where she has taught since 2004. She has also taught at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Dr. Hellman received her B.A. and M.A. from Smith College, and the Ph.D. from Princeton University. She has been the recipient of prestigious fellowships including a David E. Finley Fellowship from the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. (1997-2000), and a research fellowship at the American University in Paris from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation (1995-7).

Dr. Hellman is preparing a book entitled The Hôtel de Soubise: Art and Ambition in Eighteenth-Century France. She has published numerous essays, including “Enchanted Night: Decoration, Sociability, and Visuality after Dark,” in Paris: Life and Luxury (forthcoming in 2011); “The Nature of Artifice: French Porcelain Flowers and the Rhetoric of the Garnish,” in The Cultural Aesthetics of Porcelain in the Eighteenth Century (2010); “Up the River: Touring Sing Sing,” in Lives of the Hudson (2010); “The Decorated Flame: Firedogs and the Tensions of the Hearth,” in Taking Shape: Finding Sculpture in the Decorative Arts, winner of Historians of British Art book prize (2010); “The Joy of Sets: The Uses of Seriality in the French Interior,” in Furnishing the Eighteenth Century: What Furniture Can Tell Us About the European and American Past (2006); “Interior Motives: Seduction by Decoration in Eighteenth-Century France,” the introduction to the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition catalogue, Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the Eighteenth Century (2006); and “Domesticity Undone: Three Historical Spaces,” in Undomesticated Interiors (2003).

Professor Hellman’s talk is entitled “Forms of Distraction: Towards a Decorative Imagination in Eighteenth-Century France.” The eighteenth-century French interior was filled with a multitude of artfully designed objects, from lustrous porcelain vases to intricately veneered furniture to paintings representing the trysts of mythological lovers. Yet sustained appreciation of these works was often difficult due to factors such as location, lighting, and codes of conduct. By exploring the tensions between visual abundance and compromised visibility, this lecture suggests that both designers and consumers imagined the interior as a space where distraction, not attention, shaped the aesthetic and social value of decorative art.

Please RSVP and join us in the Lecture Hall at 38 West 86th Street, between Columbus Ave and Central Park West, at 5:45pm for a reception before the talk.