Irene Small

Associate Professor of Art & Archaeology
Contemporary Art and Criticism
Co-Director, Program in Media & Modernity
Office Phone
1S-8 Green Hall


Ph.D., Yale University, 2008

Irene V. Small specializes in contemporary art and criticism within a global context. Her areas of interest include experimental practices of the 1960s and ’70s, legacies of abstraction, temporalities of art, problems of methodology and interpretation, relationality and the social implications of form. Small’s work engages a variety of geopolitical formations and transnational, translocal contexts, and has paid particular attention to art and theory in Latin America, notably Brazil.

Small is the author of Hélio Oiticica: Folding the Frame (University of Chicago Press, 2016), the first English-language monograph devoted to the pioneering Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica, who worked in Rio de Janeiro, London, and New York from the mid-1950s through the late 1970s. The book examines discourses of developmentalism and organic processes of emergence as they intersect in the articulation of a participatory art paradigm in mid-1960s Brazil. But its genesis lies in a simple question: how do we imagine the efficacy of works of art if and when they cease be “art” at all? Small’s essays have considered such topics as radical pedagogy and expanded cinema; the Brazilian avant-garde movement Neoconcretism and the historiographic interventions of critics such as Ronaldo Brito and Ferreira Gullar; pigment and post-painterly practice; the concepts of medium specificity (or aspecificity) and autopoietic form; and social sculpture in the wake of the “expanded field.” Recent work has examined the political potential of ecstatic mimicry in carnival practices and decolonizing interventions by artists in South Africa such as the collaborative Center for Historical Reenactments.

Small is currently at work on a new book that takes as its point of departure the Brazilian artist Lygia Clark’s notion of the “organic line,” a line of space that appears between a painting and its frame, a door and its lintel, or tiles on the floor. The book tracks the emergence of the concept in Clark’s work circa 1954, but also comprehends the organic line as a generative conceptual tool, one that does expansive aesthetic, epistemological, and political work well beyond Clark’s immediate context. In addition, Small is at work on several essays that examine media-based practices: one considers the typed drawings of the Swiss-Brazilian artist Mira Schendel in relation to the nomadic philosopher Vilém Flusser’s notion of the “technical image”; another treats the proto-photographic experiments of the 19th century French-Brazilian inventor Hércules Florence through rubrics of remediation and digitalization.

Small is an active critic, and has written about contemporary artists such as Allora & Calzadilla, Gabriel Sierra, Zilia Sánchez, and Matheus Rocha Pitta. As a curator, she co-organized Blind Field, an exhibition of emerging and mid-career artists working in Brazil, presented at the Krannert Art Museum and the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum in 2013, and Multitude, a group exhibition thematizing proliferation and mutability at Artists Space, New York City, in 2002. In 2006, she curated Verbivocovisual: Brazilian Concrete Poetry at Sterling Memorial Library, and in 2015 led a student-curated exhibition, From Frame to Life: Experiential Activation, at the Princeton University Art Museum.

Small’s research has been supported by a number of fellowships and grants, including the Graham Foundation, the Getty Research Foundation, the Dedalus Foundation, the Creative Capital and Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant, the Lemann Institute of Brazilian Studies, and the Research Board of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. At Princeton, Small is member of the Executive Committees of the Program in Media and Modernity, the Gauss Seminars in Criticism, and the Program in Latin American Studies. She is an affiliated faculty member of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and currently a Berhman Faculty Fellow at the Humanities Council of Princeton University.

Teaching Interests

Professor Small’s teaching approaches contemporary art from a global perspective and traverses an expansive range of practices and discourses, from the defining movements of 20th and 21st century art to cutting-edge practices by emerging artists and experiments in exhibition-making that have transformed the field of contemporary art today. In addition to courses on selected topics such as art and politics, archives, abstraction, or experimentalism, she regularly teaches a survey of contemporary art since 1950, as well as survey of modern and contemporary Latin American art. Her courses often aim to engage actual works of art, whether in campus collections, area museums, artists’ studios in New York City, or even international exhibitions of contemporary art.

Selected Publications

“Cut, Fuse, Fissure: Planarity circa 1954” in Zanna Gilbert, Andrew Perchuk, Pia Gottschaller, Tom Learner, and Andrew Perchuk, eds., Purity is a Myth: The Materiality in Concrete Art from Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2021), 67-87.

Slip of the Teeth” with Beatriz E. Balanta and Rachel L Price, Texte zur Kunst No 122 “Figuration” (June 2021): 102–125.

"Plasticity and Reproduction: Tarsila's A Negra" in Adriano Pedrosa, ed., Tarsila do Amaral: Cannibalizing Modernism, exh. cat. (São Paulo: Museu de Arte de São Paulo, 2019), 38–53.

"Passion of the Same: Cacique de Ramos and the Multidão” ARTMargins Vol 7 No 3 (October 2018): 6–33.

“Insertions into Historiographic Circuits” October No 161 (Summer 2017): 69–88.

“Permanent Evolution: Hélio Oiticica and the Return to Rio 1978–1980” in Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium, exh. cat. (Pittsburgh: Carnegie Museum of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, Whitney Museum, 2016).

Hélio Oiticica: Folding the Frame (University of Chicago Press, 2016).

Pigment pur and the Corpo da Côr: Post-painterly Practice and Transmodernity” October 152 (Spring 2015).

“Towards a Deliterate Cinema: Hélio Oiticica’s & Neville D’Almeida’s Block-Experiences in Cosmococa-Program in Progress, 1973,” in Performativity (Living Collections Catalogue) (Walker Art Center, 2014).

“Medium Aspecificity/Autopoietic Form,” in Contemporary Art: 1989 to the Present, ed. Alexander Dumbadze and Suzanne Hudson (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013).

Blind Field, exhibition catalogue, coauthored with Tumelo Mosaka (Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2013).

“Exit and Impasse: Ferreira Gullar and the ‘New History’ of the Last Avant-Garde,” Third Text 26.1 (January 2012).

“Believing in Art: The Votive Structures of Conceptual Art,” Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics 55/56 (Spring/Fall 2009).

“Morphology in the Studio: Hélio Oiticica at the Museu Nacional,” Getty Research Journal 1 (February 2009).