Abra Levenson holds a B.A. in art history and history from the University of California, Berkeley (2003), and an M.A. in art history from Princeton (2011). She is currently a Smithsonian predoctoral fellow at the National Portrait Gallery (2012–14), where she is at work on her dissertation, “Figures and Things: Charles Demuth, 1914–1935.” As an undergraduate, her studies focused on postwar European sculpture. At Princeton, her interests have shifted to prewar American painting, though she maintains strong interests across the 19th and 20th centuries, ranging from sculpture, photography, and literature to theories of modernism, genre, and art-historical methodology. Trained first as a modernist, and now a self-identified Americanist, her scholarship aims to interrogate and unsettle these categorizations. This is in part what drew her to the work of Charles Demuth.
Abra’s dissertation is rooted in Demuth’s series of symbolic portraits of the prewar avant-garde, which she argues provide a particularly clear illustration of an under-appreciated thread running across Demuth’s practice—his persistent grappling with the conventions of pictorial meaning. Her re-reading of Demuth, which addresses his work at the intersections of portraiture, landscape, and still life painting, reveals how this artist probed the limits of genre and media, and challenges perceived divisions between “American” and “European,” modernism and postmodernism, rear- and avant-garde.