Dr. Erika Doss

Edith O’Donnell Distinguished Chair in Art History, The Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History

Erika Doss is the Edith O’Donnell Distinguished Chair in Art History at the University of Texas at Dallas. Her wide-ranging interests in American art are reflected in the breadth of her publications and public lectures, which typically engage the complexities of modern and contemporary American visual and material cultures including the nature of representation and issues of history, memory, and identity—national, cultural, and self.

Her first book, Benton, Pollock, and the Politics of Modernism: From Regionalism to Abstract Expressionism (University of Chicago, 1991), examines the shift in style from narrative to non-objective American art from the Great Depression to the Cold War, and considers a plethora of cultural forms including painting, movies, advertisements, posters, world’s fairs, and political rhetoric. Doss’s next book, Spirit Poles and Flying Pigs: Public Art and Cultural Democracy in American Communities (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995), centers on the culture wars surrounding the making and meaning of public art in the United States during the last few decades of the 20th century. Elvis Culture: Fans, Faith, and Image (University Press of Kansas, 1999) utlilizes reception theory to analyze one of America’s most popular postwar icons, raising questions about the construction and sustenance of celebrity in modern times.

In 2001, Doss edited Looking at Life Magazine (Smithsonian University Press), a compilation of essays on one of America’s most popular magazines. In 2002, she published Twentieth-Century American Art, a volume in the Oxford History of Art series that provides an overview of art in the United States from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair to the 2000 Whitney Biennial. In 2017, this survey text was expanded, revised, and retitled as American Art of the 20th and 21st Centuries (also published by Oxford). Doss’s book Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America (University of Chicago, 2010) contextualizes the emotionally driven dynamics of commemoration and public art in the United States today, including memorials that embody feelings of grief, gratitude, shame, and anger. Her most recent book, Spiritual Moderns: Twentieth Century American Artists and Religion (University of Chicago 2023) considers why religion and spirituality have largely been understudied in the history of American modern art and centers on four American artists—Joseph Cornell, Mark Tobey, Agnes Pelton, and Andy Warhol—who were both modern and religious.

Doss is also co-editor of the “Culture America” series at the University Press of Kansas, and has served on the editorial boards of American Quarterly, American Art, Memory Studies, Public Art Dialogue, and The Space Between: Literature and Culture, 1914-1945.

Doss graduated from Ripon College with a degree in art history and earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in art history from the University of Minnesota. Following stints as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Carleton College and the University of Oregon, she held faculty positions at Cleveland State University, the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the University of Notre Dame.

A recipient of several Fulbright Awards, Doss has also held fellowships at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Wolfsonian, the Stanford Humanities Center, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Research Center, the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies, and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Her current research projects include further work on the art of the New Deal, monuments and memory, public art and issues of permanence, modern American artists and commercial illustration, and the global phenomenon of airport chapels.