Topological Studies

Topological Studies

The IDSVA Topological Studies Program may be the only one of its kind in the world.

Borrowed from mathematics as well as Freud & Lacan, topology as we use the term applies to the structural relations of geographical spaces, especially as these relations inform our historical understanding of cultural consciousness and the cultural unconscious.

During first and second year residencies, students travel from one historically designated site to another. Each site’s historical designation situates the site within a given period and determines the order in which the site is visited. Residency site visits can last from one or two days to several weeks. Current sites, historical designations, and the order in which they are visited are as follows:

The residency site visits are to be experienced as successive historical strata that set up a three-level (topological) critique.

In the first place, each site is considered in terms of its historically designated period vis-à-vis art and ideas; secondly, the sites are considered in topological relation to each other in terms of art and ideas; and thirdly, each site’s contemporary situation vis-à-vis art and ideas is looked at as an extended moment in its historical development and in topological relation to each of the other sites.

The first residency begins  in Rome, where students take in the Ancient art and architecture of a glorious city.  From Rome, they move on to Spannocchia Castle, in Tuscany. A restored eleventh-century tower and fourteenth-century villa and 1100-acre working farm, Castello di Spannocchia blends feudal traditions with the goings on of contemporary life. While living and studying at Spannocchia, students conduct fieldwork in Siena, and Florence. As a banking city and site of incipient middle-class capitalism, medieval Siena stood in geo-political tension with the aristocratic/agrarian economics and cultural ethos that still informed a more strictly two-class social system at nearby Spannocchia. Students consider this tension in terms, for instance, of Lorenzetti’s Allegory of Good Government, made in 1338 and installed in Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico, adjacent to the city’s famous public square, the Piazza Del Campo. 


In Florence, students study first-hand the architecture and aesthetics of the burgeoning Renaissance. Fieldwork includes study at The Uffizi Museum and the Accademia di Belle Arti. 

In Venice students think about the city’s history as an early version of globalized markets and question the significance of architectural and artistic practices as the Renaissance gives way to baroque ideas and aesthetics. This critique is set against the current role of the city as capital of the global art scene during the Venice Biennale, which IDSVA students experience first hand.

In Berlin, they look at how the Baroque shifts to early modern industrialized thought. And again, signs of these cultural mutations are to be discerned and felt in the architectural design of the city of Berlin as well as in the collections of art and cultural artifacts to be seen in the city’s museums and private collections.

In Paris, Modernism emerges full-blown in the mid-19th-c. Haussmannization of boulevards, public gardens, and architecture, and students trace the cultural/aesthetic contours of these developments by exploring the city’s streets & cafés and by conducting field work at the Louvre, the d’Orsay, and the Centre Pompidou—to name but a few of the cultural/aesthetic sites studied in Paris.

In New York City, students live and breathe the post-industrial urban experience. The Metropolitan Museum, MoMA, the Guggenheim, and the Whitney, are among the museums in which students conduct fieldwork, along with the Uptown and Chelsea galleries, artist studios, and the like.

In Istanbul students cross over from West to East, taking in the Byzantine civilizations of the past and a thriving art scene of the here and now.

At each of these sites, world renowned philosophers, critics, and artists join in on a running discussion about the ideas and art forms that brought these places and times together in what remains an ever unfolding of the future.

Third-Year Residency

In the summer of the third year, rather than going abroad, students convene in residency at Brown University. Here they reflect on and talk about ways in which the Topological Studies experience has informed their critical thinking in relation to the Seminar Program and the Independent Studies Program, especially insofar as these three programs converge in a line of thought that points toward the dissertation.

The Brown Residency is set up to help entering third-year students formulate a dissertation topic and develop a thesis. To facilitate the transition from second to third-year focus, Paul Armstrong, former dean of Brown University and Brown Professor of English, has designed a dissertation orientation seminar. During morning sessions, faculty-led discussions of various fields of critical inquiry help students situate their particular interests and critical perspectives within a circumscribed field of research. Afternoon sessions are given over to student-led discussions of texts that students have distributed beforehand for seminar reading. Discussion centers on how a student’s selected texts might shape his or her thinking about the thesis project.

In summer 2015, Professor Armstrong will introduce and teach a methods course that he has designed as preparation for the orientation seminar. Newly appointed core faculty member Christopher Yates will co-teach the course. As students begin to conceptualize their dissertation project and its intellectual contribution to their fields of study, this seminar will review the theoretical and methodological debates that have been the focus of the first two years in order to help students develop a rigorous, systematic understanding of where they stand (and why) in these controversies so that they can better demonstrate their readiness to participate in them.  The aim is to assist students as they negotiate the transition from understanding others’ theoretical positions to articulating their own independent contributions to debates that will matter for their future work.

Museums & Monuments visited during the Topological Studies Program

Roman Forum
Capitol Hill and Michelangelo Square
MACRO (Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma)
Vatican Museums
St Peter’s Church

Palazzo Pubblico
SMS – Santa Maria della Scala Museum
San Galgano
Pinacoteca Nazionale


Venice Biennale (including off-site pavilions)
Palazzo Ducale
Fondazione Prada
Guggenheim Museum
Punta della Dogana
Studio visit: Debra Werblud

Musée d’Orsay
Centre Pompidou
Brancusi Studio
Palais de Tokio
Grand Palais
Notre Dame Cathedral
Musée Rodin
Musée du Petit-Palais
Bibliotheque Nationale
Fondation Cartier
Contemporary Art Galleries
Historical Arcades

Hamburger Banhof Museum
Hoffmann Collection
Boros Collection
Museum Insel
Neue National Galerie
Martin Gropius Bau
House of World Cultures
Peter Eisenman’s Holocaust Memorial
Berlin Biennial
Berlin Philarmonic Hall
Studio visits: Vadim Zakharov, Franz Ackermann, Aura Rosenberg

Hagia Sophia
Blue Mosque
Archeological Museum
Mosaic Museum
Topkapi Palace
Museum of Innocence
Art Factory
contemporary galleries

New York
Guggenheim Museum
Whitney Museum
Metropolitan Museum
MoMA (Museum of Modern Art)
New Museum
Studio Museum Harlem
Museo del Barrio
ICP (International Center for Photography)
MAD (Museum of Arts and Design)
Brooklyn Museum
Neue Galerie
Jewish Museum
Judd Foundation
Dia: Beacon
Morgan Library and Museum
Park Avenue Armory
Pace Gallery
High Line Park
Issue Project Room
Chelsea Galleries
Studio Visits: Paul Bloodgood, Liam Gillick, Simonetta Moro

Providence, RI
RISD Museum

IDSVA: The World-Class Low-Residency PhD in Visual Arts