Ellen Tani Headshot

Ellen Tani

Assistant Professor

School of Art
College of Art and Design

Office Hours
Wednesdays 2-3pm
Office Location

Ellen Tani

Assistant Professor

School of Art
College of Art and Design


Ellen Y. Tani is an art historian and curator who explores the histories of American art and global contemporary art through a critical race studies lens, with a particular focus on conceptual- and performance-oriented practices. She is currently Assistant Professor of Art History in the College of Art and Design at Rochester Institute of Technology. Her research examines how contemporary artists work to illuminate structures of exploitation and inequality that operate below and beyond the threshold of visibility. It has been supported by the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African and African American Studies at the University of Virginia, the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity at Stanford University, the Clark Art Institute, the Getty Research Institute, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts. After earning her PhD in Art History from Stanford University, she worked as a curator at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and the ICA Boston, and brings an artist-centric practice to her scholarship. She has authored numerous essays in exhibition catalogs and peer-reviewed publications, including Art Journal, American Quarterly, and Panorama. She is currently developing the first scholarly monograph on the conceptual artist Charles Gaines (MFA ‘67, Dr. h.c. ’23).

Select Scholarship

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles and Book Chapters

“Un-Disciplining the Archive: Jerome Reyes and Maia Cruz Palileo.” Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art, Issue 7.1 “Asian American Art: Past and Futures” (Spring 2021). 

“’Very African, and Very Kabuki Too’: Transnational Ritual in the work of Senga Nengudi.” Transnational Perspectives on Feminism and Art, 1960-1985. Ed. Jen Kennedy, Trista Mallory, and Angelique Szymanek (London; New York: Routledge, 2021),169-184.

“’Come Out to Show Them’: Speech and Ambivalence in the work of Steve Reich and Glenn Ligon.” Art Journal Volume 78, Issue 4, 2019.

“Paul Pfeiffer,” Apricota Journal, Issue 1: Fights (Fall 2017): 88-93.

“Keeping Time in the Hands of Betye Saar: ‘Betye Saar: Still Tickin’” American Quarterly v. 68, no. 4 (December 2016): 1081-1109.


“Pressing Against Looking: Gina Osterloh in the Mind of the Camera.” Gina Osterloh: Mirror Shadow Shape, Columbus Museum of Art, 2023.

“Review: Stephanie Sparling Williams, Speaking Out of Turn: Lorraine O'Grady and the Art of Language.” caa.reviews, March 25, 2022. 

“Review: Celeste-Marie Bernier, Stick to the Skin: African American and Black British Art, 1965–2015.” Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art, Issue 6.2, November 2020.

“I might not be here when you come.” Published on the occasion of the exhibition “Erin Johnson: Unnamed for Decades.” Rockland, ME: Center for Maine Contemporary Art, 2020. 

“What You Missed: Senga Nengudi’s Performed Objects.” Senga Nengudi (New York: Dominique Levy Gallery, 2015): 18-23. 

“The Face is a Politics.” Charles Gaines: Gridwork 1974-1989 (New York: The Studio Museum in Harlem, 2014): 57-63.


When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Migration through Contemporary Art, ed. Ruth Erickson and Eva Respini. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019 (publication coordinator and contributor).

Second Sight: the Paradox of Vision in Contemporary Art. Exh. Cat, Bowdoin College Museum of Art. New York: Scala, 2017 (editor and contributor).



RETRO/action, co-curated with Kate Fowle, Homi Bhabha, and Charles Gaines. Hauser & Wirth 69th Street (Nov 15, 2023 - Jan 27, 2024) and Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles (Feb 23 - May 5, 2024). Read the New York Times review here.

Currently Teaching

3 Credits
This course introduces students to central issues in the history of art through the focused investigation of a specific theme. Themes will be global in scope, and potential examples include monuments and preservation; the concept of modernity in the visual arts; art and identity; diachronic studies of select works of art; or histories of a particular medium, subject, or form of patronage. Students will apply foundational methods of art history, including basic research tools, formal analysis, and contextual analysis; will engage in careful, conscious looking; will learn to describe and analyze what they see; and will articulate how works of art can express meaning. This course may be repeated with different topics. Topic is determined by the instructor.
3 Credits
In this seminar, students will explore a specific topic of research within the field of art history. The topic will be determined by the instructor’s research focus or expertise, with the goal of directly engaging advanced undergraduate students with current research methodologies. Through readings, intensive discussion, and individual or group projects, students will identify and assess disciplinary research methods, and will apply those methods in the investigation of an issue designated by the instructor, assisting in the production or refinement of art-historical knowledge. The topic will be advertised by the instructor in advance of the term offered. Note: at least one prior 300-level or above art history course is strongly recommended.

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