Assistant Professor of Instruction
Art History

James Merle Thomas, PhD

James Merle Thomas is an interdisciplinary scholar and curator whose work examines the art, visual culture and technology of the 20th and 21st centuries. His research and teaching engage modern and contemporary art; theories of postcolonialism, postsocialism and globalization; and media studies of late modernity and the Cold War. 
Thomas has worked as a curator and editor in the field of contemporary art for more than a decade, serving as assistant curator for the 2nd Seville Biennial (2006) and the 7th Gwangju Biennale (2008); and executive editor of publications for the 3rd Paris Triennial (2012). In 2018, he collaborated with artist Walead Beshty to publish Picture Industry, an 800-page anthology examining art, photography and technical imagery produced since 1844.
Thomas is also a curator at the Philadelphia-based Slought, where his projects include Penser l'Afrique [Thinking Africa] (2018), realized with artist Christian Nyampeta; and On the Other Side of Elsewhere (2018–2020), an exhibition and academic program exploring contemporary art and politics in Eastern Europe. He is currently completing two major studies of the media cultures of the Cold War: his documentary film Tektite Revisited (co-produced with filmmaker Meghan O'Hara), funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities; and his forthcoming book NASA and the Aesthetics of Habitable, which examines the art, design and technology of the Apollo era.
As co-founder of the research and performance group Quindar, Thomas currently serves as a 2019 U.S. State Department Artist Envoy to Iceland and has held residencies at the Getty Museum, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA).

PhD, Art History, Stanford University, 2014
MA, Department of German Literature, University of Pittsburgh, 2005

Selected Awards
Media Development Grant (2019–2020)
National Endowment for the Humanities

Chester Dale Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (2012–2014)
National Gallery of Art

Daniel C. Guggenheim Predoctoral Fellow (2011–2012)
National Air & Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution

Selected Work

Thomas, J. M. (2019). ALLONZENFANTS. In O. Enwezor (Ed.), Samuel Fosso: Autoportrait. Göttingen,
     Germany: Steidl.

Thomas, J. M. (Executive Editor). (2018). Picture Industry: A Provisional History of the Technical Image
. Zürich, Switzerland: JRP|Ringier.

Thomas, J. M. (2018). Lifeworld, Artworld: Robert Irwin and Alfred Schutz. In D. Schuld & C. Albu (Eds.),
     Perception and Agency in Shared Spaces of Contemporary Art. Abingdon, U.K.: Routledge.

Thomas, J. M. (2015). The Human Factor: Applied Abstraction in the work of László Moholy-Nagy and
     Robert Irwin. In J. Tsai (Ed.), The Shape of Things to Come: The Paintings of Moholy-Nagy. New
     Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Thomas, J. M. (2013). Untitled [black painting with portal form] & Hiccups. In Sarah Roberts, (Ed.),
     Rauschenberg Research Project [online scholarly catalog initiative]. San Francisco Museum of
     Modern Art & the Getty Foundation.


Image credit: Temple University Photography / Joseph V. Labolito