Alison Pearlman

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Alison Pearlman is a writer and educator. Her career hatched in the field of art history, at the University of Chicago. In 1997, Pearlman earned her Ph.D. with Honors from the Department of Art History. In 2003, the University of Chicago Press published her first book. Unpackaging Art of the 1980s is a critical history of artistic trends in New York that, in the 1980s, fueled heated polemics against the commercialization of art.

Although poised to teach after graduate school, Pearlman took a detour. Her research into the machinations of the contemporary art world convinced her that, to sufficiently understand them, she needed first-hand experience. So she applied for a position as Assistant Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. From 1998 through 2001, she was the sole full-time collections curator. She organized a variety of projects, from gallery exhibitions to the more experimental Virtual Encounters, which she co-organized in 1999. This web-based collection “tour,” featuring videotaped commentary by contemporary artists and critics, was the institution’s first venture into web programming. Pearlman also co-authored Life Death Love Hate Pleasure Pain (2002), the Museum’s comprehensive collection catalog.

In 2001, to pursue cross-disciplinary interests, Pearlman returned to academia. As an adjunct faculty member at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena from 2001 through 2004, she taught the first graduate M.F.A. seminars there related to cultural studies—“Art and Consumer Culture” and “Niche and Nobrow: Theories of Cultural Distinction Today.” In 2004, Pearlman joined the Art Department of the California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, where she began teaching design history as well as modern and contemporary art history. She earned tenure in 2009.

Pearlman’s writing has appeared in diverse publications. She has written for venues of art criticism, theory, and history, such as Afterimage and X-TRA, and for exhibition catalog. She has published in the cultural-studies organ Popular Culture Review and the literary journal Southwest Review. For her essay “The Other Bohemia,” an attempt to define a subculture of the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, Pearlman received the McGinnis-Ritchie Award for best nonfiction of 2003 in Southwest Review. From the third-oldest literary journal in America, it was an honor.

In 2006, Pearlman started on a new research course, applying her background in art and design to her lifelong love of cuisine and restaurants. Her first work in this vein appeared in the Winter 2007 Popular Culture Review. The article, “Chef Appeal,” asks why, in the United States, chefs became idols, and interprets the appeal of chef-centered media, especially TV imagery, to their fans. In 2009, she started The Eye in Dining, a blog considering trends in food and restaurant style. Her latest work is Smart Casual: The Transformation of Gourmet Restaurant Style and Taste in America (University of Chicago Press, 2013).


University of Chicago
University of Chicago
University of California, Berkeley

Academic Experience

Assistant Professor
Cal Poly Pomona
Adjunct Professor
Art Center College of Design

Professional Experience

Assistant Curator
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago