Message from the Chair

Dear friends and colleagues:

Sitting in the quiet cloister of the Frick Fine Arts Building, surrounded by replicas of Italian Renaissance frescoes, I can imagine the time a half century ago when art history seemed to have secure boundaries—when its practitioners focused primarily on Western Europe and the ancient Mediterranean and had not yet faced post-structuralism or cultural studies or what has come to be called visual studies. Today the physical fabric of our cloister survives intact, but the intellectual landscape of the building has transformed almost completely.

As I write, Department of History of Art and Architecture faculty members are investigating ancient burial remains in remote northwest China (Kathryn Linduff), aboriginal art in Australia (Terry Smith), 18th-century French cartography of the Mediterranean (Christopher Drew Armstrong), Medieval Japanese mortuary rituals (Karen Gerhart), garden scenography in 15th-century Rome (Kathleen Wren Christian), and scientific photography in late 19th-century Europe (Josh Ellenbogen). As even this partial list suggests, the objects of our study are incredibly diverse. The cloister of today’s scholars is the world itself.

At the University of Pittsburgh, the Department of History of Art and Architecture is committed to engaging the contemporary world—new art, new technology, new ways of understanding the past and bringing the present into better perspective.

Encompassing multiple cultures and interconnections

With four recent new hires, our faculty is growing and extending its reach ever more ambitiously. We have particular strengths in three areas: East Asian art and archaeology, Medieval to early modern European art and architecture, and modern and contemporary art and architecture around the globe. Yet we’re not interested merely in extending coverage to multiple cultures, but investigating the interconnections among them—patterns of exchange, conflict, adaptation, and cross-fertilization. We treat skeptically the traditional dichotomies of west and east, empire and colony, center and periphery. Our new emphasis is on the transcultural concerns that both uphold and undermine these traditional divisions—concerns such as ritual and power; hierarchies of race, ethnicity, and gender; vision and knowledge; nationalism and capitalism; and the relationship between visual and textual narratives. As a department, we have a common mission to connect our individual agendas of research and teaching to one another and to the world outside our building.

Offering broad disciplinary and global reach

Our disciplinary reach is as wide-ranging as our global reach. We bring expertise in archaeology and architecture, material culture and visual culture, contemporary critical theory and scientific theory of medieval to modern Europe. Thus we interact with a wide range of scholars on issues of broad concern in the arts and sciences. Our students and faculty regularly connect and collaborate with anthropologists, philosophers, computer scientists, literary scholars, historians, artists, and others. The objects of our study are usually visible, but not always primarily visual; in varying degrees, the felt experience of matter and space and environment informs our work and shapes our approaches. Increasingly, new technology is transforming how we approach and present our objects. Among our faculty, for example, Alison Stones and Anne Weis are working in innovative ways with digital technology to bring ancient and medieval monuments to life for a worldwide audience on the Internet.

The department’s 2004 symposium, Modernity and Contemporaneity, co-organized by Terry Smith and Okwui Enwezor with Nancy Condee of the Cultural Studies Program, exemplifies our achievements and ambitions. Attracting 600 registrants from 16 countries, the symposium assembled leading thinkers from a variety of disciplines and cultures to think through and debate what it means to be living and making in the condition of contemporaneity. The symposium, originally timed to coincide with the 54th installment of the Carnegie International exhibition of contemporary art and now extended with an ambitious series of follow-up publications and activities, leaves no doubt that the department has emerged as a force in the study of modern and contemporary art across the globe.

Supporting vibrant community of scholars

We could not expect to grow and innovate without strong foundations in research and teaching. Our faculty has a long history of productive, award-winning scholarship. Recent and forthcoming books include Gao Minglu’s exhibition catalog The Wall: Reshaping Contemporary Chinese Art, Ann Sutherland Harris’s Seventeenth-Century Art & Architecture (Prentice Hall), Fil Hearn’s Ideas That Shaped Buildings (MIT Press), Kathy Linduff and Sun Yan’s anthology Gender and Chinese Archaeology (AltaMira Press), Barbara McCloskey’s Artists of World War II (Greenwood Publishing Group), Terry Smith’s Architecture of Aftermath (University of Chicago Press), and Frank Toker’s Fallingwater Rising (Knopf Publishing).

Read more in-depth descriptions of the research programs of our newest faculty members:

Christopher Drew Armstrong (PhD Columbia), Assistant Professor, 18th- and 19th-century European and North American architecture

Kathleen Christian (PhD Harvard), Assistant Professor, Italian Renaissance art

Josh Ellenbogen (PhD Chicago), Assistant Professor, history of photography

Gao Minglu (PhD Harvard), Associate Professor, modern and contemporary Chinese art

Graduate students also undertake their own cutting-edge research, extending the department’s scope of innovation. In keeping with our overall research mission, we train graduate students to connect their research specialty to larger intellectual frameworks inside and outside the discipline. While we strive to create an environment that supports excellent dissertation work, we expect our graduate students to think and communicate beyond their specialization. We have a thriving PhD program, with an excellent record of placing recent graduates in tenure-track teaching positions. All full-time PhD students are supported with multiple-year financial aid packages, and many now include fellowships free of teaching duties. Our students are increasingly winning prestigious external fellowships as well, from the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, the Kress Foundation, the Fulbright Program, the Georgia O’Keeffe Center, and other sources.

Faculty and graduate students are also closely involved in the undergraduate program, which has two majors: history of art and architectural studies. These have expanded every year since 2000, with substantial improvements in both the quantity and the quality of the students.

Extending to broader communities

The reinvigorated University Art Gallery has enhanced our research and teaching programs with excellent new exhibitions on contemporary Chinese artists (fall 2004) and contemporary African American artists (fall 2005). Our gallery is part of a lively, expanding arts scene in Pittsburgh, with the Carnegie Museum across the street and smaller, innovative institutions such as The Andy Warhol Museum, the Mattress Factory, and the Frick Art and Historical Center only minutes away.

Beyond cultural borders

I recently spoke at a symposium at Brown University called Historical Injustices: Restitution and Reconciliation in International Perspective. The lone art historian, amidst international lawyers, social scientists, historians, and philosophers, my job was to discuss the usefulness (or not) of addressing historical crimes, like slavery, through public memorials. My fellow panelist was Wally Serote, a South African poet and former soldier in the armed resistance to minority White rule, who now leads the effort to create a huge freedom park in Pretoria, South Africa to commemorate the struggle against colonialism and apartheid. Mixing our two very different sets of knowledge was a humbling experience to be sure, but invigorating as well. While I couldn’t have imagined such encounters when I was a graduate student 20 years ago, they have become part of our field today. I’m proud to be part of a department that values and supports this kind of commitment to the world beyond our disciplinary and cultural borders.

Kirk Savage, Department Chair