The Frick/IFA Symposia, 1940–2013

  • Posted on Apr 22, 2014 by

In his introductory speech at the first joint Frick Collection and Institute of Fine Arts (IFA) Symposium on February 23, 1940, Frederick Mortimer Clapp, Director of The Frick Collection, stated that the purpose of the gathering was for graduate students “to do now what you will in a few years…to enlighten us, the older generation…on the results of your preliminary studies” (Clapp, 2). Since 1940, the Frick and IFA have held an annual symposium, allowing promising graduate students to present their research. I created a spreadsheet of symposia topics for the years 1940 to 2013 and made a tag cloud, a visual representation of text data, for the presentation titles as part of my work during my internship at New York Art Resources Consortium (NYARC) partner the Frick Art Reference Library. What struck me most when examining the data for this project is the extent to which the study of art history has expanded from examinations of ancient, medieval, and Renaissance art to a diverse discipline that discusses art from all time periods and tackles touchy topics such as race, gender, class, and sexuality.

Tag cloud for the 1940s

Tag cloud for the 1940s

Some of the words in the tag cloud for the first ten symposia are large, indicating that the same word was used many times in presentation titles. The terms “early,” “sculpture,” “antique,” and “archaic” appear. Ten years later, from 1950 to 1960, “renaissance,” “medieval,” “Greek,” and “antique” are prominent. Also seen during this time period are the Italian words “da” and “di,” which suggests that speakers presented on Italian art. The trend of topics revealed by the tag cloud for 1940 to 1960 can be seen in the aforementioned first symposia of 1940. Papers were given on ancient, medieval, and Renaissance subjects with the exception of John Knowlton’s presentation about the 1818 painting Raft of Medusa by the artist Théodore Géricault.

Tag cloud for the 1950s

Tag cloud for the 1950s

I expected to observe a decline in presentations related to earlier art with time, but my hypothesis proved untrue. Yes, there were fewer papers in recent years on ancient, medieval, and Renaissance art, but they have hardly vanished. Instead, presentations on these topics are balanced with presentations on modern and contemporary ones like Pablo Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg, Henri Matisse, and feminism. Recent years have also seen papers on unusual, individualized subjects such as clocks (Amy Sande-Friedman, “From Father Time to Measured Time: Clocks in Eighteenth-Century France”), Cold War monuments (Robert Slifkin, “Donald Judd’s Cold War Monuments”), and class implications of maps of Istanbul’s water supply (Deniz Karakas, “The Eighteenth-Century Maps of Istanbul’s Water Supply: Social Hierarchies and Architectural Encounters”). To illustrate this balance, the tag cloud can be examined for the years 2001 to 2013. The term “early” and “modern” each appear in the cloud and are visually the same size. They have equal usage in the symposia presentation titles for this time period. Recent symposia subjects reflect an increasingly diversified sphere of interests in the academic art history community.

Tag cloud for 2000s

On an added note, I was enthralled to see names of students presenting at the symposia that are now well-known in the art world. Edgar Munhall, Curator Emeritus at the Frick and former professor at Yale, presented on Antoine Watteau in 1957. Albert Boime, whose work on Henry Ossawa Tanner I had used earlier this year for a term paper, presented in 1963 on “Seurat, Piero della Francesco, and the Tradition of the École des Beaux-Arts.” Glenn Lowry, the Director of NYARC partner The Museum of Modern Art, presented on Mughal painting in 1982. And, Victoria Reed, a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston whose focus is provenance research, presented on Titian in 2001. 

Grace High, Intern, Frick Art Reference Library

Banner image: Tag cloud for 1940-2013
Works Cited:

Clapp, Frederick Mortimer. “Mr. Clapp’s Introduction to the Symposium Held on February 23, 1940.” The Frick Collection Symposium on the History of Art Records, TFC.0600.030. The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives, New York City, New York. 

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