Office of the President
Dr. Patrick T. Harker is the 26th president of the University of Delaware. He also serves as professor of business administration in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics and professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering.
An Evening of Art
International Center of Photography, New York City
December 4, 2013
Thanks to Rich Greenberg for all the great work he’s doing with the New York City Alumni Club. I know you’ve got big plans, Rich, and I thank you for helping us keep a strong connection with our New York City Blue Hens.
I thank Carol Nigro for her extraordinary work with Friends of Art History. The group is such an important source of support for the department, and I encourage everyone here who values art and culture to get involved.
I thank chief curator—and curator of this exhibition—Brian Wallis for showing us around the International Center of Photography. I’ll turn the podium over to him in a few minutes so he can talk about the work of photographer Lewis Hine.
Humanities at UD
First, though, as we celebrate an evening of art in New York, I want to talk briefly about why we consider art, art history and the humanities so important, why it is that we come together in beautiful spaces like ICP to celebrate art—to talk about what it means and what it means to us.
I’m so lucky to be surrounded by incredible art at UD. It’s in my office. It’s in my home. I have some amazing pieces by UD’s MFA students hanging up right now. I can walk up South College Avenue to our University Museums—Old College Gallery or Mechanical Hall—and experience art in a way that I hope everyone can experience art.
Look at the photographs that surround us tonight, how they bring into focus our shared humanity—what binds us together—when we’re so often confronted with what drives us apart. Illuminating the human experience: That’s what art does. It’s what art history does.
We value research into the humanities, in areas like Art History, because understanding our history—including our cultural history—is crucial to defining who we are and why. They give us a framework for considering the future against the backdrop of our past, our nature, our ideals and aspirations.
And that’s why the humanities are fundamental—not ornamental—to higher education. It’s the whole basis of our being—this notion that a liberal arts education makes us better, more capable citizens.
And like citizenship, the humanities demand a lot of us: reflection and self-awareness; the ability to think critically and creatively; to reason and ask questions, and to keep asking questions when others might stop. It’s why the humanities produce graduates who excel at nuanced analysis, who can synthesize and apply information, contextualize their work and communicate it to others. With a marketplace as competitive as this one, these aren’t soft skills; they’re survival skills.
Our new provost, Domenico Grasso, is an environmental engineer, but he talks about a “unity of knowledge,” thinking broadly across disciplines and considering the human dimensions at the heart of every challenge; exploring the social, cultural, historical and philosophical issues underpinning every single one of our biggest problems, and integrating our knowledge as the only way to solve them.
We’re building programs at UD that bring together historically divided disciplines so that we can tackle—in a holistic way—issues like environmental sustainability, better human health and the ethics of emerging technologies. If our goal is to better understand the world and our place in it—and that should be our goal—the humanities will be what guides us there.
I want to talk about one of our humanities programs in particular.
Art History at UD
Art History is a signature program at UD. The best art historians know it; they respect it; they recommend it. With Art Conservation, it’s the strongest program we have in the humanities. Larry Nees, interim chair of Art History, and Debbie Hess Norris, chair of Art Conservation, are both here with us tonight. The great things happening in these extraordinary departments are a credit to your leadership. Thank you.
Art History has been a leader in the field for nearly five decades, when we established the first doctoral program training students in American art. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, pioneering faculty like Bill Homer and Damie Stillman put American art on the map, legitimizing it at a time when other universities dismissed anything that wasn’t European.
Today, we have a global program led by an incredibly diverse group of faculty—eleven professors born on five different continents, building important programs in African, African-American, Latin-American and Asian art.
And then, last year, with a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we developed a Curatorial Track doctoral program. The Ph.D. is becoming a required degree for curators, and ours is one of only a few programs in the country meeting this need, training students in essential fields like art conservation, technical art history, preservation studies and nonprofit management.
Our Art History department is still one of the best, most respected programs in the country. The faculty serve in the most prestigious posts around the world, and win the most coveted fellowships. In a small department, we’ve had six Guggenheims in 20 years. And last summer, more than a quarter of the internships at the National Gallery of Art in DC went to our Art History students. That’s a premier program.
It’s terrific to be able to claim a group of students who are so obviously accomplished and lavishly awarded. A few of them are with us today, and I want to talk briefly about their work, so that you’ll have an ice-breaker when you speak with them tonight. And, believe me, you’ll want to speak with them tonight.
Tiffany Racco is a Ph.D. candidate on a year-long fellowship with the Met, studying Italian Baroque paintings.
Her dissertation explores how artists of the time promoted themselves. She frames her study on Luca Giordano, a 17th century artist who had a habit of reproducing famous masters’ works and passing them off as originals. Only after the works were bought did he reveal that he was the true artist, showing off his skill and range.
Tiffany came to UD for her master’s on the advice of an undergraduate professor. It was here that she met Prof. David Stone, an expert in Baroque art, and found her calling. She hopes to continue a career in academia.
LaTanya Autry is working on the dissertation for her Ph.D. It’s a continuation of a study she began as an undergrad, examining the photos of public lynchings. Her master’s thesis focused on postcards that people had made of lynchings, and her dissertation explores how we commemorate these acts of violence today.
She visits many of the places where lynchings occurred, where people memorialize the victims with historical markers or sculptures, performances or lectures. LaTanya says she wants to understand that type of public violence, and how people reclaim these spaces as venues to reflect on past injustices.
LaTanya just finished a term working at MoMA. Her work is supported by a dissertation fellowship through our Office of Graduate Education.
Spencer Wigmore is finishing up his master’s degree this spring, and plans to go directly into our doctoral program.
Spencer grew up in Minnesota and was always attracted to the beauty of the Midwest prairie. His focus is on 19th century American art, especially landscapes of the American West.
Spencer came to Delaware after meeting two of our Art History alumni at Joslyn Art Museum in Nebraska, one of whom is now the chief curator at Joslyn. And, in fact, Spencer has cited our extensive network of alumni at museums around the world as one of the reasons he was attracted to our program.
Spencer is supported with a teaching assistantship through the College of Arts and Sciences.
Katrina Greene was the first Ph.D. student to enroll in our Art History curatorial track.
She started out intending to be an artist, but got interested in art history instead, when she realized the historian approaches art the same way the artist herself does, looking at description, interpretation and context. Katrina’s interested in 19th century American art, especially works on paper.
Katrina’s internships at the Delaware Art Museum have been supported by the Mellon Foundation grant I mentioned earlier, and by the Graduate Scholars award, through the Office of Graduate Education.
Vanessa Reubendale is in the second year of her master’s program and applying to doctoral programs now, including our own.
With a history of political activism, she’s most interested in the visual culture of protest movements: how fashion, style and art work together to shape the protest narrative, and how activists appropriate cultural artifacts from other groups to set themselves apart from the rest of society. She was attracted to UD’s program because of our emphasis on the study of objects and materials, in addition to fine art.
Vanessa is supported with a teaching assistantship through the College of Arts and Sciences.
I thank all of these students for joining us tonight.
I also thank George Watson, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, for his strong commitment to Art History and his tremendous leadership.
There are actually more than two dozen undergraduates with us as well. Their majors run the gamut—Finance, English, Education, Engineering, Neuroscience, Fashion Merchandising. I know they’d be thrilled to tell you about their studies and what they plan to do following graduation. I hope you’ll seek them out and have a chat.
Now I’ll turn the podium over to Brian Wallis, one of the most respected scholars, curators and critics working in photography today.
In his role as chief curator and director of exhibitions here at ICP, Brian explores the uses and meaning of the photographic image, spanning the history of the medium. His own exhibitions range from a study of American daguerreotypes, to mid-20th century tabloid journalism, to the latest trends in digital media.
Brian is a prolific writer and editor and a sought-after teacher who’s helped frame our contemporary conversation on the art of photography. Please welcome Brian Wallis.