UC Berkeley History of Art Department


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  • A Tribute to James Cahill

    Larger than Life—A Tribute to Professor James Cahill
    James Cahill Memorial, Berkeley Art Museum, May 10, 2014

    We’ve all spent the last months trying to find words to celebrate the life of James Cahill, our sensei, colleague, friend and paterfamilias, a man who was—still is—larger than life. There have been many wonderful formal tributes to him in the press and we have Howard Rogers’ warmhearted biography in your program today, with many more to come in scholarly journals, all testifying to his unrivalled career as a writer and art historian. He received all the highest accolades the field has to offer: the College Art Association’s Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing on Art in 2007 and the Charles Lang Freer Medal in 2010. Jim was one of only two art historians to be invited to deliver Berkeley’s annual Faculty Research lecture, which he did in 1982. His more-than two-dozen books and catalogs, countless articles and other, more ephemeral writing testify to his unceasing engagement with scholarship. He was a brilliant, original and tireless art historian and, hand-in-hand with this, he was also a great teacher, blessed with exceptional charisma, eloquence and ease and, no small thing, with a beautiful resonant voice. He provided his students with the actual stuff needed to study Chinese art—real paintings from his exceptional collection that have mostly come to rest here at the Berkeley Art Museum, where they are still are and will always be a part of active study and learning. Jim’s formal awards confirm his commitment to teaching: he received Berkeley’s highest honor, the Distinguished Teaching Award, in 1985, and the College Art Association’s Distinguished Teaching of Art History award in 1995.

    Behind these accolades, though, lies a more granular history and the more personal tributes that have been posted on his website, jamescahill.info and on the memorial site launched by the Institute of East Asian Studies all stress this—Jim’s role as a teacher, which blossomed into a major enterprise here at Berkeley that spanned more than 30 years. He had an indelible impact on all his students, molding us as professionals and as human beings. He was an intensely humane person with a huge appetite for life and he conveyed all this delight in the world of things and ideas in the ways he chose to teach, showing us, among other virtues, the importance of working with art hands-on, of knowing it in its material essence, as well as the value of endurance and the concept of a normative 80-hour work week.

    Those of us who had the privilege of studying with him know he was committed to the idea that no knowledge should be hoarded, that scholarship and art could only grow and flourish in sharing. Jim continued to share his insights with the newest generation of art historians right until his last months, giving them his notes (often in large boxes) and engaging them in the deposition of his papers and books to the Freer Gallery of the Smithsonian and to the Hangzhou Academy of Fine Arts. But he also discussed his research-in-progress and latest exhibition ideas with a large group that included my own students and budding art historians from across the country some of whom, among them Michael Hatch of Princeton, Joyce Tsai of Columbia, and Molly Everett from our own department here at Berkeley, came eventually to live with and care for him as he grew weaker. Through all this, he continued to hold forth, first in his kitchen on Josephine Street, then in his wheelchair and finally from his bed—the mind was still clear and, as he told me and many others, his heart was full. The newest generation of art historians from all over the country who had a chance to meet and talk with him over these past couple of years, led by Berkeley’s own Will Ma, have joined together to produce a commemorative hand scroll reproducing one of Jim’s favorite paintings, Wu Zhen’s Fishermen (Freer Gallery, Washington, DC), which they invite all of you to inscribe during the reception. Jim’s own view of teaching and learning was, as he put it, based on Confucian principles that honor the transmission and preservation of knowledge, one generation to the next. His legacy is safe, I think.

    Jim’s desire to pass on to the future everything he had learned and experienced led to his truly revolutionary foray into the virtual world of online teaching through his lecture series, “A Pure and Remote View,” and his non-stop blogging on jamescahill.info. Jim was unafraid of technology—he led the project to photograph the holdings of the National Palace Museum in Taiwan in the 1950s and he was a brilliant photographer in his own right who created a massive visual archive, which he continued to digitize up to his last moments and deploy in his lectures. He was unafraid of the podcast. Even in his last public appearance, at a symposium at the Institute of East Asian Studies for the gorgeous Beauty Revealed show at BAM (Fall 2013), done with our own Julia White and Fongfong Chen, he was excited to share a computer reconstruction of the famous Lingering Garden in Suzhou—look what computers can do! he told us.

    Jim had a holistic view of life in which everything one did and saw came together in a singular, layered way. And so he shared his non-art historical life with us too, both in person and online, reminiscing about his boyhood in Fort Bragg, his love of the Marin coast, where he took us to hike and meditate, his sense of moral outrage when our government went off the skids, his deep pride in his children and their amazing accomplishments, the trips he made around the world, the great (and sometimes frightening) food he’d eaten, the spirits he’d imbibed, the people he knew, loved and couldn’t stand, the films he’d seen, the music and operas he relished. His love of life was, I don’t have to tell any of you, extremely contagious.

    This was all folded into the decades-long, unwavering commitment to teaching that first took on material dimensions when he returned to his alma mater Berkeley in 1963 from the Freer Gallery. He insisted as part of the deal that he be assigned not one but two offices, the first to serve as his workspace, the second to be used to house his significant library of scholarly materials and as an art seminar room for his students, 419A Doe Library. It was here that Jim’s graduate students all gathered to study, work on joint archiving projects and where we listened to him pounding away for hours at a time on his Underwood through the inexplicable porthole that connected our study space with his office. We learned fast that this was the sound of scholarly productivity—constant writing, non-stop! His face would pop up in this opening periodically, asking for a book to be passed through, or photos from the huge archive that was also stored there, diligently mounted and catalogued by us, or, just as often, to pass on the latest gossip.

    We were part of a grand global enterprise! The more so when Jim managed to raise funds from the Kress Foundation for two student-created exhibitions, The Restless Landscape and Shadows of Mount Huang, that were held right here at the then-University Art Museum. Off we set with our fearless sensei in the lead to look at paintings in collections Back East. Here’s what Jim had to say about our art-gathering foray for The Restless Landscape, when at Princeton in 1971, Jim’s team of women came face-to-face with Wen Fong’s men. Seeing the potential in the plot—he loved to see life as a musical—he wrote:

    I had a vision of a Gilbert and Sullivan-like scene in which Wen’s group would sing of “visual and structural principles” in lusty baritone and tenor voices, and mine would respond, as sopranos and contraltos, with the doctrines they had learned from me, after which they would all join in perfect harmony, as the French and Italian musical modes are joined in a piece by Couperin, and fall into each other’s arms, reconciling these two schools of Chinese painting studies. I'm sorry to say that nothing of the kind happened. I learned only later that East Coast people were referring to us, because of the Berkeleyan leftward leanings of some of my students, as “Cahill and his Red Detachment of Women.”

    Through all this—the seminars with five-plus carousels of slides, the day-long museum sessions working hands-on with real masterworks, the sales of fenben sketches to benefit the museum, the lectures he delivered while lying on a cot on stage in Dwinelle Hall, in excruciating pain from a back spasm, pointer waving bravely in the air as he showed us what Xia Gui could do—Jim taught us how to look at painting, how to write about it, how to bring it into public view and how to carry the tradition forward with confidence.

    Jim took strong positions but he also let us watch him change his mind. We were privileged to witness his intellectual epiphanies when he engaged in an impassioned correspondence with Richard Barnhart and argued fearlessly—I can’t imagine how he managed it—with our department’s Northern Renaissance specialist, the truly formidable Svetlana Alpers, who asked him pointedly what he would do when all questions of authenticity were settled. We see where that led—to The Compelling Image, The Painter’s Practice, The Lyric Journey, Pictures for Use and Pleasure, and so much more. His intellectual transformations, his embrace of the whole past world in which paintings lived, opened the door for the rest of us to study women’s art, modern, contemporary and popular art, Buddhist art, the economics of painting and so much more.

    Yet none of these exchanges did more for Jim’s thinking than his first trip to China in 1973, the last years of Mao Zedong. When he got the call from our State Department’s Committee on Scholarly Relations with the PRC to join a group of “archaeologists” who had been invited to China, just post-Kissinger and Nixon, he leapt at the chance. He detailed this trip meticulously in letters he wrote home and which his family—typically generous—shared with his students. In his letters, which we 419A acolytes gathered into an alternative Little Red Book, the immensity of it all is absolutely apparent and his reactions vivid. He is staggered by the paintings remaining in the Beijing Gugong, evading a trip to Zhoukoudian and Peking Man to return over and over again to take notes, shoot photos, and fret about his fading flash and limited film supply—there isn’t enough time to take it all in as he’s shuffled off to yet another banquet. He records his astonishment upon unexpectedly finding the Qingming shanghe tu undergoing remounting in the conservation studios—nothing could ever be better. He delights in meeting the artist Cheng Shifa, who would become a dear friend. He even relishes watching an operation on a thyroid tumor done with acupuncture and no anesthesia. He bemoans the loudspeakers blasting agitprop and the tourist shops filled with garish things, yet manages to find small treasures to take home anyway, all to give away. In one paragraph, he confronts the growing revelations of the trip head-on. After a viewing of a dozen or so paintings at the Nanjing Museum, he writes: “When asked how many paintings they have altogether, they said, ‘Forty or fifty thousand.’ They repeated this incredible number several times. This is very discouraging to someone trying to compile the “Annotated Lists of Chinese Paintings”—makes one’s work seem so tentative and trivial.”

    I was thinking that this last line should be set into a Gilbert and Sullivanesque cadence—“tentative and trivial”—with the next line being “while viewing all the paintings in the palace most imperial.” But then I recalled that Jim’s great friend and colleague Professor David Keightley (History) had come up with something much, much better for the occasion of a party here at BAM abut 20 years ago celebrating Jim’s career. David sang in his sonorous baritone, with Sarah Cahill accompanying on the piano: “He is the very model of a Chinese painting specialist . / A score of books on art he’s penned, the titles make a splendid list……” The very model indeed, never to be improved upon.

    I’ve been moving gradually into the present tense, because I know that for all of us it’s difficult to accept that Jim is not here in the front row for yet another celebration of his life (“We have to stop meeting like this,” he said), dozing with that great white-maned head tipped back but ready to pop up with the perfect comment the minute the lights come on. Alas, he is gone from this life but his voice will never be stilled.

    Addendum: The Berkeley Art Museum plans to honor Professor James Cahill in its new location on Oxford and Center Streets (due to open in 2016) with a Center for the Study of Asian Art, a space specifically dedicated to providing Berkeley students with access to the extraordinary collection of Asian works of art in the museum’s rich collection. Stay tuned for Kickstarter opportunities to contribute!

    --Patricia Berger

    TAGS: undergraduate, graduate, James Cahill, Chinese art, Patricia Berger

  • Fifteen Views of Manet's "Bar"

    We are pleased to offer a Reading and Composition course this summer about  Édouard Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882), taught by an alumnus of our PhD program, Jordan Rose.  Read more here.

    TAGS: undergraduate, summer sessions, Reading and Composition, Jordan Rose

  • New Book by Todd Olson

    Todd Olson's eagerly-anticipated book, Caravaggio's Pitiful Relics, has been released!

    From the Yale University Press website:

    The renowned Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610) established his career in Catholic Rome, making paintings that placed particular importance on sacred relics and the glorification of martyred saints. Beginning with his early works, Caravaggio was intensely engaged with the physical world. He not only interrogated appearances but also experimented with the paint’s material nature. Caravaggio’s Pitiful Relics explores how the artist’s commitment to materiality served and ultimately challenged the Counter Reformation church’s interests. In his first ecclesiastical commission, Caravaggio offered an unconventional representation of martyrdom that collapsed the borders between art, contemporary religious persecution, iconoclasm, and relics in early Christian catacombs. Yet his art controversially and eventually led to a criminal trial. After he had fled from Rome in disgrace, his major altarpiece depicting the death of the Virgin Mary, portraying her mortality rather than her sanctity, was removed. Caravaggio’s materiality came into conflict with changing notions of the sacred; thereafter, the sacred object became a secular work of art, marking the displacement of the relic.

    TAGS: undergraduate, graduate, Todd Olson, Caravaggio

  • Faculty Member Beate Fricke Participates in Google Art Talk: The Monuments Men

    Google Art Talk: The Monuments Men

    History of Art Department faculty member Beate Fricke participated in a Google Art Talk  on the true stories of the Monuments Men hosted by the Legion of Honor and the Google Art Project. The Google Art Talk is in celebration of the Sony Pictures release The Monuments Men. The film, directed by George Clooney,  is about an elite group of men and women—museum directors, art historians, conservators, educators, and others— who volunteered during World War II to help save Europe’s cultural heritage from Nazi looting and destruction.

    The talk was broadcast on February 7th, and can now be viewed online on the Google hangout site.


    TAGS: undergraduate, graduate, Beate Fricke, Monuments Men

  • Faculty Member Julia Bryan-Wilson Co-Convenes "Visual Activism" Symposium

    Visual Activism Symposium

    Julia Bryan-Wilson co-convenes the "Visual Activism" Symposium presented by the International Association for Visual Culture and SFMOMA series of events.

    Friday, March 14, 2014
    9:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.

    Saturday, March 15, 2014
    9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

    Brava Theater Center

    2781 24th Street San Francisco, CA 94110

    TAGS: undergraduate, Julia Bryan-Wilson, graduate

  • Margaretta Lovell Wins CAA Teaching Award

    Professor Margaretta Lovell  has been awarded the College Art Association's prestigious award for Distinguished Teaching of Art History.  She will receive her award at the Convocation of the 2014 College Art Association meetings in Chicago this February.  Congratulations!

    TAGS: undergraduate, graduate, Margaretta Lovell, DIstinguished Teacher of Art History, College Art Association

  • Andrew Stewart Elected to the Australian Academy of the Humanities

    Professor Andrew Stewart has been elected an Honorary Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.  This honor testifies to the "exceptionally high regard in which [he is] held by the Humanities community in Australia."  Congratulations!

    TAGS: undergraduate, graduate, Andrew Stewart, awards, Australian Academy of the Humanities

  • Fall 2013 Courses: 20th Century Sculpture, Ancient American Murals . . . .

    Space is available in most History of Art lectures and seminars for fall.  See course descriptions here.  Consult the on-line schedule here.  Featured courses.

    TAGS: undergraduate, courses

  • History of Art Welcomes New Faculty

    Welcome to Lauren Kroiz and Lisa Trever, who joined the faculty this fall.  Professor Kroiz is a specialist in 19th and 20th century American art and  visual culture.  Professor Trever is a Pre-Columbianist focusing on the ancient Andes—specifically the Moche of Peru—with expertise also in ancient Mesoamerica and strong interests in Latin American art history.  The Department is also searching for an Assistant Professor of Global Modern Art.  

    TAGS: undergraduate, graduate, faculty recruitment, Lisa Trever, Lauren Kroiz, Latin American art history, American art, global modern art

  • Undergraduates Who Became Art History Librarians

    by Kathryn Wayne

    Photo caption: Alex Watkins, Norlin Library, University of Colorado, Boulder

    As the Head of the Art History/Classics Library, one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job is to interact with a strong and diverse group of students and faculty. Over the years, I have had several opportunities to mentor students who were interested in pursuing the field of art librarianship. In this column, I am pleased to highlight two History of Art undergraduates, Barbara Rominski (1999) and Alex Watkins (2007). Please read on for their inspiring stories.

    BARBARA ROMINSKI (History of Art BA1999)

    UC Berkeley was an obvious choice when I decided to pursue my undergraduate degree, studying both art and archaeology, from Greek and Roman studies to the Northern Renaissance and Asian arts. In 1998, I had the privilege of serving as an undergraduate representative on a committee for a proposed new Visual Arts Library, chaired by Fine Arts Librarian Kathryn Wayne. She was the person who also helped guide me to my next degree—a Master’s in Library Science—when she counseled, “you love art, you love books and libraries, why not become an art librarian?”

    While earning my degree at San Jose State University, I had the good fortune to serve as the Achenbach Graphic Arts Council (AGAC) Fellow, where I worked with the Reva and David Logan Illustrated Book Collection. After the fellowship, I stayed on as a project liaison with the Anderson Graphic Art Collection, giving me an introduction to Hunk and Moo Anderson, private collectors in the Bay Area. Later, Hunk Anderson hired me to help manage and tour his private collection of art and to assist with his foundation.

    In 2003, I was hired as the Head of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s Research Library. As SFMOMA’s third librarian, I have established the SFMOMA Institutional Archives and Institutional Records Management Program. Looking forward, I am excited to design and shape SFMOMA’s new library in our Snøhetta expansion. Art librarianship has, most assuredly, been a rich and rewarding career!

    ALEXANDER C. WATKINS (History of Art BA 2008)

    When I saw Fine Arts Librarian Kathryn Wayne at a recent Art Libraries Society of North America conference, I was brought back to how I got on the path to becoming an art librarian. When I began as an undergraduate at Berkeley, I wasn't much of a researcher, until I took Professor Elizabeth Honig’s Gender and Representation class, where Kathryn led a research seminar. Her enthusiasm really opened my eyes to the value of good research and the unlimited potential that Berkeley's world-class library represented. Doe Library became like a second home, as I spent countless hours there, working for ILL, working on my assignments, and working as a research assistant for HA professors.

    After graduating I worked in a public library and then decided to go to Pratt Institute where I was able to get a dual Master’s Degree in both art history and library science. Living in New York City had great advantages as I was able to study and work at some of the best museums and libraries in the country (Met, Columbia, New York Public Library). In July 2012, I was pleased to be hired as Assistant Professor and Art & Architecture Librarian at the University of Colorado Boulder where I work closely with the Program in Environmental Design and the Department of Art & Art History. I love my job, and, like Kathryn, I now get to teach classes on research methods, consult on research projects, and develop the collection of books, journals, and databases.

    TAGS: undergraduate, librarians, Kathryn Wayne