History of Art and Architecture

Kirk Savage Friends of Frick Fine Arts Lecture


Thursday, October 24, 2013 - 4:00pm to 5:30pm

Among Alexander Gardner’s shocking photographs of Antietam in 1862 – the first ever in the U.S. to depict battlefield corpses – one image stands out both for its pathos and its puzzling artfulness: A Contrast: Federal Buried, Rebel Unburied, Where they fell at the Battle of Antietam. With its odd arrangement of a neglected corpse next to a freshly marked grave, it seems deliberately designed to raise urgent questions about the fate of the war dead on the battlefield and in the much larger field of collective memory. To whom did the dead belong? What would happen to the "unknown," those whose body had become separated from their name, from their very identity? Would the dead remain present as a living force or would they disappear and be forgotten?

Using Gardner’s photograph as a springboard, I will examine the Civil War dead as powerful agents in their own right, restless bodies that circulated physically, spiritually, and ideologically in a society that struggled to solve the predicaments they created. By tracing the movement of the dead from photographic image to family cemetery to public monument, I will chart the rise of a modern "art" of commemoration that harnessed the unknowable power of the dead to the abstraction of the nation.

Please join us in celebrating Professor Savage, who was honored with a Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award last spring. Brief presentations by History of Art and Architecture graduate students Annika Johnson and Aaron Tacinelli will precede Professor Savage’s lecture. They will describe their recent research undertaken with the generous assistance of Friends travel grants.

With the support of the Friends of the Frick Fine Arts grant, Annika Johnson was able to pursue her research of the Index of American Design at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC in May, 2013. The Index of American Design was a branch of the Federal Art Project that operated from 1935-1942 to document in watercolor renderings nearly 20,000 American folk art objects gathered from across the country. From numerous utilitarian and decorative objects, Index organizers sought to distill an American sentiment, or aesthetic, from the formal qualities of a disparate group of materials. Twentieth-century debates concerning the roots of American culture and the vogue for folk art objects amongst modernist circles inform her research on the position folk art objects in conceptions of American identity.

Aaron Tacinelli will speak on his dissertation research undertaken in Germany over the past two summers. Supported by Friends of Frick Fine Art funds, Aaron traveled to Berlin to document the projects of Internationale Bauausstellung Berlin 1987, a building exhibition initiated in 1979 by the West Berlin government to rebuild parts of the city razed by Allied bombing during World War II. Aaron’s research took him to the Internationale Bauausstellung archive at the Berlin State Archive and dozens of realized projects in former West Berlin, and he will briefly discuss Peter Eisenman’s design for social housing at Checkpoint Charlie, which figures prominently in his dissertation.