Interview with Jay Clarke by Nina Dubin

Posted in interviews by Editor on May 13, 2010

While most of the postings featured here at Enfilade originate elsewhere (calls for papers, announcements about conferences, exhibitions, &c.), plans for more original content are in the works. Special thanks to Nina Dubin and Jay Clarke for this informative interview.

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Jay A. Clarke is Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. She received her Ph.D. from Brown University in 1999 and served as a curator at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1997 through 2009. Author of Becoming Edvard Munch: Influence, Anxiety, and Myth (Yale, 2009), she has also published on the critical reception of Käthe Kollwitz and Max Beckmann, Munch’s use of repetition, and Julius Meier-Graefe as an art dealer. Jay has received numerous grants and awards from such institutions as the NEA, the American-Scandinavian Foundation, the Marshall Fund, the DAAD, and the College of the Holy Cross, which recently honored her with a Sanctae Crucis Award for Outstanding Professional Achievement. Clarke’s research and teaching focus on late nineteenth-century reception theory, market forces, historiography, and the social significance of printmaking processes and their matrices. She taught graduate courses at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 2001 through 2008 on critical theory, methodology, and the history of art history and is currently a lecturer in the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art.

Nina L. Dubin is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her book, Futures & Ruins: Eighteenth-Century Paris and the Art of Hubert Robert, is forthcoming from the Getty Research Institute in September, 2010.

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ND: Last spring, you were appointed Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute—a position endowed by the Manton Foundation. I understand that this past fall, you gathered a group of historians of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British art to discuss the collection and re-imagine different possibilities for what a collection catalogue might be. What came out of this colloquium, and what are your plans for the collection?

Thomas Girtin (English, 1775-1802), "The Gatehouse of Battle Abbey, Sussex," c. 1794. Watercolor, ink and pencil on paper, 10 3/4 x 9 1/4 in. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Gift of the Manton Art Foundation in memory of Sir Edwin and Lady Manton, 2007.8.84 (Photo by Michael Agee)

JC: In 2007, the Manton Foundation donated an outstanding collection of over two hundred eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British paintings, drawings, oil sketches, and prints to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. The Clark will publish a catalogue of this collection in 2012, and we are in the process of considering its shape and methodology.

For the colloquium, we invited a small group of scholars with diverse interests and areas of expertise to help us ask fundamental questions about how we could present this material in a scholarly, methodologically-aware, and engaging way and how we could make the collection both visible and vital. The majority of the Manton Collection was carefully documented and catalogued in four privately published volumes between 1994 and 2001 wherein each work was described with full exhibition history, literature, and an accompanying textual entry. That this important foundational work has been done provides us the opportunity to envision a very different kind of collection catalogue. Given recent discussions about the future of collection catalogues and how the basic formula is in need of reconsideration, we asked for the expertise of the visiting scholars, editors, and
publishers to further explore these issues in light of the Manton gift.

The colloquium participants first looked at the collection as a whole to assess its breadth. Then we had a series of discussions about the possible contents of the catalogue, given that we are free to approach the material in a variety of ways. At first the group had a hard time “thinking outside the box,” as such publications are usually under considerable constraints. However, because the Manton Foundation supports not only the Clark’s collection and the museum program but also our lively research and academic program, we felt strongly that the final publication should embrace new ways of approaching what might otherwise be familiar material. In the end, the group came to a consensus that the publication should address both recent theoretical approaches to British art and materially-based inquiry. The book will begin with an essay about the Mantons as collectors, which will be followed by short chapters that explore specific objects and artists from the collection using a range of scholarly approaches by several leading specialists in the field of eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century studies. The catalogue will include an on-line component that can be updated after the book is printed.

What are some of the highlights of the Manton collection that scholars of the long eighteenth century should know about?

John Constable (English, 1776-1837), "The Wheatfield," 1816. Oil on canvas, 21 1/8 x 30 3/8 in. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Gift of the Manton Art Foundation in memory of Sir Edwin and Lady Manton, 2007.8.27 (Photo by Michael Agee)

Particular strengths include seventeen Turner watercolors, several Gainsborough drawings, Constable oil sketches, and singular sheets by Girtin, Palmer, and Rowlandson. The entire collection can be viewed on-line at: www.clarkart.edu/exhibitions/manton/manton-pages.cfm. In addition to many of the acclaimed “greatest hits” such as Constable’s oil painting The Wheatfield (1816) and several of his cloud studies, there are important pockets of lesser-known works, such as Rowlandon’s small-scale rustic landscapes in watercolor and vermilion ink.

Are there upcoming programs at the Clark that HECAA members should plan to attend?

This fall’s Clark Conference brings together creative writers, publishers, art historians and historians to discuss the many and complex relationships between art writing and creative writing. We will consider fiction as an alternative to art history, art history as fodder for fiction, the various ways in which art history needs and creates narratives, and the use of fiction and fictional devices by critics and contemporary artists. Speakers will include Paul Barolsky, Thomas Crow, Gloria Kury, Maria Loh, Alex Nemerov, Joanna Scott, Ed Snow, Marianne Torgovnick, and Marina Warner. The Conference is convened by Mark Ledbury and Michael Hatt. Program details and registration Fforms will be available at the Clark’s website from late May 2010.

You left a position as Associate Curator of prints and drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, where you curated such blockbuster exhibitions as Becoming Edvard Munch. What were the enticements of relocating to the Clark, and how has your job description changed?

I have great fondness for the Art Institute of Chicago, where I worked for eighteen years and began my career. It is an unparalleled collection with immensely talented curators and I miss the art and my former colleagues. But it was time for a change, time to assume the direction of a department, and time to extend my scholarly range into photography. Whereas at the AIC I was responsible for nineteenth-and early twentieth-century European prints and drawings, here I deal with the history of art from the fifteenth through the early twentieth century, in addition to overseeing the Clark’s significant collection of nineteenth-century photographs. In Chicago I was both a curator and a part-time faculty member at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where I generally taught critical theory and methodology seminars at the graduate level. But the teaching at SAIC was more of an evening job and, although the faculty there were very welcoming, I felt quite separate. Here I am a lecturer at Williams (the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art is offered in collaboration with and housed at the Clark) but now my courses are deeply embedded within the Clark’s dynamic academic program that hosts symposia, colloquia, and lectures led and attended by an ever-changing roster of fellows, students, and visiting professors, and that is a big bonus. The Clark has a dual mission, part museum and part research and academic institute, which creates an exciting intellectual environment I missed in Chicago or had to work hard to find. Here I can experience this dual mission on a daily basis. In many ways, I am doing the same kind of work but in a more flexible, intellectually charged environment.

You spent most of your career in Chicago. Tell us about the perks of living in Williamstown.

There are many perks to living in Williamstown and, although I was born and raised in the Midwest and worked there for most of my career thus far, I went to high school, college, and graduate school in New England, so I was very glad to return. First and foremost, there are deer and fox in our backyard instead of rats and pigeons, and the three-minute commute to work cannot be beat. I am married to a former professional skier so we enjoy all that the winter months have to offer. Being in a college town with three art museums in close proximity, I find I do more here in terms of attending lectures than I did in Chicago. Our director Michael Conforti says there are more art historians here per capita than anywhere else in the country so that’s a plus. The Clark is in many ways a New York City-oriented museum (we are just a few miles from the New York state border) and I am there about once a month. So, when I need my city fix, it’s just a train ride away.

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