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UC Berkeley Press Release

Timothy J. Clark, noted art historian, awarded Mellon Foundation grant

– Timothy J. Clark, a University of California, Berkeley, professor of art history and a leading authority on modern art, is one of four scholars of the humanities to receive an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation distinguished achievement award. Each award is worth up to $1.5 million.

"His works merge the history of art with social history, while at the same time providing astonishingly original and profoundly researched readings of major figures in art and criticism including Courbet, Manet and Picasso," the foundation said about Clark in its recent announcement.

"With deep grounding in primary materials and a keen eye for new evidence, Clark successfully combines uncompromising technical analysis of artistic technique and the physical details of visual masterpieces with vigorous arguments about broader cultural developments such as popular uprisings, bourgeois life and urban development," the announcement continued.

The foundation also lauded Clark as an outstanding teacher and mentor whose students have become leaders in art history.

Anthony Cascardi, interim dean of the arts and humanities in UC Berkeley's College of Letters & Science, commended Clark's work as fundamental in demonstrating the social origins and power of images. "His work shows how art is woven into the social struggles that go on everywhere around us, and this award duly recognizes the power of his insights," Cascardi said. "Clark is, above all, a critic who reveals art's deep historical consciousness."

Clark, UC Berkeley's George C. and Helen N. Pardee Chair and Professor of Modern Art, called the Mellon award "an extraordinary and daunting honor." He said the award has prompted him to review his basic interests as an art historian and offers him an opportunity to explore them over the next three years in ways that will contribute to UC Berkeley's intellectual life.

"We are living in a time of war, and part of that war, it is widely agreed, is a struggle for mastery in the realm of images," Clark said. "At such a moment, it is appropriate, I think, to struggle with the question of what visual representations are - how they differ from verbal communications, how they persuade us (or fail to persuade us) of their truth, whether they are capable of real complexity in the face of events."

A native of Bristol, England, Clark is well known for his analysis of Impressionism in "The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and his Followers" (1985), as well as in "Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution" (1973) and "The Absolute Bourgeois: Artists and Politics in France, 1848-1851" (1973).

Clark's most recent works include "Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism" (1999), and "Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War" (2005), a book jointly written with UC Berkeley Geography Professor Michael Watts and two independent San Francisco Bay Area writers, Iain Boal and Joseph Matthews.

The Mellon grant is designed to support individual scholarly research, while at the same time expanding study and teaching at the recipients' home institutions over a period of two to three years.

Clark said he plans to press on with his research into the life of 17th century French painter Nicolas Poussin, but also to pursue a longstanding interest in the art of Pablo Picasso - "who still looms uncomfortably over the visual culture of the past century," Clark said, "in ways we have barely begun to account for."

A book on Picasso also is in the works for Clark, who said he plans to make the artist the focus of his Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., probably at the end of the award period. The book will look at Picasso with the aid of certain concepts borrowed from the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

Besides his Mellon grant work, Clark is finalizing work on a new book due out this summer, "The Sight of Death: An Experiment in Art Writing." It centers on two landscape paintings by Poussin.

The Mellon grant will enable Clark to reduce his teaching load over the next two years and spend more time on his research. He said he is looking forward to relocating to Rome in the third year of the award to wrap up his Poussin research and to concentrate on writing the Picasso lectures.

In addition, Clark is starting to plan a series of international conferences at UC Berkeley. The first will be devoted to a series of key paintings done by Picasso in the late 1920s, where Picasso dwells on the strange mechanics of the studio situation - in particular, the charged and ambivalent relation between artist and model.

Another will revolve around Roman sarcophagi. "This topic is just crying out for a symposium," Clark explained. "We are at one of those moments when a seemingly familiar set of objects is being looked at afresh by scholars across the globe."

Yet another forum of art historians, archeologists and others will explore the impressive body of mostly small-scale sculptures and figurines from the Neolithic Age that has been excavated over the past 25 years. Clark's UC Berkeley colleagues Christopher Hallet, an associate professor and an expert on Roman art, and Whitney Davis, a professor of history and the theory of ancient and modern art, will help organize the second and third conferences.

In addition, said Clark, part of the Mellon grant each year will be devoted to improving the art history department's level of graduate funding.

"This is a crucial issue for me and my colleagues, at a time when we are competing for the very best students with immensely rich private universities," he said. "And the award means that I shall be able to bring certain scholars to campus to teach courses in the art history department, and to fund a two-year postdoctoral fellowship. All of this, I hope, will make a difference to the humanities in the university at large."