Though buildings are sometimes referred to as walk-in works of art, the History of Art Department is letting architecture walk out.
With the departure last year of iconic Yale professor Vincent Scully ’40 GRD ’49, the department was left with a void in its architectural history offerings, professors in the department and the School of Architecture said. Though the introductory history of art survey Scully taught is being offered again this year — taught by History of Art professors Milette Gaifman and Jacqueline Jung — it does not have the architectural focus that was Scully’s passion.
Scully’s departure also coincided with the onset of hiring restrictions Universitywide, preventing the department from filling its curricular gap. To fill this gap, the School of Architecture is offering a two-semester architectural history sequence this year.
Though architectural historians once dominated the History of Art Department — a tradition Scully said began in the 1930s, when architecture-focused French emigres filled Yale’s faculty — this academic year, the department is offering just one architecture-based class to undergraduates and no surveys of architectural history.
But Department Chair Alexander Nemerov GRD ’92 and Gaifman, the department’s director of undergraduate studies, said the lack of architecture offerings is not being ignored.
“We very much want for architectural history to be part of the History of Art Department’s offerings,” Nemerov said. “But it is difficult to get new positions at Yale, and so nothing is guaranteed.”
Indeed, the hiring freeze has meant that some professors must now teach outside of their areas of expertise. History of Art professor Sebastian Zeidler, for example, specializes in the historical avant-garde and has taught classes on cubism, surrealism and Picasso, but this spring he will be teaching an undergraduate architecture lecture covering the period between 1900 and 1945.
“This is my first venture into this field,” Zeidler said of teaching architectural history. “We are, in our humble ways, trying to fill this hole. We are not sitting on our hands.”
But School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65 said the lack of a survey class that covers ancient architecture to the present leaves a significant hole in the curriculum of undergraduate architecture majors. Indeed, the theory and history of architecture is one of the three main focuses of the major, Stern said, along with design and drawing.
To make up for the absence of an architecture survey class in the History of Art Department, the School of Architecture has stepped in to offer a yearlong sequence of architectural history for undergraduates — two classes that cover the subject from antiquity to the present. This is the first time this sequence is being offered separately from the introductory history of art surveys, and though the class does not fulfill History of Art introductory survey requirements, students can make it count as an elective toward the major.
In an interview, Scully said the move of the survey class from the History of Art Department to the School of Architecture signifies the decline of the department’s once-strong focus on architecture, and its replacement instead with a newfound emphasis on painting and sculpture.
“It’s deplorable,” he said. “But [the School of Architecture] can’t help it — they have to teach architectural history if the History of Art department isn’t supplying it.”
The new survey courses, which are requirements for undergraduate architecture majors, aim to cover the material that was previously included in Scully’s famed survey of Western art. The art history survey, with its focus on architecture, was a rich resource for architecture students, Stern said. In fact, before Scully’s departure, architecture majors were told to take Scully’s survey even though the class fell outside of their major.
School of Architecture Professor Daniel Sherer ’85, who traces his passion for architectural history to Scully’s survey course at Yale, currently teaches the first semester of the new survey sequence, while Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen will teach the second semester. Though Sherer said he has not formally collaborated yet with the History of Art Department, he said he has been in touch with several members of the faculty and hopes the course will, in time, become a joint effort between the two.
The History of Art Department was physically joined to the School of Architecture in 2008, when the Jeffrey H. Loria Center — the department’s home next to the school’s Paul Rudolph Hall — was completed.