March 17, 2005
Vol. 24 No. 12

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    Family of late art dealer donates $3 million to Social Thought

    By William Harms
    News Office

    A professorship to provide high-level interdisciplinary scholarship on the connections between visual arts and society has been established at the University through a $3 million gift from the family of the late Allan Frumkin, who was one of the nation’s most influential art dealers.

    In honor of the Frumkins, the University has named this faculty chair the Allan and Jean Frumkin Professorship in the Visual Arts in the Committee on Social Thought. A nationwide search has been launched for a pre-eminent scholar to fill the position.

    Frumkin (Ph.B.,’45), who died Dec. 9, 2002, owned and operated for more than 40 years art galleries in both Chicago and New York that featured European and American modern art.

    Frumkin’s son, Peter (Ph.D.,’97, in Sociology), said the family gift reflects the deep sense of appreciation his father had for his education at the University. Peter Frumkin is an associate professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

    The Committee on Social Thought was established to provide scholars an opportunity to explore topics, books, themes, history and art works in ways not bound by disciplinary restrictions.

    “The committee welcomes with enthusiasm and much gratitude to the Frumkin family the opportunity to add to our number a professor in the theory and history of visual art. We have in the past profited immeasurably from such colleagues,” said Robert Pippin, Chairman of Social Thought.

    “The great scholar of ancient art Peter Heinrich von Blanckenhagen was an early member of the committee and so was the art critic and theorist Harold Rosenberg,” said Pippin, the Raymond W. & Martha Hilpert Gruner Distinguished Service Professor in Social Thought and the College.

    In addition, many current committee members are pursuing research interests in the arts, Pippin noted. “Our colleague Marc Fumaroli (Professor in Romance Languages & Literatures), the French literature and rhetoric scholar of the College de France, also is an expert on late medieval and early Renaissance art, and Glenn Most (Professor in Social Thought) has published an influential article on Titian and has just finished a book in German on the ‘doubting Thomas’ theme in the history of art,” he said. “Mark Strand (Professor in Social Thought) has written a book on the 20th-century American artist Edward Hopper, and Strand also is an artist,” added Pippin. In the upcoming Spring Quarter, the Committee on Social Thought will bring art historian Michael Fried to campus.

    “The Frumkin gift will make possible an exciting new chapter in the history of the Committee on Social Thought,” Pippin said.

    Allan Frumkin was born in Chicago, attended public schools and graduated with honors from the University. He went on to study the sociology of architecture briefly at Cornell University and the New School for Social Research in New York. It was not until he was at the Institute of Design in Chicago that he thought about starting a serious gallery.

    He said of those days: “I thought I would be showing artists from Chicago and New York, but I decided I ought to go to Europe first, and that changed my approach. I wrote letters and got responses from everyone. Henry Moore invited me to Hoglands, and he was very glad to see an American dealer. I went out to Cornwall and saw the artists there. I went to Paris and again, all doors were open. I met Fernand Leger, and he got out a big folder of drawings—black and white were $75 and with color, $125. I went around Paris buying things, and it was amazing what I got with the $2,000, which was the total sum of my resources for a gallery.

    “I went to Rome and visited Alberto Burri, and I met the surrealist Roberto Matta—a key moment. He was very enthusiastic, very open, and he gave me a lot of names. Surrealism became the mainstay of those early years.”

    Frumkin’s Chicago gallery opened in 1952. He showed a mix of artists from Europe, New York, Chicago and the West Coast, including Matta, Burri, Louise Bourgeois, Cornell, Beckmann, Corinth, Grosz, Dix, Golub, H.C. Westermann and June Leaf.

    “By 1959, I decided that for the artists I needed a second gallery in New York,” Frumkin said. “It was a mix—New Realists, West Coast ceramic sculpture.”

    One of the things Frumkin did in Germany was to begin his own collection of prints by Max Beckmann, which eventually grew to 382 prints and is now in the St. Louis Museum of Art.

    The Frumkin Gallery in Chicago closed in 1980, and the New York gallery closed upon his retirement in 1995. But Frumkin continued to deal privately until his death in 2002. His enthusiasm for art and artists never diminished.