The Art Institute of Chicago, Northwestern University and the University of Chicago are the joint recipients of three grants awarded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to launch a four-year, inter-institutional pilot effort called the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Chicago Objects Study Initiative (COSI). The awards totaling $1,299,404 will fund developments of new training for art history graduate candidates, biannual conferences and an annual colloquium, three Mellon Research Fellows and a curatorial intern at the Art Institute, as well as the creation of a new museum position, the Mellon Academic Curator. A search for the curatorial appointment is beginning, with hopes of having it filled by August 1.
All of these efforts represent a shift to broaden the discipline of art history to include hands-on research of art objects, as well as training in curatorial practices and approaches to conservation. One clear objective of this new initiative is to better prepare art historians for careers in the field. After the field of study was the offhanded target of a glib remark about employable trades by President Obama earlier this year, COSI highlights not only inter-institutional cooperation to create new job positions, but to also better equip graduate students to have diversified skillsets for their future professions. Often it seems that the perceived impracticality of a field like art history is directly proportionate to the degree to which it is removed from its objects of study. New access to the Art Institute’s art storage for graduate students from the two participating universities is but one of the ways these programs signal a significant shift toward scholars conducting firsthand research on physical, tactile artworks and having to rely less on the echo chamber that scholarship based on earlier scholarships often risks becoming. (Matt Morris)