Professor Joachim Pissarro:
The Global Democratization of Art
As an art history professor and curator at New York City’s Hunter College, Joachim Pissarro witnesses daily what he calls “the global democratization of art.” Since the end of the 18th century, there’s been a long trajectory that has brought art into everyone’s lives, largely due to political, social and technological change. And, said Pissarro, for the art world, the impact has been monumental.
Gone are the days that art was the realm of the privileged elite, or only existed within a museum or concert hall available in Paris, London or New York. Art today is in “everyone’s lives,” said Pissarro, and continues to expand. “It’s pervasive and far reaching,” he said, as he piled catalog upon catalog on his desk to demonstrate the variety of biennials (international art exhibitions) held around the world. “And this is only a small fraction of what occurs,” he said, noting there are now about 170 biennials a year, compared to about 12 just 20 years ago.
A philosophy major as an undergraduate in his native France, he hadn’t planned to enter the profession one might associate with his name. A great grandson of impressionist artist Camille Pissarro, he had thought about medicine. Philosophy led to studies in aesthetics, which led him to art. He received his master’s in the history of art from the Courtauld Institute in London in 1982 and his Ph.D. in the history of art from the University of Texas at Austin in 2001. In a family dominated by art—his father was an artist, his mother owned a contemporary art gallery, and his sister is an artist—Pissarro said he grew up painting.
At Hunter he’s teaching at the master’s level and also curating the school’s art galleries. Prior to this, he served as curator in the department of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art. He’s written many books—large tomes illustrated with paintings (he said he “loves big books”)—including several about his famous great grandfather. He’s grappling, like every art institution, with balancing budgets and securing funding in the current recession. “We’re looking for more private, corporate sponsorship,” he said. Yet in many ways, the economic crisis has been good for art. People are interested in art, more so than ever, said Pissarro, and more are attending museums and attending art schools. “Like medicine, art is a life enhancer; it saves lives,” he said. #