Research Project

The Role of Art Schools in the Renewal of the Discipline of Art History. The Case of Vienna between 1970 and 1998

Melissa Rérat

“The end of the history of art” was diagnosed in the 1980s by the philosopher Arthur C. Danto and the art historian Hans Belting. They referred not to the end of the discipline per se, but to a crisis calling for the development of novel approaches. This need for renewal was caused by the redefinition of the subject of art history, art, brought about by the artistic trends emerging since the 1960s. While the involvement of universities, museums and art criticism in art history’s recent developments is acknowledged, the fundamental role of art schools in this momentum has never been studied so far. This is surprising since these institutions have been the primary sites for theorising contemporary art. It was also at this time that the teaching of art history increased at art schools. 

The purpose of this postdoctoral research project is to show, on the basis of the Viennese case from 1970 to 1998 – the period during which the Kunsthochschul-Organisationsgesetz was in force, which transformed Austrian art academies into Hochschulen –, that art schools have served as laboratories for the experimentation of new art histories and that these contributed to the current state of academic art history. To this end, the ways in which art history was practised at the Hochschule für angewandte Kunst (today University of Applied Arts) and at the Academy of Fine Arts will be analysed. The relationship between the Department of Art History at the University of Vienna and contemporary art will then be examined. In a conceptual framework inspired by the sociology of science and the sociology of art, I will use two methods to study these sub-cases: source analysis (archives of the three institutions and professors, legal documents, press) and oral history (semi-structured interviews). Because of the concentration of different legal and institutional situations, the Vienna study is therefore likely to lead to more general conclusions concerning the role of art schools in the renewal of art history on a European and even global level.