Jo Anna Isaak, Ph.D., a specialist in modernism and contemporary art, was installed on April 6 as the first John L. Marion Chair in Art History, Painting and Sculpture at Fordham University.
“On behalf of Jo Anna’s colleagues in her department and throughout the faculty, and all of the arts and sciences deans, how deeply appreciative we are that Jo Anna has joined us,” said Robert Himmelberg, Ph.D., professor of history and dean of the arts and sciences faculty.
“During the short time she’s been with us, she has proven herself a charming as well as highly collegial colleague,” Himmelberg said. “She is a scholar of unusual depth and strength, and a teacher of unusual ability. How much we look forward to having her with us for many years.”
Isaak received a medal that signified her chair from Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, Stephen Freedman, senior vice president for academic affairs and chief academic officer and John Tognino, (FCLS ’75), chairman of Fordham’s Board of Trustees.
“This has been part of a long welcome,” said Isaak, who has been at Fordham since 2006. “I’m truly in the best of all possible departments with the best of all possible colleagues.”
Isaak delivered the inaugural lecture, “And for all this, nature is never spent,” which is also the title of an exhibit she curated with Fordham students at the Pelham Art Center. The exhibit, on display until April 25, features nontraditional media by 10 artists who seek to broaden public awareness of environmental degradation.
“They are proving that art can become useful again,” Isaak said of artists. She mentioned Subhankar Banerjee, who left a position at the Boeing Corporation in Seattle to explore and document the Arctic wilderness. Banerjee’s images of Siberia, Alaska and the Canadian Yukon have shed light on environmental changes threatening the Far North.
“Photography continues today in the forefront of the fight in the battle to preserve the wilderness, even as the very concept of wilderness has changed,” Isaak said. “Banerjee’s photographs of the arctic bring to the residents of the lower states an understanding of this vast, complex land and water and ice and keeper of life.”
Isaak also discussed work by Nancy Holt, who has made art of the trash heaps in New Jersey’s Meadowlands, and Mierle Laderman Ukeles, whose “Flow City” at the 59th Street Marine Transfer Station introduces the public to the reconceptualization of urban ecological systems.
“It may be the extravagance of the projects and the obsession they manifest that make them work as art,” Isaak said of the vast works of these activist artists. “In radically redefining the role of art and expanding the realm of the aesthetic, these artists are involved in a reversal of that long process by which aesthetics became formalized and and divorced from social and practical considerations. They are proving that the care and maintenance of the environment can be integral part of the creative process.”
The Burnett Foundation established the John L. Marion Chair in Art History, Painting and Sculpture in 2006 to honor John L Marion, (FCO ’54), former chairman of Sotheby’s Auction House.