The historian of art and architecture and French philosopher Hubert Damisch, who combined semiotics, psychoanalysis, anthropology, and art criticism in his scholarly works on the theory of art, died at the age of eighty-nine on Thursday, December 14. Damisch believed that works of art reflected a way of thinking and dismissed the widely accepted art historical notion that artworks convey an individual artist’s intention. He thought that each work had its own “pictorial intelligence.”
Born in Prague on April 28, 1928, he obtained a doctorate in philosophy in 1970. A former professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, Damisch taught history and the theory of art. Among the many artists he has published scholarly articles on are Piet Mondrian, Jackson Pollock, Francisco Goya, Jean Dubuffet, Giotto di Bondone, and Paul Cézanne as well as the art historians Meyer Schapiro and Erwin Panofsky. His seminal works on art history include Théorie du/nuage/: Pour une historie de la peinture (A Theory of/Cloud/: Toward a History of Painting) (1972), based on his doctoral thesis; L’Origine de la persepective (The Origin of Perspective) (1987); Le judgement de Paris (The Judgment of Paris) (1992); and Traité du trait (Treaty of the Trait) (1995).
Damisch served as director of the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales from 1974 to 1996. In the United States, he taught at a number of universities, including Yale; Cornell; Columbia; UC Berkeley; and John Hopkins. He also held posts at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, where he was a resident scholar. Among the exhibitions he curated throughout his career are “Traieté du Trait” (1995) at the Louvre and “Moves: Playing Chess and Cards with the Museum” (1997) at Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam.