Fellowship for one of Essex’s founding art historians

  • Date

    Wed 9 Feb 22

Professor Dawn Ades

Emeritus Professor Dawn Ades, who was one of Essex’s pioneers of a new approach to art history in the 1960s has been appointed a Fellow of the Association for Art History.

Professor Ades, who joined Essex in 1968, has said she’s “very honoured” by the prestigious appointment which recognises her contribution to the fields of Dada, Surrealism, Latin American art, and curatorship.

After studying English at the University of Oxford, Professor Ades was inspired by her love of painting to enrol as a postgraduate at the Courtauld Institute in London where she made Dada and Surrealism her main research focus. She joined Essex in 1968 when it opened what was then called the Department of Art.

“Essex offered unique and unforeseen opportunities for a young art historian interested in extending the range of art history beyond the conventional canon,” Professor Ades said.

Keen to embrace the theories of great art historians like Ernst Gombrich – who led a movement to expand the study of art history to include broader intellectual questions about the history of aesthetics, notions of the ideal and questions of representation and abstraction – and distinguish itself, the new Essex department soon changed its name to the Department of History and Theory of Art.

“It was a very exciting and challenging time. We were pioneers in what became a dominant strand in the study of art,” said Professor Ades.

“Our department was the first to be called ‘History and Theory of Art’ but we remained convinced that attention to the object or the image was essential so we ended up trying to keep a balance between ‘history’ and ‘theory’. We were in various ways pioneers in a new kind of art history, which had roots in a history of ideas but was leading us in very interesting directions in terms of new approaches, such as social and political context.”

"It was a very exciting and challenging time. We were pioneers in what became a dominant strand in the study of art."
Emeritus Professor Dawn Ades school of philosophy and art history

Professor Ades, who continues to supervise PhD students, has curated a number of international exhibitions including a centenary exhibition celebrating Salvador Dalí at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice in 2004 and The Surrealist Revolution in Art at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2011.

The culture at Essex helped Professor Ades realise one of the achievements she’s most proud of, the foundation, in 1993, with colleague Professor Valerie Fraser, of the Essex Collection of Art from Latin America.

“We were allowed the freedom to develop new courses in the areas and subjects that interested us and that offered new topics for research. It gave me carte blanche to develop undergraduate and eventually MA courses in Latin American Art. The culture was very conducive to experiment and fruitful development,” she added.

Her other greatest achievement she says is her students: “I have been most incredibly lucky in the students I have taught, and to see them now all over the world continuing our quite distinctive traditions is wonderful.”

Gregory Perry, CEO of the Association for Art History said: “With our fellowships, we seek to recognise and honour individuals who have made a significant contribution to the broad field of art history. Dawn Ades is a pioneer of the study of Latin American Art and is a world-renowned expert in Dadaism and Surrealism. In addition to being a stellar academic, she is also a celebrated curator who consistently demonstrates her unfailing passion for art history. The Association is grateful for Dawn’s achievement in our field and we are delighted to formally acknowledge this through her Fellowship.”

Professor Diana Bullen Presciutti, Head of the School of Philosophy and Art History, said: “This recognition is another in a long series of laurels that include election to the British Academy and receiving a CBE for services to Art History and Higher Education. Professor Ades is a highly influential figure in art history. We are tremendously proud of her selection as an AAH fellow, which is a welcome recognition of her extraordinary contributions over a long and storied career.”