Giving, for art’s sake

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Art historian Annette Blaugrund ’87GSAS, pictured here with art history chair Robert E. Harrist Jr., helped arrange a gift to Columbia from the estate of the late painter Ary Stillman, whose work hangs behind them. / Photo: Jenica MillerA foundation devoted to the legacy of abstract expressionist painter Ary Stillman (1891–1967) has donated 90 of the artist’s works to Columbia along with $800,000 for a fellowship fund for PhD candidates in modern art history.

The gift from the Stillman-Lack Foundation includes 15 canvases and 75 works on paper, some of which are already on display in the art history and archaeology department in Schermerhorn. In addition, pieces from the collection will be given to the first 25 students to receive Stillman fellowships.

A native of Russia, Stillman immigrated with his family to Sioux City, Iowa, as a teenager and, in the 1940s and ’50s, was a part of the New York City art circle that included midcentury greats like Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. Stillman’s work received praise from critics like Clement Greenberg and was exhibited widely during his lifetime. His work is now held in 46 museums around the world, including major museums in Baltimore, Houston, and New Haven.

The Stillman-Lack Foundation, which has worked to preserve and make accessible Stillman’s work for the 40 years since his death, recently announced that it is closing and distributing its assets. Its donation to Columbia is one of the foundation’s final acts.

“We wanted Ary Stillman’s legacy to reside at a teaching university,” said Barry Lack, the foundation’s executive director and a distant relative of the painter. “Columbia was an obvious choice for its distinguished tradition in art history and for its location in a major art center where Ary had lived, studied, and painted for many years.”

The Ary Stillman Fellowship Fund will receive $1.2 million in additional support from the estate of the late John W. Kluge ’37CC, ’88HON, raising the total value of the new endowment to $2 million, under the terms of a matching program that Kluge established for Columbia in 2007. “A gift of this size is a great benefit to art history at Columbia,” said department chair Robert E. Harrist Jr. “The PhD students who receive these fellowships, and who and go on to become leading teachers, critics, and curators, will forever be linked to Ary Stillman. His work will literally be on the walls of their offices — it’s an amazing gift.” 

— Marcus Tonti

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