January 2017

Dick Schwartz ’60, who passed away on October 3, was a powerful force and an unwavering supporter of the Johnson Museum. Dick became a member of the Museum Advisory Council in 1987 and served as chair from 1988–96. In 1997, he stepped down when appointed to serve as vice chairman of the New York State Council on the Arts by Governor Mario Cuomo. He would later serve as chairman of NYSCA through 2007. As the Museum Advisory Council’s longest-running chair, Dick embraced this role with a forthrightness informed by a deep knowledge and love of art. His generosity to the Museum was visible in many areas, but perhaps most transformational was his endowment of the Museum director’s position in 1992.

My first interaction with Dick was when I was named the new Richard J. Schwartz Director in September 2011. Only a few hours after Cornell announced my appointment, the phone in my Oberlin, Ohio, office rang. I still remember his first words: “Stephanie, Dick Schwartz calling to say congratulations.” I was truly impressed by his dispatch and interest in connecting with me. We quickly found common ground talking about nineteenth-century American art—the subject of my dissertation—and, of course, about the Johnson Museum. I will never forget the impact of this first welcoming call. Thinking back now, I recognize how fortunate I am to have had the opportunity to get to know Dick and his wife, Sheila, over the past five years. He will be deeply missed at the Museum and at Cornell.

Over the summer and through the fall semester, some of the greatest American paintings and sculpture from Dick’s collection were on view in our galleries. My favorite was William Merritt Chase’s gorgeous yet elusive Portrait of My Sister (Hattie). I liked that Chase chose to turn his virtuoso brush to creating a full-length portrait of his thirteen-year-old sister. She has a teen’s slightly cross demeanor; it’s not so far-fetched to empathize with, well, how annoying it might have been for Hattie to spend time posing for her thirty-seven-year old brother.

“Putting oneself into another’s shoes”—or, becoming fully involved with an object to the extent that you project yourself into it—will be the focus of the Museum’s spring Mellon seminar and laboratory exhibition, Empathy Academy: Social Practice and the Problem of Objects. Our other new exhibitions that explore humanity in contemporary Javanese life and how artists responded to World War I and its aftermath are important complements to Empathy Academy. These shows will hopefully inspire our visitors to look, ask questions, and discuss why and how the artists chose their subjects—in support of a more informed and open-minded dialogue.

Willingness to actively engage with the wide range of art on view this spring will help all of our visitors become part of someone else’s experience and, most importantly, find constructive ways to share that experience with others. We hope that you join us throughout the winter and spring months, and let us know what you think. 

Stephanie Wiles Johnson Museum Cornell

Stephanie Wiles
The Richard J. Schwartz Director

 

 

 

We are grateful to the Cornell Council for the Arts for its grant in support of our exhibitions.