Jacqueline Barnitz (1924–2017)
Jacqueline Barnitz, an internationally known scholar of Latin American art and University of Texas Professor Emerita, died Saturday morning, October 28, at age 93. She was close friend to artists from across Latin America and the first to comprehensively chart the history of modern and contemporary art from the region. An exceptionally skillful researcher and writer, she is perhaps best remembered by her colleagues and former students for her passion for teaching and her talent for guiding students in critical studies to strengthen the field of Latin American art history. Her students adored her for the sprightly lectures she gave, peppered with anecdotes about her travels in South America, for her shrewd observations in conversation and in editing papers, and for her witty and at times dark sense of humor. Jacqueline was devoted to her students and dedicated her textbook to them.
Born in Geneva, Jacqueline Essery Korkegi spent her childhood in various parts of Switzerland and Italy. From ages ten to seventeen, she and her family lived in Brussels. In 1941, a family vacation to Southern France suddenly turned into an escape from German occupation. She and her family eventually found passage by ship to the United States and they resettled in New York. “It was a culture shock,” she commented. Trained as a portrait painter, she eventually abandoned portraiture in favor of experiments with abstract expressionism, to the consternation of her father, a rather straight-laced businessman. She was briefly married to Walter Downing Barnitz and kept the name for professional reasons after their separation.
In New York, she continually sought out the company of artists, poets, and intellectuals and became interested in Latin America when she noted that many artists from the region had moved to the city, often staying after receiving fellowships. In 1962, a trip to Buenos Aires exposed her to its dynamic artistic scene. Determined to give Latin America further study and visibility, she began writing for art journals, providing specialized reporting through articles, interviews, and reviews for Arts Magazine and other publications. She befriended many Latin American artists living in New York in the 1960s and 1970s, particularly those escaping political unrest of their home countries, such as Brazilian artists Rubens Gerchman and Hélio Oiticica. She began teaching art history courses about Latin American art at the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1969 and subsequently decided to pursue a graduate degree in the subject. At CUNY Graduate Center, she first conceived of writing a survey text of Latin American art, but, encouraged to narrow her focus, she wrote her doctoral thesis on the Argentinean avant-garde publication Martin Fierro.
In 1981, she joined the art history faculty of the University of Texas at Austin where she taught until her retirement in 2007. Through that appointment, she became the first to hold a tenure-track university position dedicated to the subject of modern Latin American art. Her research—the result of her traveling systematically through South America and Mexico since the 1960s—is collected as Twentieth-Century Art of Latin America, first published in 2001, then expanded and revised in 2015 in collaboration with Patrick Frank. Perceptive and engaging, her survey textbook continues to be used in most universities where Latin American art history is taught. During her career at UT, she advised more than thirty M.A. and fifteen Ph.D. students. The field of modern Latin American art is populated by her former students, who hold tenured positions and curatorships as well as work as independent researchers in the US and internationally. During her tenure as professor, she also assembled a collection of over 4,700 photographic slides of Latin American art. In 2013, she collaborated with ARTSTOR to digitize them with the aims of forming a teaching collection accessible worldwide.
Jacqueline did not want a funeral or any kind of conventional memorial service; accordingly, her colleagues and former students are planning an academic event to honor her. Her former students also are compiling written and short video remembrances from colleagues, friends, and students to share and to archive. If you wish to contribute, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org. At the University of Texas at Austin, donations are being collected for the Jacqueline Barnitz Graduate Endowment in Art History, Department of Art and Art History, College of Fine Arts, to support student research in the field of Latin American art. To contribute, please mail to Sondra Lomax, College of Fine Arts, UT-Austin, 2305 Trinity Street, D1400, Austin, TX, 78712.