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Wight, Frederick Stallknecht Van Buren

    Full Name: Wight, Frederick Stallknecht Van Buren

    Other Names:

    • "Bill"

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1902

    Date Died: 1986

    Place Born: Brooklyn, Cattaraugus, NY, USA

    Place Died: Los Angeles, CA, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): Modern (style or period) and museums (institutions)

    Career(s): artists (visual artists), authors, directors (administrators), gallerists, and museum directors


    Artist, Professor of Modern art and Director, UCLA Art Galleries. Wight’s parents were Carol Van Buren Wight (b. 1875) a professor of classics at Johns Hopkins University, and Alice Stallknecht (Wight), an artist. He graduated from the University of Virginia in 1923, traveling to France to study painting at the Academie Julien, 1923-1925, as well as elsewhere in Europe. He married Joan Bingham in 1936. Wight began writing novels, South (1935), The Chronicle of Aaron Kane (1936) and Youth in Trust (1937). During World War II, Wight served in the U.S. Naval Reserves, 1942-1945, rising to a lieutenant commander. He participated in the Normandy landing, later transferring to the O.S.S., (Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency), stationed in London, Paris, and Wiesbaden. After discharge in 1945, he entered Harvard University for an M.A. in museology, taking the famous “museums course” under Paul J. Sachs and studying with Jakob Rosenberg. He curated the exhibition for the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art, “Milestones of American Painting in Our Century,” wrting the catalog in 1949. Despite the catalog’s introduction written by Lloyd Goodrich, curator of the Whitney and an exponent of modernist art, the show was termed by Life magazine as a salvo against modern art. The article focused in part on the Institute’s name change from “Modern” to “Contemporary Art.” The article met with a firestorm of protest by major art museum directors, denying that Wight’s show was an attempt to revise modernism. Wight was appointed associate director of the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art, under James S. Plaut, in 1950. By 1953 he had been appointed professor of art and director of the UCLA Galleries. As a lecture-professor, he taught the history of modern art. The following year he wrote the volume on Goya form the Abrams (publisher) Great Art of the Age series, one of the few books he wrote not functioning as an exhibition catalog. In 1963 he chaired the Art Department of UCLA (to 1966). While director of the UCLA Galleries, he assembled shows on Lionel Feininger, Arthur Dove, Sheeler, Marin, Graves, Hoffman, Modigliani, Picasso, Lipschitz, Stuart Davis, Matisse, Bingham, Arp, Marcks, Archipenko, Oldenburg, MacDonald-Wright, George Rickey, and June Wayne. As a professor of art, he painted and exhibited his entire life. He retired in 1972 and the art galleries at the University were renamed the Frederick S. Wight Art Galleries in his honor. His book The Potent Image: Art in the Western World from Cave Paintings to the 1970’s was issued in 1976. He died at age 84. Speakers at this memorial service in 1987 included the artists Richard Diebenkorn, William Brice. Wight built university’s art collection into one of national prominence, turning the UCLA Art Galleries into a central player in the development of Southern California as a major region for modern art exhibition and production. In particular, the development of the sculpture garden at UCLA, later named the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden after the University’s president was largely due to his skills as both a director and cultural leader. Wight had a very peculiar way of lecturing. “His habit of breaking up sentences with a string of ah-ah-ah-ahs would have been annoying except you knew he was building up to aesthetic punch lines that were either startlingly revealing or very funny” (Wilson). He was not a research scholar; his books on art approached their subject from vantage point of an artist.

    Selected Bibliography

    Milestones of American Painting in Our Century. New York: Chanticleer Press, 1949; Hyman Bloom. Boston: Institute of Contemporary Art, 1954; Goya (Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes). New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1954; Arthur G. Dove. Berkeley:,University of California Press, 1958.


    “Revolt in Boston.” Life February 21, 1949, pp. 84-89; reply “Revolt in Boston.” Life April 25, 1949, p. 22; Wilson, William. “Frederick S. Wight: Painterly Punch Lines.” Los Angeles Times August 3, 1986, p. T91; University of California, Berkeley, “Calisphere: In Memoriam for 1986” [website]; [obituraries:] Folkart, Burt. A. “Built Prized Campus Collection – UCLA Art Professor Wight Dies.” Los Angeles Times July 29, 1986


    "Wight, Frederick Stallknecht Van Buren." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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