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The papers of Edward Fort Fry (1935-1992) reveal the prestige and controversy surrounding the career of an art historian and curator. As an associate curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum from 1967 to 1971, Edward Fry experienced accolades in 1969 for his work on the David Smith Retrospective and frustration in 1971 regarding the cancellation of the Hans Haacke exhibition, which lead to Fry's dismissal. From the early 1960s to 1992, Fry contributed to and curated exhibitions; wrote articles, exhibition catalogs, and essays; taught the history of art and participated in lecture series at several universities; introduced unknown artists from eastern Europe and Asia to the United States; and maintained correspondence with artists and colleagues from around the world.
Born 6 May 1935 to Dr. Wilfred Elyes Fry (1899-1976) and Irene Fort Fry (1899-1984), Edward Fry and his sister Margaret resided with their parents in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia. Fry attended the distinguished, all-boys Haverford School from 1947 to 1953, achieving academic excellence in science and math. He attended Princeton University in 1957 where he received his Bachelor of Arts in English literature. Accepted to Harvard University, Fry initially planned to study law but withdrew after the first semester and then enrolled in the fine arts department. He worked with Louis Grodecki on a thesis entitled "Thierry and Champart at Jumièges: the Construction of Notre-Dame and the Romanesque Capitals," and with Frederick B. Deknatel on his dissertation. During his time at Harvard, Fry was a teaching fellow and became curator and trustee of the Museum of Art, Oqunquit, Maine, where he worked closely with artist Henry Strater. Receiving a Fulbright Fellowship from 1961 to 1963, Fry spent the majority of his time researching and studying in Europe, chiefly in Paris, where he formed invaluable relationships with artists and historians and began his life-long study of sculpture and cubism, as well as his in-depth research and investigation of Pablo Picasso.
During his research fellowship Fry traveled extensively, noting places, names, and dinners in his calendars, such as meetings with futurist painter Gino Severini. Personal correspondence with contemporary scholars William Innes Homer and Robert Rosenblum provides a glimpse into the guarding and sharing of information among scholars, as well as rivalries and gossip from home. For instance, during Fry's sojourn in Paris, scholars and colleagues presented Fry with their own research questions, taking advantage of a contact in Europe, and asking that their queries be kept confidential. One friend and colleague, William Innes Homer, working on a monograph of Georges Seurat, asked Fry to procure—with detailed instructions—copies of documents held by Paul Signac's daughter. In a 9 February 1962 letter Homer relays, ". . . I (unlike Rewald , etc.) am not out to exploit her and her mother's material; but I do and will need her help, document-wise, if I keep on with Seurat . . . (this is still secret by the way)." Correspondence of this type reveals not only the guarding of original research but also the ways in which scholars gathered source material. Fry was able to build intellectual and congenial relationships with artists and their family and friends. This ability aided in his research on cubism, evidenced in the many pages of correspondence, with Rubin Lipchitz, brother of sculptor Jacques Lipchitz. Discussions of Lipchitz's sculpture and cubism run throughout their letters. An outline regarding the development of sculpture and cubism in Rubin Lipchitz's hand serves as one example of their close relationship during Fry's stay in Paris. Preserved are extensive and copious notes on Jacques Lipchitz, Pablo Picasso, Henri Laurens, and futurism, in original card files with notes from interviews, including photographs of works. The resulting volume from Fry's Fulbright Fellowship, entitled Cubism, was published by McGraw-Hill Book Company in 1966 and subsequently published in German and Italian.
After completing his Fulbright Fellowship, Fry was an instructor in the history of art at Princeton University and worked as a consultant from 1965 to 1967 for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. The consulting work Fry performed for the Guggenheim lead to his associate curatorship after the Fifth Guggenheim International Exhibition: Sculpture from Twenty Nations, 1967–1968; Fry organized the exhibition and wrote the catalog's essay. The size and scope of the exhibition displayed Fry's awareness of a multitude of sculptors from the international art scene and the entanglements in acquiring sculptures from artists and dealers to mount such an all-encompassing exhibition. The paper trail to acquire Jean Arp's Ptolemy III for the exhibition started with a letter to Francois Arp and continued until the sculpture was included in the show. This perseverance exemplifies the specificity of Fry's vision regarding how each artist should be represented within the multitude of artists being exhibited.
Fry organized several exhibitions in 1969, including the significant and substantial David Smith, a Retrospective. Fry meticulously researched all of Smith's work for the exhibition—with the help of then doctoral student Rosiland Krauss—including amassing a nearly complete photograph collection of all of his sculpture. The Guggenheim was completely filled with Smith's work, utilizing in its entirety Frank Lloyd Wright's visionary space of the museum: it was the first time all of the floors of the Guggenheim Museum were open to the public. The critical response to the exhibition and Fry's catalog was favorable. Newspaper clippings, telegrams, and notes from friends and from David Smith's sister, Catherine Smith Stewart, praised Fry's choices and scope and applauded him for showing the range of Smith's monumental sculpture.
From 1968 to 1971 Fry organized several successful sculpture exhibitions at the Guggenheim Museum, including Jean Arp and Japanese Art 1970: The Fifth Japan Arts Festival. In addition, in 1968 Fry was sent on behalf of McGraw-Hill Book Company to acquire and exhibit works of art from Poland and Yugoslavia. Fry received permission from Thomas M. Messer, director of the Guggenheim, to travel and procure the works, a separate project from his duties as curator. The result was the publication of two small catalogs and a 1969 traveling exhibition sponsored by the American Federation of Arts, entitled Contemporary Art in Poland and Contemporary Art in Yugoslavia. The exhibition not only fulfilled a corporate investment and added to its collection but also simultaneously introduced, in some cases, unknown Polish and Yugoslavian artists to the United States.
Fry's achievements at the Guggenheim continued, but his curatorship was short-lived as the ensuing exhibition of one conceptual artist erupted into controversy. Fry spent close to a year researching, pricing, and contemplating the logistics of installing the environmental and social/political works of artist Hans Haacke. One month prior to the opening and after much heated debate and meetings, the show was canceled. The Guggenheim was protecting its trustees from being perceived as slum lords in one of Haacke's works. Edward Fry, unbending about Haacke's freedom to show the work without censor, was summarily dismissed from the Guggenheim. On 23 April 1971 Guggenheim Director Thomas M. Messer wrote, "Your sustained and active engagements in opposition to recent decisions go beyond legitimate dissent and make it clear that we have come to a parting of the ways." The canceled show and firing of Fry produced an outpouring of correspondence, newspaper articles, and controversy. Artists who protested include contemporary sculptor Donald Judd; he exclaimed, "I don't know how anyone can show at the Guggenheim again." i
Despite this dismissal Fry continued a prolific and engaging professional life, becoming an independent curator and art historian. He was president of the New York chapter of the New Art Association, formed at a College Art Association meeting to address art education. Fry received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1973 to further his research on sculpture and cubism. His curriculum vitae displays several teaching assignments, awards, essays, and consulting positions.
Edward Fry's strong and independent personality contributed to his professional relationships and the expression of his own ideas. For instance, his doctoral dissertation on cubism was initially rejected by his advisor Frederick B. Deknatel: "as it stands what you have written is more in the nature of a narrative account of the movement of cubism . . . This needs more study and certainly could be made into a dissertation." Fry's work was published by McGraw-Hill and translated into four other languages and later was accepted as his dissertation. Fry stood by artist Hans Haacke when the Guggenheim Museum wanted to alter the exhibition to suit the board of trustees. Furthermore, Fry became professor and chairman of Visual Arts at York University in Toronto, where a special convocation in the fall of 1973 honored Josef and Annie Albers. Fry resigned from his position in 1975 explaining to the university in a lengthy point-by-point letter the frustration of chairing the visual arts department. His career as a professor continued at Harvard University, Colgate University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburgh, and the University of South Florida.
In the late 1970s and 1980s Fry continued arranging exhibitions and participating in lectures. He was involved in Documenta 6, Kassel, Germany in 1977, where he organized the international sculpture section. He was co-director of Documenta 8 in 1987 and the only American organizer and full-time curator, working with Manfred Schneckenburger, planning and coordinating the entire exhibition; he was also a major contributor to the catalog. Fry's ideas regarding the role of art in society were expressed prior to leaving for Kassel: "Art is being corrupted. . . . We want to indicate that modernity has a future only if one destroys the misunderstanding between false autonomy for art—in which it has to be pure, like a kind of secular religion—and what I call the substantiveness of art." Fry and Schneckenburger chose artists who they perceived went beyond the postmodern: they embraced the works of Robert Morris and rejected those of Sol Lewitt. The critical reaction to Documenta 8 noted its vastness and complexity, overwhelming for the audience to absorb. In the two-year process of organizing the Documenta 8, artists submitted their work with the hopes of international exposure, but the ultimate decision of the artist's fate was subject to the theoretical ideas of the jury and critic.
In 1981 Fry represented the United States in UNESCO's Homage to Picasso—celebrating the 100th year of Picasso's birth. Fry received the UNESCO medal, designed by Juan Miro, at the conference in Paris for his contribution of essays and lectures on Picasso. Fry's focus on modern art and his fascination with Picasso commenced with his Fulbright award in 1961 and continued throughout his career. Lectures and numerous essays, some highly acclaimed, abound in his body of work. At the time he received the award, Fry declared, "I've been working on Picasso about twenty years. He's the most important modern artist—by all odds the biggest challenge."
Fry's extensive research materials on Picasso comprise a large photograph collection and index card file, as well as his many lectures and articles on Picasso and cubism. One article in Art Journal, "Picasso, Cubism and Reflexivity" (1988), produced many queries, correspondence, and praises. In 1989 Fry co-curated, with William Rubin and Pierre Daix, Picasso and Braque: Pioneering Cubism at the Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition included a large symposium on cubism and included many eminent scholars.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s Fry continued to organize exhibitions and participate in conferences. He consulted with the Guggenheim on a Robert Morris exhibition and was to be part of the 14th International Sculpture Conference presented by the International Sculpture Center. Fry was on the program committee, and plans for the conference are evidenced in exchanges with sculptor Lin Emery. This would be the last project in which Fry participated; he died suddenly of a heart attack in April 1992, just two months prior to the start of the conference in June. Edward F. Fry, through the generosity of Sandra Ericson, whom Fry married in 1985, has left a wealth of information that spans the many contributions of an art historian who researched, taught, lectured, and worked closely with artists mounting exhibitions.
Fry, Edward F. Cubism. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966.
---. David Smith. New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1969.
Getty Union List of Artist Names Online. http://www.getty.edu/research/conducting_research/vocabularies/ulan (accessed from March 2007 to February 2008).
Grove Art Online. http://groveart.com (accessed from March 2007 to January 2008).
Krauss, Rosiland E. The Sculpture of David Smith: A Catalogue Raisonné. New York: Garland Publishing, 1977.
On-line Picasso Project. http://picasso.tamu.edu.picasso (accessed from June 2007 to February 2008).
Slought Foundation Online Content. http://www.slought.org (accessed, February 4, 2008).
The Edward F. Fry Papers comprise the documents of the life and career of an independent art historian and curator. The collection consists of 66 boxes of correspondence, research, lectures, essays, photographs, and drawings; in addition, there are two oversized folders of material housed separately. The papers also include slides of artists' works, exhibition catalogs, negatives, and a reel-to-reel tape of an interview.
The correspondence series, ca. 1958-1991, encompasses eleven boxes containing 686 folders. Included are letters from family, friends, institutions, and artists. There are letters from Fry's parents, Dr. Wilfred E. Fry and Irene Fort Fry, while Fry was in Europe. Letters from artists such as Beverly Pepper and Jacques Lipchitz discussing their work and ideas; some artists included drawings, slides, and catalogs with their correspondence. Friends and colleagues who aided with his research on cubism include Rubin Lipchitz and William Innes Homer. Also is correspondence with publishers regarding the translation of Fry's book Cubism and in reference to articles. Many museums are included in the correspondence concerning the curatorial work of Fry, for example acquiring works of art for exhibitions. In addition to the wealth of scholarly publications, books, lectures, and exhibition information contained in the papers are correspondence, calendars, and journals that reveal his personal life. Fry's calendars, a journal, and some correspondence provide a glimpse of the inner world of this prominent and independent art historian. The letters from Robert Rosenblum are friendly and high-spirited, conveying news of their colleagues. Fry became friends with his editor in Germany Inge Bodesohn-Vogel, in correspondence they discuss his books translation into German as well as personal exchanges, he notes in one calendar his worry for her health. Another close friend Yvonne V. Chabrier shows concern for Fry's mental state while he was in Europe, "your last letter left me with a quiet sad feeling; you sounded so very, very gray . . . ." The correspondence and calendars reveal many close relationships throughout Fry's life.
A small series, Exhibitions consists of 3 boxes and 71 folders (ca. 1967-1987). The first box contains materials such as inventories, notes, research and travel for several exhibitions. Due to the controversy and cancellation of the Hans Haacke exhibition the second box in this series contains the correspondence from Hans Haacke, the exhibitions plans, correspondence reacting to the exhibition's cancellation, articles, and research. The third and final box of the series surrounds the Documenta 8 exhibition in Kassel, Germany.
Writings is the third series in the collection containing 9 boxes and 208 folders (ca. 1957-1991). Writings has been arranged into five sections: 1 box containing Fry's undergraduate thesis; 2 boxes of typescripts, drafts, and notes on Cubism; two boxes of essays and articles arranged alphabetically, with accompanying research and drafts; two boxes of lectures arranged chronologically, chiefly handwritten; and 2 boxes of courses, some with class lectures and/or syllabi. Fry's range of essays and lectures includes not only cubism, but contemporary sculpture, an article on Titian, a lecture series on Jackson Pollock, Paul Cézanne, and constructivism.
The research series is housed in eighteen boxes, documenting Fry's research of various artists and including files, detailed note cards, and photographs. The series has been divided into three distinct parts: artist files encompassing four boxes; arranged alphabetically they contain artist's biographies, some contain photographs or slides of works of art, and connections with galleries. There are 3 boxes of note cards regarding Jacques Lipchitz, Henri Laurens, Pablo Picasso and David Smith. 8 boxes of photographs make up the last section in this series. Each box is an album containing photographs of the artist's works and in one album are photographs from exhibitions.
The fifth series in the collection is Memorabilia and is in 11 boxes (ca. 1947-1990). One box of Fry's saved programs, newsletters; 3 boxes contain Fry's academic career from The Haverford School through Harvard University, including grades, essays for classes, syllabi and some lecture notes. Personal memorabilia including note books, awards, personal photographs, calendars, passports and address are contained in 5 boxes. The calendars provide some personal information in short diary notes and are useful for Fry's meetings with individuals and artists.
Last in the series of the collection is miscellaneous and oversized material. This series is housed in 8 boxes and contains 2 folders in a map drawer. Magazine articles, newspaper clippings, oversized materials from exhibitions and artists (including drawings), and some posters are contained in this series.
Gift of Sandra Ericson, 2006.
The creation of the electronic guide for this collection was made possible through a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources' "Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives" Project. The finding aid was entered into the Archivists' Toolkit by Garrett Boos.
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
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- Donna Brandolisio
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