The Schaulager Professor of the Theory of Art was established at the Basel Department of Art History in the autumn semester of 2013. The professorship was endowed with the intention of further strengthening the visibility and influence of art history in Basel. With its emphasis on the theory of art and aesthetics, the professorship showcases the potential for art-theoretical work in research and teaching in a particular way. It immediately fits into the tradition and current practice of art history in Basel, which is characterized by connecting a minutely detailed viewing of a work with historical analysis and art- and image-theoretical reflection.
In this context, the theory of art can only become fully legitimate in close engagement with concrete works in their historical emergence and social and political dimensions. In addition, one must remember that there is not only one theory of art, but rather many theories of art in the plural. And these theories have not only been composed by art historians and philosophers but also frequently by artists themselves. Theories also have their roots in a particular historical situation and are tied to specific explanatory interests, world views, places, works, people, and institutions. Theories of art are thus themselves deeply historical phenomena. They are tools that help artists in producing works and guide us in viewing works. Yet as with all tools, one has to be familiar with their structure and know what one uses them for. Last but not least, they attain legitimacy to the extent that one can work with them. But above all, one should not forget that there is also something like a “beauty of theory” and that many theories of art and aesthetics are “works” in their own right, works that offer structures of understanding for beyond their specific contexts and that suggest ways of seeing that can be applied to artworks in new ways again and again. Every history of art operates either explicitly or implicitly with certain theories of art. The Schaulager Professor has the task of not only historicizing these theoretical backgrounds but also questioning their validity.
The Schaulager Professor strengthens the scholarship pursued by eikones and intensifies the exchange between scholarship and teaching. Finally, the professor provides new impulses for collaboration between the university and the Schaulager (www.schaulager.org).
The professorship, which is currently held by Prof. Dr. Markus Klammer, was made possible by a financial commitment from the Laurenz Foundation, which has generously supported art history at the University of Basel on multiple occasions. Together with the Laurenz Professor of Contemporary Art, which was established in 2002 through a gift by the foundation, the Schaulager Professor represents an integral part of the Department of Art History.