The L.A. Times reports the death of the U.S.C. art historian and cinematic theorist Anne Friedberg, who has died of colorectal cancer at 57. Although trained as an expert in cinema and media-theory, Friedberg performed a number of cross-disciplinary moves with great success.
I first came across her work a year or so ago when I read The
Virtual: Window: From Alberti to Microsoft (2006). The title caught my imagination, and inspired me to create a course looking at the relationship between scientific technologies and framed painting. Calling it Media Art Histories, I created a structure in which I examined such concepts as 'window', 'frame', 'screen' etc, the terms that Friedberg deployed in her book. My students and I looked at everything, from Alberti and Leonardo to split-screen cinema in Warhol's Chelsea Girls- and beyond. We had a lot of fun and broke down the usual paradigms of viewing.
The relationship between moving images and framed paintings is not really developed in art history scholarship, but Friedberg was committed to creating programs and initiatives that brought cinema and painting together. The thematic scope of Friedberg's Virtual Window was not only staggering- art history, architectural theory, history of cinema, critical theory, digital culture-, but its chronology was pretty impressive too. Beginning with Alberti's concept of the open window, Friedberg deployed this as a metaphor for exploring space, time and representation right up to the advent of the windows revolution in the 80s. Reading The Virtual Window encouraged me to think more about the relationship between framed pictures and the computer screen. For example, the incidental episode that occurs deep in some early modern painting far from the foreground narrative – see the Velasquez genre scene above- struck me as similar to insets on computer screens. I also seem to recall that artists and theorists were interested in similar parallels. Bill Viola compared small religious pictures in the renaissance to portable laptops. Hopefully, there'll be more interest in this idea of art works as technology, thanks to Friedberg's innovative contribution.
The Virtual Window is testament enough to Friedberg's probing intellect and multi-disciplinary energy, but perhaps the ultimate monument will be the web site that's been created to accompany the book: The Virtual Window Interactive. It can be found here.