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History and Building

The UAG builds on a rich history of collecting and exhibiting at Pitt, centered in the Frick Fine Arts Building.

Our History

Since the late 1960s, the University Art Gallery has presented more than 150 exhibitions in the Frick Fine Arts Building. Centered on a soaring rotunda, our exhibitions have ranged from ancient to contemporary art, spanning the widest range of visual and material culture. Drawing on our collection of some 3,500 objects, many of these exhibitions have involved graduate and undergraduate students in the History of Art and Architecture, Museum Studies and Studio Arts. More recently, UAG exhibitions have especially emphasized artists engaged with local collections and communities, and that address critical social issues. Explore past exhibitions.

The Building

With the support of Miss Helen Clay Frick (1888-1984), the Fine Arts Department at the University of Pittsburgh was created in 1927. First housed on the 7th floor of the Cathedral of Learning, Miss Frick endowed the Department with an arts library (now the Frick Fine Arts Library) and a small gallery for temporary exhibitions.

Pitt’s Chancellor John Bowman and Miss Frick discussed plans to offer the Department its own building. But it was nearly forty years later, under Chancellor Edward Litchfield, that the building was completed. The initial designs provided for the Frick Fine Arts Building were vastly different than the building we see today. Helen Clay Frick and the University consulted with several different architects over a period of thirty years, including Charles Klauder (who had designed the Cathedral of Learning), Albert A. Klimcheck, Theodore Bowman (nephew of Chancellor Bowman), and the architectural firm Eggers & Higgins.

Helen Frick wanted a classical design for the building which would include classrooms, lecture halls, studios, as well as a library and a gallery. After many unsuccessful attempts to provide a layout that would satisfy academic needs and a style that would harmonize with the surrounding buildings of Schenley Plaza, Frick turned to W. B. Kenneth Johnstone, former head to the Architecture Department at Carnegie Technical Institute (now Carnegie Mellon University).

Johnstone and his firm picked up where other architects had left off. He based his design largely on the previous building plans produced by Eggers & Higgins but decreased the size of the building and eliminated the curved façade that other architects had imagined. The Oakland building was originally designed to face the Cathedral of Learning, but in the final design is oriented instead towards Schenley Plaza and Hillman Library. Johnstone also worked to incorporate a round cupola, which emulates quattrocento Italian models, such as that in the Church of San Bernardino by Francesco di Giorgio in Urbino.

The Frick Fine Arts Building was inaugurated in May 1965. Helen Clay Frick, who financed the building and closely oversaw its construction, named it in memory of her father, steel tycoon Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919). American sculptor Malvina Hoffman (1885-1966) was commissioned to create a relief medallion of Henry Clay Frick, visible on the front limestone façade of the building. Helen Clay Frick remained an important and active patron up until her severance with the university in 1968. Her personal collection is now housed at The Frick Pittsburgh.

The Cloister

The Nicholas Lochoff Cloister, completed in the spring of 1965, is meant to embody the spirit of the Florentine Renaissance. The paintings it contains are scale reproductions by Nicholas Lochoff (1872-1948), commissioned in 1911 by the Moscow Museum of Fine Arts (now the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts). The artist was asked to reproduce the media, processes, and distinguishing characteristics of Renaissance originals for exhibition to the Russian public.

Lochoff worked so meticulously that by the time of the 1917 Revolution, he had only sent a few paintings back to Russia. Stranded in Italy, he was forced to sell the paintings to other buyers, including Harvard University, the Portland Art Museum (Ore.) and the Frick Art Reference Library in New York. Miss Helen Clay Frick acquired these replicas after Lochoff’s death with the help of connoisseur and art critic Bernard Berenson.

Today, the Cloister in the Frick Fine Arts Building features 21 copies by Lochoff of works by Fra Angelico, Giovanni Bellini, Giotto di Bondone, Alessandro Botticelli, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Vittore Carpaccio, Andrea del Castagno, Piero della Francesca, Domenico del Ghirlandaio, Simone Martini, Masaccio, and Masolino based on originals in museums and churches in Florence, Assisi and Siena.

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