Frederick M. Asher (1941-2021)

Rick Asher in 2016.
Rick Asher at the 2016 College Art Association Conference.

It is with great sadness that we report the death of Frederick M. Asher on June 26, 2021. Rick was truly one of our own, as he not only served the NCHA as a member and as an officer but also lived its vision of a more international and democratic art history. Rick followed his passion for a more diverse art history from his teaching South Asian art at the University of Minnesota, through his many publications on Buddhism and the arts of India, as well as in his service. His loss leaves an extraordinary hole for his students, colleagues, and friends alike. He will be greatly missed.

Such a loss is also felt strongly by the NCHA community. Rick was a member of the NCHA at a time when the committee was turning more and more to a broader understanding of global art history. He was elected President in 2008, and he served his four-year term representing the United States art history community up through the CIHA Congress in Nuremberg (2012). As the first scholar not working in the Euro-American art history tradition to become NCHA President, he helped develop content in new areas for our CAA conference participation and drew in members to our committee from underrepresented areas in the field. Rick was a man who enjoyed and thrived on making connections between people.

His experience as NCHA President fed his vision and capacity for a more international art history. Most obvious in this regard was his foresight in developing the first Getty Foundation-sponsored International Program for scholars at the CAA Annual Conference. Rick knew from his own research and extensive experience that many art-historical scholarly communities outside of the United States were isolated and would prosper more if they had a greater sense of connection to each other. Rick thought that CAA and its annual conference would be a perfect venue for bringing representatives of these communities together to support each other. This goal would in turn greatly aid US art historians by exposing us to voices previously excluded. In this regard, the program did not just focus on foreign art historians. Rather key to the success of the International Program was its emphasis on underrepresented art historical communities outside of North America and Western Europe. Such a goal was close to Rick’s heart, as he felt personally that South Asian art historical communities would prosper if they organized together and, in turn, had much to teach our US colleagues. His vision was prescient, and, with the support of the Getty Foundation, the initial program has blossomed into a full-blown presence at the annual conference under the auspices of CAA’s International Committee and the continued support of the NCHA. It just celebrated its 10th year and has brought together more than 135 impressive scholars from throughout the world. Even beyond his NCHA presidency, Rick continued to be an active and vocal participant in developing this CAA program. It is with some sadness but also pride that we reflect on Rick’s volunteering as a discussant for the (virtual) panel “CAA-Getty Global Conversation: The Migration of Art & Ideas” that occurred during the last CAA conference in February 2021. Unstoppable till the end, Rick was a part of this important exchange—indeed, he was foundational to its success.

In the coming months, we imagine many tributes to Rick will be forthcoming highlighting his scholarly contributions, institutional impacts, and personal successes. We are grateful to be able to add our NCHA voices to this well-deserved praise. He touched so many of us with his generosity, good humor, intellect, and smiling eyes. He has left us an important model of what an engaged global art history might become.