SELLING AMERICAN ART:
CELEBRITY AND SUCCESS IN THE
POSTWAR NEW YORK ART MARKET
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A BST R A C T ........................................................................................................... iii
1 IN TR O D U CTIO N .......................................................................................... 1
2 AUTHENTICATION: MOMA, MONEY, AND "THE MIND OF
E U R O P E ................................................................................................. 11
3 CULTIVATION: MERCHANTS AND MARKETING ............................... 28
4 DISSEMINATION: MASS MEDIA MYTH-MAKING .............................. 41
5 C O N C LU SIO N .............................................................................................. 53
BIBLIO G RA PH Y ................................................................................................. 56
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .............................................................................. 70
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
SELLING AMERICAN ART:
CELEBRITY AND SUCCESS IN THE
POSTWAR NEW YORK ART MARKET
Chairman: Dr. Alexander Alberro
Major Department: Art History
During the 1950s, contemporary modern American art experienced
unprecedented fame and prosperity. Collectors began to patronize vanguard
American painting, dramatically increasing its market value. The celebrity of
Abstract Expressionism grew so that it was renowned both in New York art
circles and in mainstream audiences. This paper investigates how the financial
and public relations "triumph" of American painting came about through the
activities of art institutions, dealers, and the mass media-how vanguard art was
sold, literally and ideologically, to Americans.
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York played an important
role in endorsing vanguard American art. Although emphatic support was slow
to develop, by 1959 the Museum had clearly approved Abstract Expressionism
and opened its doors to new American art. MoMA's sponsorship helped
increase prices of vanguard American art and make the New York School known
Audience-oriented art dealers, such as Sidney Janis and Leo Castelli,
promoted the new art to cultivate new collectors. Novice collectors from
middlebrow backgrounds became major vanguard art patrons. These collectors
publicized their purchases and collections to increase their own social status and
prominence. This publicity further stimulated the art market.
The mass media disseminated information about the activities of
museums, dealer, and collectors to "lay" audiences. Prominent vanguard artists,
like Jackson Pollock, and collectors, such as the Sculls, were mythologized in the
mass magazines. This kind of unprecedented media attention to vanguard
American art was the ultimate sign of success.
Not surprisingly, as celebrity and success increased, the radicality of
vanguard art was called into question. Commercialism and popularity
devastated avant-garde tendencies. The tremendous success of vanguard
American art in the postwar period forced confrontation with the contradictions
inherent in the contemporary art market.
Contemporary modern American art experienced unprecedented success
after World War II: for the first time, vanguard American art received significant
attention from museums and collectors, enjoyed steady sales at high prices, and
benefited from mass media exposure.' Artists became celebrities, famous not
only in New York art cliques, but also with mainstream audiences. This
"triumph of American painting"-to borrow Irving Sandler's phrase2-was a
combination of fame and financial success; as one critic summarized pithily,
"Never before has there been so great an interest in art. Never before has the
interest on art investments been so great."3
When one thinks of well-known modern American art, Pop is likely to
come to mind. Pop Art may have been the most notorious American tendency,
but by the time of its advent in 1962, the culture industry apparatus for
promoting vanguard American art was already well established. Celebrity and
financial success were pioneered by Abstract Expressionism. Scholars such as
Serge Guilbaut, Eva Cockcroft, and Max Kozloff have investigated why New
I employ the term "vanguard" throughout this paper to refer to the newest
modern art being produced at the time, primarily in New York City.
21 use this celebratory phrase somewhat sarcastically. Sandler's "triumph"
consists of a rather uncritical discussion of artists' intentions and their "feeling
that something of consequence had been achieved in American art." The Triumph
of American Painting: A History of Abstract Expressionism (New York: Harper &
Row, 1976), p. 269.
SRobert Wraight, The Art Game (London: L. Frewing, 1965), p. 14.
York art was so successful in the period just after World War II.4 This paper will
examine how success was achieved: how vanguard American art was
sold-literally and ideologically-to mainstream Americans.5
In "Modernism and Mass Culture in the Visual Arts," Thomas Crow
suggests that the avant-garde "discovered, renewed, or reinvented itself" by
appropriating materials and motifs from mass or popular culture.6 According to
Crow, avant-garde art exploits "the culture of the commodity ... to critical
purpose."7 The infusion of kitsch into high art soon ceases to be shocking,
however, and legitimated modernism is in turn repackaged for consumption as
chic and kitsch commodities. The work of the avant-garde is returned to the
sphere of culture where much of its substantial material originated."8 Although
Crow uses Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and Cubism as his primary
examples, his thesis clearly applies to Pop Art and more recent movements.
Abstract Expressionism, however, followed a different path.
4 Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art: Abstract Expressionism,
Freedom, and the Cold War, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1983). Cockcroft, "Abstract Expressionism, Weapon of the Cold
War," Artforum 15 (June 1974), 39-41. Kozloff, "American Painting During the
Cold War," Artnews 13 (May 1973), 43-54.
SBy "mainstream Americans," I mean primarily white, upper and middle class,
Judeo-Christian families-the audience to which mass magazines like Life, Time,
and Vogue appealed. In the postwar era, these people were made to represent
the "American people" despite the actual diversity of the population.
Marginalized groups may have experienced vanguard art differently or not at
all. Unfortunately information about such groups' interactions with art is scarce.
For a study of marginalized Abstract Expressionists, see Ann Eden Gibson,
Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997).
6 Modern Art in the Common Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), p.
7 p. 25.
8 Crow, p. 35.
In opposition to the popular and commercial proclivities of Regionalism
and in horror at the mass-marketed atomic war, the New York School attempted
to divorce its imagery from all vestiges of mass and popular culture after World
War II.9 Yet, despite the introspective abstraction of this art, it was still seized
upon by the culture industry, marketed to the masses, and popularized.
Moreover, this popularization seems all the more significant because of the art's
It is not surprising that art succumbed to the broad consumerist trend of
the 1950s. Like many small businesses at the time, high art had to expand or be
obliterated by its mass-merchandising competitors (in this case, popular and
mass culture). In the late 1940s, Abstract Expressionism became the industry
leader of vanguard American art; within a few years it held a virtual monopoly,
reaching unprecedented audiences for contemporary modern art and selling at
record prices. Not only did vanguard American art become famous at this time,
but the kind of fame, rather than deriving from the uniqueness of the art object,
suggested the aura of the commodity-the notoriety of high prices, market
competition, and aggressive mass media promotion.'1
A "support system," as Deirdre Robson terms it, developed to nurture the
popular and financial success of vanguard American art." Attention from
cultural institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA)
9 For a discussion of Regionalism and commercial art, see Erika Doss, "The Art of
Cultural Politics: From Regionalism to Abstract Expressionism," Recasting
America: Culture and Politics in the Age of Cold War, ed. Lary May (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1989).
10 One could argue that this type of consumerist fame was specifically American
and particularly rampant in the 1950s.
" Prestige, Profit, and Pleasure: The Market for Modern Art in New York in the 1940s
and 1950s (New York: Garland Pub., 1995), passim.
authenticated its importance. A market of collectors was cultivated by savvy art
dealers. Additionally, the mass media disseminated images of paintings and
painters to the "lay" public. These activities, which brought previously
inconceivable fame and fortune to vanguard American art in the post-war years,
will be discussed in the following chapters. First a brief introduction to the New
York art market is needed.
The end of World War II was marked by economic prosperity. Still
suffering from war shortages of common goods, consumers eagerly spent money
on various luxury items. Art collecting entered a "boom," as both sales and
prices increased. During this early part of the boom, however, relatively little
vanguard American art sold. In How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art:
Abstract Expressionism, Freedom, and the Cold War, Serge Guilbaut describes how
New York won (or stole) the concept of modern art from Paris. But, although
New York may have captured the idea of modern art by 1948, as Guilbaut argues,
virtually no market for American vanguard painting yet existed. By 1948, the
Abstract Expressionists were acclaimed within the modern art world but had yet
to make themselves known to collectors; consequently, they were still far from
financial success."1 Irving Sandler admits that Abstract Expressionism was
recognized primarily by the artists themselves in 1952, the ending date of his
12 Guilbaut concludes his discussion with 1948. At this time American moderns
like Stuart Davis and Ben Shahn were already established artists whose prestige
made them neither vanguard nor marketless. Abstract Expressionists were the
new vanguard. Although prices of Abstract Expressionist works more than
doubled between 1946 and 1949, sales were slow. The highest price paid for one
of Jackson Pollock's paintings through 1950 was $2,350 (paid by MoMA for
Number One), and few sold for more than $800. These figures are paltry
compared to an average price of $4,500 for a recent painting by Davis, $10,000 for
a Mondrian, and up to $20,000 for a contemporary Picasso (earlier Picassos and
Impressionist works sold for over $100,000). Paintings by other Abstract
Expressionist were priced slightly lower than Pollock's. Robson, Prestige, Profit,
and Pleasure, pp. 229-234; Robson, "The Market for Abstract Expressionism: The
Time-Lag Between Critical and Commercial Acceptance," Archives of American
Art Journal 25 (1985, #3), 20-22.
much less critical book, The Triumph of American Painting.13 This date is also
several years before market victory.
Through the early 1950s, American modern art collectors were
exemplified by MoMA trustees: extremely wealthy, industrialist families with
histories of art collecting. These collectors favored European "Modern Old
Masters" such as Renoir, Van Gogh, C6zanne, Gauguin, Picasso, and Matisse.
Collectors with smaller budgets chose Braque, Gris, Rouault, Modigliani or
established Americans like Hopper and Kuniyoshi.4 During the 1950s, the
popularity and prices of Abstract Expressionism increased slowly. In the early
part of the decade, collectors affiliated with MoMA purchased a few New York
School paintings. Around the time of Jackson Pollock's death in 1956, demand
increased tremendously, and throughout the last years of the decade prices
rapidly escalated.15 Once the first generation of the New York School achieved
financial success, it came much faster to younger artists.16
14 For American modern art collector preferences see, "The Businessman and
Picasso," Fortune Magazine (June 1950), 102-110; "Chicago's Fabulous Collectors,"
Life Magazine October 27, 1952, pp. 92-99; "Fifty-seventh Street," pp. 144-151, 197-
202; James Thrall Soby, "Collecting Today's Pictures," Saturday Review of
Literature May 25, 1946, pp. 42-44; Soby, "The State of Collecting," Saturday
Review of Literature August 2, 1952, pp. 38-39.
15 Between 1950 and 1956, Pollock prices almost doubled from $2,000-$5,000 to
$3,000-$8,000. After his death, they jumped as high as $30,000. By the end of the
decade "even relatively modest works" could retail for $10,000, and larger
works, in the thirty thousands. De Koonings rose from $3,000 in 1952, to about
$8,000, and up to $14,000 by 1959 (the year his solo show sold out on opening
day for a total of $150,000). Hofmanns fetched up to $8,500 and Gottliebs about
$6,000 by this time also. Rothkos highest sale was $1,250 in 1951, but in 1958
most works were priced at $5,000. Lesser-known Abstract Expressionists also
experienced higher and higher prices. Even figuring in the 22% inflation of this
period, prices were substantially higher. Robson, Prestige, Profit, and Pleasure, pp.
242, 248-251; Robson, "The Market for Abstract Expressionism," pp. 20-22;
"Boom on Canvas," Time Magazine April 7, 1958, p. 80; Marvin Elkoff, "The
American Painter as a Blue Chip," Esquire (January 1965), 39.
16 As Jennifer Wells notes, "For both younger and older artists financial
It is often assumed that the nearly instantaneous success of Pop Art was
due to its familiar, representational, consumer imagery. Numerous survey
textbooks and even more critical discussions suggest that the accessible
iconography of the movement appealed to the "laity"and encouraged a new kind
of collector, the uncultured, nouveau riche businessman." Executives like Robert
Scull and Leon Kraushar are thought to have been more receptive to images that
reinforced the importance of their own role in consumer culture, "reassuring
images of the consumer environment." Most Pop collectors, however, had first
become involved with vanguard art by purchasing Abstract Expressionist
paintings.19 Certainly Pop images did affirm the business in which most
collectors were engaged, but this strategy may not have been the art's primary
appeal. Leon Kraushar's statement that Pop "spoke directly to me about things I
momentum developed at roughly the same time in the late fifties and early
sixties." "Pop Goes the Market," Definitive Statements: American Art 1964-66
(Providence, Rhode Island: Brown University, List Art Center, 1986), p. 56.
While most Abstract Expressionists required over a decade for their prices to
increase from below $1,000 to $5,000-$15,000 and to regularly sell out solo
exhibitions, the same growth occurred for Pop artists in less than five years. By
1965 large Abstract Expressionist and Pop paintings cost $25,000-$45,000. Wells,
p. 57; Elkoff, pp. 38-41; "Sold Out Art," Life Magazine September 20, 1963, pp.
126, 128-129; Richard Feigen, "Art 'Boom': Inflationary Hedge and Deflationary
Refuge," Arts Magazine 41 (November 1966), 24.
7 Examples range from Samuel Hunter and Jacob Jacobus, Modern Art, 3rd ed.
(New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1992), p. 299 to Christin J. Mamiya, Pop Art and
Consumer Culture: American Super Market (Austin: University of Texas Press,
1992), p. 149.
18 Mamiya, p. 149.
19 Pop was only a tiny percentage of the collections of Robert Scull and Harry
Abrams although they were renown as Pop collectors. Scull actually owned
more Abstract Expressionism than Pop. Allene Talmey, "Art is the Core," Vogue
144 (July 1964), 123; "At Home With Henry," Time Magazine February 21, 1964,
p. 71. Burton and Emily Tremaine, Albert and Vera List, and Philip Johnson,
known for their Abstract Expressionism collections, also patronized Pop.
understood" is often quoted.0" But Kraushar also said, "These pictures are like
IBM stock, don't forget that, and this is the time to buy," and, "I don't even look
at the pictures. I just know they're there and that I have the biggest and best
collection in the world. "2 In light of these latter comments, it seems clear that
for some collectors, the imagery was not the most interesting aspect of Pop Art
Certainly there are many reasons beyond aesthetics for collecting art. Jean
Baudrillard suggests that "the exercise of a collection is valued above the
thematic of the objects collected."" The exercise of the collection, the choosing
and buying of paintings, fraternizing with artists, and being part of the "art
scene," was important to collectors like Scull who visited artists' studios and
gave dinner parties for art world acquaintances. In fact, Thomas Hess
complained in 1964 that vanguard collectors were more interested in socializing
with artists than in their art.23 Art collecting might also confer a kind of prestige
or social status to its participants; Scull admitted that one of the reasons he
purchased art was for "social climbing."24 He enjoyed his reputation as a
20 John Rublowsky, Pop Art, photo. Ken Heyman (New York: Basic Books, 1965),
21 "You Bought It Now You Live with It," Life Magazine July 16, 1965, pp. 60-61.
22 For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, trans. Charles Levin (St. Louis:
Telos Press, 1981), p. 110.
23 "A Tale of Two Cities," Location 1 (Summer 1964); reprinted in The New Art: A
Critical Anthology, ed. Gregory Battcock (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1973), pp. 89-
90. Hess was managing editor of Artnews.
24 Gregoire Muller, "Points of View: A Taped Conversation with Robert C. Scull,"
Arts Magazine 45 (November 1970), 39. For a highly entertaining account of the
Sculls' social ascent through art, see Tom Wolfe, "Bob and Spike," The Pump
House Gang (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1968), pp. 173-203.
collector, saying, "Don't think I don't like all the attention. I love it.""2 Not least
of all, art could be a lucrative investment.26 In a 1958 survey, collectors ranked
their reasons for collecting in order of importance: decoration, investment/tax
benefits, social prestige, historical completeness, current power and posthumous
glory, patronage, and lastly, love of art.27
Traditionally collectors waited for new art to be sanctioned by critics and
time, but increasingly throughout the 1950s newness itself became valuable. To
achieve acceptance, new art only needed adequate attention. Hess lamented that
the vanguard audience wanted most of all to appear modern by supporting the
New.28 In fact a cult of newness has appeared with every great industrial
revolution. At these economic boom times large numbers of people have enough
money to buy new things, while the conformity of mass production and
consumerism drives them to seek novel distractions. Growth in mass media also
tends to occur at these times and becomes a vehicle for advertisers. A hegemonic
5 "You Bought It Now You Live with It," p. 59.
26 A few particularly notorious examples: Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles sold for
$6,000 in 1954 to Dr. Fred Olsen. In 1957 Ben Heller paid $32,000 for the
painting, and he sold it to the National Gallery of Australia for over two million
dollars in 1973. The same year Scull auctioned a large part of his collection at
Sotheby Parke-Bernet for a $2,242,900, a profit of several thousand percent
according to Calvin Tomkins, Off the Wall: Robert Rauschenberg and the Art World
of Our Time (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1980), p. 296.
27 From a survey of participants at a Brooklyn Museum seminar on private
collecting; Alice Goldfarb Marquis, Alfred H. Barr, Jr.: Missionary for the Modern
(Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1989), p. 293.
28 "A Tale of Two Cities, "pp. 89-90. That the harshest adjective used by art critics
in the 1950s was "derivative," illustrates the importance of novelty. Some early
accounts of the interest in newness: Hess, "The Phony Crisis in American Art,"
Artnews 62 (Summer 1963), 25-27; comments by Robert Richenburg in Dorothy
Gees Seckler, "Artist in America: Victim of the Culture Boom," Art in America 51
(December 1963), 36; Harold Rosenberg, "The New as Value," The Anxious Object:
Art Today and Its Audience (New York: Horizon Press, 1964), pp. 227-235; Elkoff,
relationship develops between the consumers' desire for the New, and the
constant parade of products supplied by the media.29 Art is no different from
any other commodity in this system; new products must be released constantly
to stimulate interest and sales.
High art assumes the aura of the commodity. Marx describes
commodities as sensuous, mystical objects, divorced from both their social and
intrinsic values. This description is somewhat similar to Walter Benjamin's
characterization of aura as originality and authenticity produced by a feeling of
distance from an artwork.0" Both types of aura derive from the disparity
between the physical object and what it signifies-here between paint on canvas
and the connotations associated with collecting the newest, most vanguard art.
In addition, newness supplies a kind of authenticity to commodities. The desire
for new products also mimics a search for originality. The great concern about
conformity in the postwar era perhaps increased the value of new ideas to
consumers who wanted to reaffirm their individuality. An interest in vanguard
art could be a defense against middlebrow banality.
Baudrillard explains that no fashion has intrinsic value or meaning, but
only signifies an opposition to other fashions. His example-appropriate for the
time period under consideration-is that the mini-skirt is intrinsically neither
29 This pattern can be seen in America in the 1890s, the 1920s, the 1950s, and
today (now television substitutes for print media). See Richard M. Ohmann,
Selling Culture: Magazines, Markets, and Class at the Turn of the Century (New York:
Verso, 1996) for an early history of the relationship between mass media, culture,
30 Karl Marx, "The Meaning of Human Requirements," Economic and Philosophic
Manuscripts of 1844, in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker, 2nd ed.
(New York: Norton, 1978), p. 98; Marx, "The Fetishism of Commodities and the
Secret Thereof," Capital, Volume One, in The Marx-Engels Reader, pp. 319-329;
Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,"
Illuminations, Ed. H. Arendt, Trans. H. Zorn (New York: Schoken Books, 1969),
pp. 218-219, 223-225.
more nor less beautiful than the long skirt. Rather each style is defined in
opposition to the previous fashion.31 Similarly, no artistic style or movement is
inherently more beautiful or important than another, but each is posited against
previous movements. A new fashion in art is valued for its difference from
previous styles more than for any particular characteristics embodied. In the
vanguard art market, Pop was valuable just because it was different from its
immediate predecessor, Abstract Expressionism, regardless of aesthetics and
A series of new movements of vanguard art helped to perpetuate New
York's tentative status as capital of the art world. The successive bombardment
of novel styles could command interest through newness and shock-value alone,
but if American art stagnated, collectors might seek new diversions in European
art. As Abstract Expressionism grew stale in the late 1950s, this was a very real
threat. Castelli spoke of the boredom of gallery visitors, suggesting that Jasper
Johns was "so special" because he was something new and different.33 The
words "so special" could be interpreted as "so successful"; Johns's first show
with Castelli sold out. The foundation for such notable success was established
in the 1950s through the actions of art institutions, dealers, and the mass media.
31 Baudrillard, p. 79.
32 This kind of analysis applies to art as a commodity. Individuals might have
personal preferences for one style or another, but from a holistic perspective, the
market is indifferent to style so long as there is a new style.
3 Emile de Antonio and Mitch Tuchman, eds, Painters Painting: A Candid History
of the Modern Art Scene, 1940-1970 (New York: Abbeville Press, 1984), pp. 100-101.
AUTHENTICATION: MOMA, MONEY, AND "THE MIND OF EUROPE"
Life Magazine's 1949 article about Jackson Pollock gives the following
explanation of why the artist is worthy of the reader's attention: "His paintings
hang in five U.S. museums and 40 private collections. Exhibiting in New York
last winter, he sold 12 out of 18 pictures. Moreover, his work has stirred up a
fuss in Italy, and this autumn he is slated for a one-man show in avant-garde
Paris, where he is fast becoming the most talked-of and controversial U.S.
painter."' Based on this information, we are to understand that Pollock is
significant because his work is represented in institutions, because it sells well in
New York, and because the European" avant-garde" is interested in him.2 These
three forms of certification were necessary for the acceptance of vanguard
American art and will be the main topics of this chapter.
Life also mentions Pollock's critical success, reporting that "a formidably
high-brow New York critic hailed [Pollock] as a major artist of our time and a
fine candidate to become 'the greatest American painter of the 20th Century,'"
In addition to the mocking tone used, however, the article discredits this critic
' "Jackson Pollock: Is He the Greatest Living Painter in the United States?" Life
Magazine August 8, 1949, p. 42. (original italics)
2 Similar credentials are listed for artists in other articles. The phrase "avant-
garde" (always italicized) is scattered liberally throughout Life's discussions of
art. For Life "avant-garde" bestowed a Continental mystique and sophistication
on the art described, the magazine itself, and its discerning readers.
S"Is He the Greatest Living Painter in the United States?" p. 42.
opinions of Pollock. From this account, critical success seems less important than
the other factors mentioned. The issue of critical acclaim and its impact (or lack
thereof) on the art market will also be discussed here.
Several New York museums were influential in gaining acceptance for
vanguard American art, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and
the Jewish Museum, but none more so than the Museum of Modern Art
(MoMA).4 Trustee Paul Sachs said in 1954, "Through courageous, audacious,
and crusading leadership, the Museum has changed the climate of public
opinion from one of hostility to one that is today open-minded and receptive to
all aspects of modern art." While this self-congratulatory statement is
exaggerated, MoMA's purchases, exhibitions, and the advice museum staff
dispensed to collectors certainly helped to promote modern art. The Museum
thereby functioned as a tastemaker, greatly affecting the art market.
One of MoMA's primary missions was to gather a permanent collection of
"the most important living masters" to put forth "a consistent idea of what is
going on in American and the rest of the world."6 Although MoMA described
this collecting strategy as "risk-taking"-Alfred Barr said that if one out of ten
4 The Whitney furthered vanguard American art with annual exhibitions of new
work, but these shows were too inclusive to have much tastemaking impact; see
A. Deirdre Robson, Prestige, Profit, and Pleasure: The Market for Modern Art in New
York in the 1940s and 1950s (New York: Garland Pub., 1995), pp. 54-55. The
Jewish Museum became more important in the 1960s with a number of mid-
career retrospective of vanguard American artists. Several of the trustees at this
time were major vanguard collectors and Director Alan Solomon was also
interested in the new art.
5 Russell Lynes, Good Old Modern: An Intimate Portrait of the Museum of Modern Art
(New York: Atheneum, 1973), p. 352.
6 Barr, "A New Art Museum" (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1929); in
Defining Modern Art: Selected Writings of Alfred H. Barr, Jr. eds. Irving Sandler and
Amy Newman (New York: Abrams, 1986), p. 71. (original italics)
paintings that MoMA purchased stood the test of time, that would be a good
record-I would suggest that the purchase of a work by MoMA established that
work's reputation, and therefore was not risky for the Museum at all.
MoMA concentrated primarily on early twentieth-century European art
through the 1940s, but the Museum also bought some vanguard American art.
By 1950 several of the most prominent Abstract Expressionists were represented
in the collection.8 However MoMA did not have many funds for buying new
art. Most acquisitions were not purchases, but gifts from trustees, and most of
the trustees were not very sympathetic to vanguard American art. Barr, Director
of the the Museum's Collections, selected or approved nearly all works the
Museum purchased, but Barr then had to secure the acquisitions committee's
approval, a process that was sometimes quite a battle. Barr wrote of 1948, "Early
in the year, some older members of the Committee on the Museum Collections,
encouraged by adverse newspaper criticism, vigorously questioned the validity
of certain acquisitions, including paintings called 'abstract expressionist.'
7 Leo Steinberg, "Contemporary Art and the Plight of Its Public," Harper's
Magazine (March 1962); in The New Art: A Critical Anthology, ed. Gregory
Battcock (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1973), p. 224.
8 Throughout the 1940s there were numerous complaints about the museum's
lack of commitment to vanguard American art. The Federation of Modern
Painters and Sculptors published attacks on the museum in 1942, 1943, and 1944.
Lynes, p. 230. See also: Emily Genauer, "The Fur-Lined Museum," Harper's
Magazine 189 (July 1944), 129-38. However (or perhaps in response to such
criticism) MoMA acquired (by purchase or gift; denotes gift) paintings by
Arshile Gorky in 1941*, 1942, and 1950; Pollock in 1944 and 1950; Robert
Motherwell in 1944 and 1950; Adolph Gottlieb in 1946*; William Baziotes in 1947;
Willem de Kooning in 1948. Museum of Modern Art, Painting and Sculpture in the
Museum of Modern Art, 1929-1967 (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1977),
pp. 635-637. Still Clement Greenberg felt that the 1948-1949 MoMA exhibition,
"American Paintings from the Museum Collection," included "scandalously
few" examples of Abstract Expressionism. Alice Goldfarb Marquis, Alfred H.
Barr, Jr.: Missionary for the Modern (Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1989), pp. 248-
Purchase was difficult." Later, in 1952, a member resigned from the committee
because a painting by Mark Rothko was acquired.9
Barr was not devoted to Abstract Expressionism. In 1955 he was unable to
raise $8,000 to purchase Pollock's Autumn Rhythm for MoMA. He decided that
the work was more important after Pollock's death in 1956, but at that time the
price rose to $30,000, which he again considered too high.'1 Yet enough Abstract
Expressionist paintings were acquired during the 1950s to suggest MoMA's
endorsement of the movement." By 1958 Barr was ready for a rebellion against
Abstract Expressionism, which he found in Jasper Johns.12 MoMA acquired three
works from Johns's first show at Leo Castelli's gallery in 1958.
By the early 1960s, MoMA's support of vanguard American art was
unquestionable. The Museum owned major works not only of Abstract
Expressionism, but also of Post-Painterly Abstraction, Pop Art, and other new
styles.'3 Moreover, it had become commonplace for MoMA to purchase works at
9 From Barr's "Chronicle" of the collection; quoted in Irving Sandler's
introduction to Defining Modern Art, p. 30. Barr was allowed to buy works for
under $1000 without seeking the committee's approval. Dealer Leo Castelli was
known to occasionally lower the price of a painting so that Barr could circumvent
the hostile committee. William Rubin reports that the committee changed
markedly in the 1960s and that by the time he succeeded Barr in 1967, it was
quite liberal. Lynes, p. 300.
10 Marquis, p. 297. The Metropolitan bought the painting, illustrating just how
accepted Abstract Expressionism had become.
" MoMA acquired (by purchase or gift; denotes gift) paintings by Pollock in
1952 (two)*, 1957 (two)*, and 1958; Hans Hofmann and Franz Kline* in 1952;
Mark Rothko in 1952* and 1959; de Kooning in 1953; Clyfford Still and Mark
Tobey in 1954; Baziotes in 1955; Sam Francis in 1955 and 1958*; Motherwell in
1957*; Barnett Newman in 1959. MoMA, Painting and Sculpture in the Museum of
Modern Art, pp. 637, 640, 643.
12 Sandler, p. 41.
13 Between 1960 and 1963 MoMA acquired paintings by Gottlieb, Motherwell, Ad
or soon after an artist's first solo exhibition. Abstract Expressionism's success
had also encouraged the purchase of work by younger artists of the New York
MoMA's early exhibition policies for vanguard American art were
criticized along with its purchases. Most of the collection was "hidden" in
storage and rarely shown. Although the Museum principally exhibited
European modernism, it also showed some interest in American vanguard art.
Dorothy Miller curated exhibitions of young American artists every few years.
These shows were meant to give substantial attention to a limited number of
artists, in contrast to the Whitney Museum's broad annual surveys.14 Miller's
choices closely followed new trends: a number of the painters featured in
"Fifteen Americans" in 1952 were Abstract Expressionists, and "Twelve
Americans" in 1956 already introduced some younger New York painters.15
Reinhardt, and truly vanguard works by Helen Frankenthaler, Grace Hartigan,
Morris Louis, Joseph Albers, Lucas Samaras, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Indiana,
Andy Warhol, Marisol, Larry Poons, and Tom Wesselmann. MoMA, Painting
and Sculpture in the Museum of Modern Art, p. 643.
14 Dorothy Miller's foreword to the "Fifteen Americans" catalog makes this
intention clear. Museum of Modern Art. Fifteen Americans, ed. Dorothy C. Miller
(New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1952). Shows include: "Americans 1942:
Eighteen Artists from Nine States"; "Fourteen Americans," 1946; "Fifteen
Americans," 1952; "Twelve Americans," 1956; "Sixteen Americans," 1959.
15 "Fifteen Americans" included Baziotes, Edward Corbett, Edwin Dickinson,
Herbert Ferber, Joseph Glasco, Herbert Katzman, Frederick Kiesler, Irving
Driesberg, Richard Lippold, Pollock, Herman Rose, Rothko, Still, Bradley Walker
Tomlin, and Thomas Wilfred. "Twelve Americans" included Ernest Briggs,
James Brooks, Francis, Fritz Glarner, Philip Guston, Raoul Hague, Grace
Hartigan, Kline, Ibram Lassaw, Seymour Lipton, Jos6 de Rivera, and Larry
Rivers. John Myers of the Tibor de Nagy Gallery suggests that these shows,
marked by Miller's "refined taste," greatly helped the New York school by
making new artists visible and distinguishing between older and newer
generations. John Bernard Myers, Tracking the Marvelous: A Life in the New York
Art World (New York: Random House, 1983), pp. 172-173.
By the time of Pollock's retrospective in 1956, MoMA's support of the
American vanguard was clear, but if there were any lingering doubts "The New
American Painting" exhibition in 1959, dispelled them.16 This exhibition of
eighty-one mostly Abstract Expressionist works by seventeen painters toured
eight European countries before its debut in New York.'1 Throughout the 1960s,
MoMA continued to show vanguard art as it was produced, reaffirming its
support of artists such as Rothko, Tobey, Hofmann, and Motherwell (who were
by then no longer vanguard) with retrospective.
In addition to purchasing and exhibiting vanguard art, MoMA advised its
trustees on their private collections. Since the Museum had a relatively small
budget for purchasing and relied largely on gifts, this was an important strategy
for increasing its collections. As Alice Goldfarb Marquis relates in her biography
of Barr, "Once it became clear that gifts or bequests from collectors would
become a major source of the museum's acquisitions, Barr began to guide them
carefully into buying works that the museum wanted."'" Before the opening of
16 Several scholars cite Thomas Hess's 1957 editorial as evidence of continued
unrest over MoMA's policy toward vanguard American art. Marquis, p. 292;
Robson, p. 65. However I believe that MoMA's support was unambiguous by
this time. Hess's brief essay is actually more congratulatory than incendiary. He
describes the success of avant-garde American art in the past five to ten years,
crediting various dealers, critics, and museums (including MoMA) for their
attention. His only really derogatory comment towards the museum is, "The fact
that the Museum of Modern Art finally accepted a representative work by Hans
Hofmann for its collection does not mean that its collective, bureaucratic
stereotypes have become flexible." This he uses to introduce the theme of the
heroic struggle of the vanguard. "Editorial: Fifty-fifth Anniversary," Artnews 56
(Summer 1957), 27. Barr took the opportunity to defend MoMA in his essay,
"The Museum of Modern Art's Record on American Artists," published in the
following issue of Artnews. Reprinted in Defining Modern Art, pp. 226-229.
17 Artists included: Baziotes, Brooks, Francis, Gorky, Gottlieb, Guston, Hartigan,
de Kooning, Motherwell, Newman, Pollock, Rothko, Theodoros Stamos, Still,
Tomlin, and Jack Tworkov.
18 p. 254.
"Fifteen Americans" in 1952, trustees bought sixteen works in the show (some of
the first purchases of Abstract Expressionism by prestigious collectors). Barr
gave trustees lists of galleries to visit with suggested artists to buy, complete
with what he proposed were fair prices. Sometimes he and Dorothy Miller
personally shopped for the trustees, often asking dealers for a museum discount
since the works would eventually be donated. What these prominent curators
bought could greatly influence the art market.19
The MoMA staff cultivated relationships with important collectors. They
offered advice, appraised artworks, socialized with patrons, and even helped to
hang paintings in some collectors' homes. The Museum encouraged new
collectors to try modern art with a rental program in which potential buyers
could borrow paintings for three months, paying ten percent of the painting's
value each month. All of these activities were performed with the hope that
collectors might eventually donate their art to the Museum. In fact, MoMA
included instructions and forms for making gifts and bequests in nearly all of its
19 Marquis, pp. 254--312; Lynes, p. 357. Marquis provides examples of aid and
advise to trustees Nelson Rockefeller, Philip Goodwin, Philip Johnson, William
Burden and other prominent collectors. In the mid-1950s collector Larry Aldrich
began a purchase fund for MoMA for works under $1,000, saying that he hoped
to learn from the museum's purchases. I doubt that he meant to improve his
understanding of art so much as to educate himself about which paintings might
be good investments. Lynes, p. 312.
20 See Painting and Sculpture in the Museum of Modern Art, p. 656; Today and
Tomorrow, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1960), p. 43; Annual Reports;
Sometimes trustees bought art for the sole purpose of donating it to the
museum. Barr often asked Philip Johnson to purchase works that were refused
by the acquisitions committee. When Johnson gave the works to the museum a
few years later, they were always accepted. MoMA acquired Newman's
Abraham, Johns's Flag, and other vanguard American paintings in this way.
Steven W. Naifeh, Culture Making: Money, Success, and the New York Art World
(Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1976), p. 95; Lynes, p. 299.
Russell Lynes suggests that "There has always hung over the Museum ...
the cloud of commercial manipulation, the accusation that it was in business to
support the dollar values of its trustees' collections, that it exerted an
exaggerated and unhealthy influence over the art market."21 Barr, however
argued differently, saying that the Museum collection was "a collaborative effort
in which our trustees take an active part, buying paintings for their own
immediate use but with the intention ... of giving them to us eventually."22 In
fact, in his defense of MoMA's policy on American artists, Barr mentioned, not
only works that the Museum bought, but also trustees' purchases "because most
of them were loyally made with the Museum's collection in mind."23
Once collectors purchased a MoMA-sanctioned work, they might increase
its renown and value by loaning it for exhibitions. At the 1973 auction of
paintings from the Scull collection, works that had been shown at prominent
museums sold for an average of three times as much as comparable works that
had not been lent out.24 MoMA regularly held exhibitions of works owned by
trustees. Items were often borrowed from other collectors as well.25 Then
Often Barr would ask Nelson Rockefeller or another trustee to purchase
major works that the museum could not afford. However, in most of these
instances the paintings were by accepted European "Modern Old Masters"
rather than vanguard American artists.
21 Lynes, p. 406.
22 Marquis, p. 290.
23 "The Museum of Modern Art's Record on American Artists," pp. 227-228.
24 Marquis, The Art Biz: The Covert World of Collectors, Dealers, Auction Houses,
Museums, and Critics (Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1991), p. 181. See lists of
exhibitions of works in Sotheby Parke Bernet Inc., A Selection of Fifty Works form
the Collection of Robert C. Scull (New York: Sotheby Parke Bernet Inc., 1973),
25 For example "Works of Art Given or Promised," 1958; "Works Given by Philip
further prestige-immortality even-could be achieved by donating art to the
Museum. As Russell Belk puts it, "When the collector is also a benefactor adding
to the sparse collections of a young nation, a robber baron can perhaps come to
be seen as a captain of industry and patron of the arts.26 Belk refers to an earlier
time, but the situation was quite similar in the mid-twentieth century. MoMA
gratified donors who sought status and recognition by including their names in
numerous museum publications.27
Another bonus for donors was that significant tax cuts could be obtained
by giving art works to museums; it was like a government subsidy for buying
art. Often it was more lucrative to donate an artwork than to sell it. For
example, a collector might have bought a painting in 1950 for $1,000 that would
be appraised at $20,000 in 1960. If he or she sold the painting through a dealer or
at auction it might only net $10,000-$15,000 after commission and fees. Then a
capital gains tax would be assessed on top of that. Whereas, the collector could
donate the work to a museum and receive a tax deduction for the full $20,000.
The collector could even choose to retain a "life interest, "pledging the work and
taking the tax deduction in 1960, but actually keeping the painting until some
L. Goodwin," 1958; "The James Thrall Soby Collection of Works of Art Pledged
or Given to MoMA," 1961; "The Mrs. Adele R. Levy Collection: A Memorial
Exhibition," 1961; "The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Ben Heller," 1961. Marquis
suggests that exhibitions of works from private collections not only flattered the
owners and encouraged them to bequeath the works to MoMA, but also stamped
the works with a "seal of approval" that increased their value. Periodic
exhibitions of works promised to the museum also helped the owners to follow
through on their pledges. Alfred H. Barr, pp. 286-287.
26 Russell W. Belk, Collecting in a Consumer Society (New York: Routledge, 1995), p.
27 See Painting and Sculpture in the Museum of Modern Art, pp. v-vi, 600-603, 605,
610; Annual Reports; Bulletins. Catalogs identify lenders and donors with each
reproduction and again in the check-lists that comprise the last pages.
later date (often until death), when it would be surrendered to the Museum.28
MoMA encouraged collectors with the incentive of tax breaks and included tax
information with the instructions for making gifts and bequests that appeared in
The financial rewards of collecting attracted investors to the art market.
Profits from tax deductions and sales both relied on significant growth in the
value of paintings. As Marquis points out, "Experienced investors all, the
trustees knew that when the Museum of Modern Art endorsed certain kinds of
art, astronomical profits on those kinds of art were not far behind."30 There is a
long history of purchasing art for investment, but the relatively low starting
prices and rapid appreciation of vanguard American art made this form of
investment particularly accessible in the mid-twentieth century.31 Additionally,
art was a good hedge against the high inflation of this period. A number of how-
to books for new, relatively modest collectors appeared at this time, some
specifically targeting investors.32
28 This practice was unofficially declared legitimate by Harlan F. Stone, Chief
Justice of the Supreme Court and Chairman of the Board for the National
Gallery. Artists could also take such tax deductions by donating their work to
museums. (These tax laws were reformed in 1969.)
29 For example, "The Museum hopes that many thousands of its members and
other friends will contribute to its 30th Anniversary Fund; it will be grateful for
every gift, whither large or small .... All contributions are, of course, deductible
for income tax purposes.... Our government, through provisions in its tax laws,
encourages gifts to museums. Contributions may be made in many forms-cash,
securities, real property or insurance-with considerable tax advantage to the
donor. Material on this subject may be obtained from the Office of the 30th
Anniversary Committee." Today and Tomorrow, p. 43. See also Annual Reports
30 Alfred H. Barr, p. 255.
31 For a brief history of collecting for investment, see Belk, pp. 22-53.
32 For example John Baur, A.B.C. for Collectors of American Contemporary Art (New
"In the history of art, as in more materialistic matters, money talks vividly.
Let us not be ashamed to listen," Barr wrote in an article which announced and
justified the establishment of MoMA.3 He then listed a number of modern
artworks which had greatly increased in value and the collectors who had
profited, as if such profit was a justification for a museum devoted to modern art.
Indeed high prices for vanguard American art brought attention and prestige.
Harold Rosenberg regrets that "an object made by hand which fetches more than
five million dollars is a sacred entity in a money-venerating society and deserves
to be worshipped for that reason alone," but high prices proclaimed the success
of vanguard American art and attracted further attention.34
Prices for American vanguard art increased steadily throughout the entire
period under consideration due to economic prosperity, inflation, and a general
boom in the art market. But vanguard American art began to attract significant
attention with the great swell in prices that occurred in the mid-1950s. At this
time, numerous articles appeared in the mass media describing the "boom" in
American vanguard art.5" These reports, found in both art journals and the
York: Princeton Press, 1954); Jeffrey H. Loria (art buyer for Sears), Collecting
Original Art (New York: Harper & Row,1965); Richard Rush, Art as an Investment
(Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1961). Rush's book is a
particularly money-minded account, using charts and graphs to track prices.
Also Wraight offers tips for people wanting to play the "art game, "but with a
more tongue-in-cheek humorous and insightful style. Robert Wraight, The Art
Game (London: L. Frewing, 1965).
33 "A New Museum," Vogue (October 1929); reprinted in Defining Modern Art, p.
34 From an article in The New Yorker (1973); quoted in Karl Ernest Meyer, The Art
Museum: Power, Money, Ethics: A Twentieth Century Fund Report (New York:
Morrow, 1979), p. 167.
35 "The Big Gamble," Vogue 123 (November 1, 1954), 106-109; Eric Hodgins and
Parker Lesley, "The Great International Art Market," Fortune Magazine
(December 1955, 118-120, 150-169; Hodgins and Lesley,"The Great International
popular press, were particularly important because dealer prices were
confidential. Auctions also played a great role since the sales were public, well
publicized, and regularly reported in art journals.
After Pollock's death in 1956, prices escalated dramatically. For example,
Pollock's Autumn Rhythm rose from $8,000 (an exorbitant price which prevented
its sale) in 1955 to $30,000 after his death. Not only did prices of Pollock's works
increase, but also those of other Abstract Expressionists. For instance, a de
Kooning work that could not be sold for $5,000 in 1955 sold for $10,000 the next
year.36 As soon as subsequent generations of New York School artists
established reputations, their work sold at figures comparable to those of the
The high price tags on vanguard American art attracted both investors
and prestige-seeking collectors. Expensive artwork by well-known artists could
be a social status symbol. The higher the price, the more prestige and publicity
to be gained. For example, Robert Scull's purchase of Rosenquist's F- 111 for a
reported $60,000, brought fantastic "appreciation and pleasure at the lavish
Art Market II," Fortune Magazine 52 (January 1956), 122-125, 130-136; "Boom on
Canvas," Time Magazine April 7, 1958, p. 80; "Under the Boom," Time Magazine
December 1, 1958, p. 66; Marvin Elkoff, "The American Painter as a Blue Chip,"
Esquire 64 (January 1965), 36-42; Richard Feigen, "Art 'Boom': Inflationary Hedge
and Deflationary Refuge," Arts Magazine 41 (November 1966), 23-24. Some of the
articles focused specifically on vanguard American art. Others included it within
discussions of more established art; such inclusion seems significant also.
36 Marquis, Alfred H. Barr, p. 297. The exact work is not identified.
37 At the 1965 auction of some of Scull's collection Rauschenberg's Express sold for
$20,000, de Kooning's Police Gazette, for $37,000, and Kline's Initial, for $18,000.
These figures do not show that Second Generation and Pop Art sold better than
Abstract Expressionism, but that vanguard American art in general was selling
well. "Pop Goes the Market," Definitive Statements: American Art 1964-66
(Providence, Rhode Island: Brown University, List Art Center, 1986), p. 57 and
consumption of money.""3 Such instances attracted a number of collectors such
as Ben Heller, Scull, and Leon Kraushar, who had no previous art background,
and wished to elevate their social status by collecting vanguard American art.39
The combination of MoMA's attention and high prices indicated that
vanguard American art was serious and important, but there is another element
that contributed to the authentication process: recognition from Europe. The
acclaim (or perceived acclaim) of U.S. artists in the previous art capitals of the
world was crucial to the self-assurance of the New York art market. In 1949
James Thrall Soby titled one of his art columns in The Saturday Review of
Literature, "Does Our Art Impress Europe?" The need for cultural recognition
from the Old World was so urgent, that the same journal devoted an entire issue
in 1951 to the topic of "America and the Mind of Europe," which included essays
by Americans and Europeans attempting to bridge the cultural gap between the
continents. All of the contributors felt that America must show strength in the
cultural sphere (complementing military and economic success) in order to win
European sympathies and the war against Communism.40
The State Department had organized a show of over one hundred recent
American paintings to tour Europe in 1946, but it was halted by protests led by
3Sophy Burnham, The Art Crowd (New York: D. McKay Co., 1973), p. 39. The
$60,000 price tag was reported in "You Bought It Now You Live with It," Life
Magazine July 16, 1965, p. 59. The actual price was $45,000. Burnham, p. 40;
Marquis, The Art Biz, p. 187.
39 Many of these new collectors chose vanguard art because they could not afford
more established art, so the right price was a delicate issue: high enough to
attract attention, but low enough to be affordable.
40 James Thrall Soby, "Does Our Art Impress Europe?" Saturday Review of
Literature August 6, 1949, pp. 142-49. His answer was that Europe had not yet
had much opportunity to see American art and be impressed, and he called for
more government support of the arts. The essays included in the "America and
the Mind of Europe" issue were soon reprinted as a book: Saturday Review of
Literature, America and the Mind of Europe (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1951).
Congressman George A. Dondero, who believed abstract art was communistic.
Despite the 1950 statement signed by MoMA, the Boston Institute of
Contemporary Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art which defended
modern art and freedom of expression, similar protests interfered with United
States Information Agency (USIA) exhibitions in the 1950s. After two exhibitions
were interrupted in 1956, USIA abandoned these efforts; the same year MoMA
expanded its international program.41 Already by this time, MoMA had sent
numerous exhibitions abroad,42 but the largest presentation of vanguard
American art was "The New American Painting" in 1958-1959, supposedly
assembled at the request of European museums interested in Abstract
When "The New American Painting" was shown in New York in 1959, it
was presented like the victory lap of a triumphant runner. The catalog began
with eight pages of reviews written by European critics. Not all of the comments
reprinted were favorable, but hostile remarks were given much less space and
seem ridiculously reactionary when surrounded by the compliments. New York
painting was lauded from such former art capitals as Paris, Milan, London,
41 Eva Cockcroft, "Abstract Expressionism, Weapon of the Cold War," Artforum
15 (June 1974); reprinted in Art in Modern Culture: An Anthology of Texts, eds.
Francis Frascina and Jonathan Harris, (London: Phaidon Press Ltd, 1992), p. 87.
42 For example, "Fifty Years of Art in the United States: Collections of the
Museum of Modern Art de New York" (1955), a broad survey which included
twenty Abstract Expressionist works, was shown in Paris, Zurich, Frankfurt,
Barcelona, London, The Hague, Vienna, and Belgrade. In 1954 MoMA Director
Rend d'Harnoncourt boasted shows in thirty-nine foreign countries. Lynes, p.
43 d'Harnoncourt, foreword to The New American Painting: As Shown in Eight
European Countries, 1958-1959 (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1959).
Berlin, Zurich, Rotterdam, and Barcelona. Surely this European acclaim
increased America's confidence in its vanguard art.44
While European reviewers could legitimize American vanguard art,
American critics did not seem to influence the market much. Although
Greenberg's prolific support, evident since the 1940s, may have been important
to a small, elite circle of readers, it is unlikely that most collectors read his articles
in such highbrow journals as Partisan Review. Critics for major newspapers, like
John Canaday of The New York Times and Emily Genauer of The Herald Tribune
were more likely to reach a larger public, but they were generally hostile to
Unlike the scientific experts who were so revered and consulted in the
United States during the postwar era, authorities on modern art were not highly
esteemed. A 1973 New York State poll about the most admirable professions
ranked that of artist near the top of the list, but the occupation of critic at the
bottom.46 Life exhibited this negative opinion of art critics twenty-four years
earlier. Returning to the 1949 Jackson Pollock article, it is clear that Life did not
respect critics or their opinions. The statement that "a formidably high-brow
44 By 1959 Abstract Expressionism (the dominant style in "The New American
Painting") was no longer really vanguard. However the legitimation of new
painting relied partly on the acceptance of its predecessors. Acclaim for Abstract
Expressionism could be projected onto all New York School painting.
Other factors influencing European acceptance include MoMA's control of
the American Pavilion at the Venice Biennale from 1954 to 1962 and exhibitions
of vanguard American art at the Sonnabend Gallery in Paris (discussed further in
Chapter 3). The huge collections of vanguard American art amassed by Italian
Count Guiseppe Panza de Biumo and German Peter Ludwig also proclaimed
America's success, as did the awarding of the Venice Biennale prize to
Rauschenberg in 1964.
45 Dore Ashton wrote highly sympathetic, if somewhat dense, reviews for the
New York Times for several years in the 1950s. Interestingly, she was fired by
Canaday. For details of their confrontation, see Burnham, pp. 109-119.
46 Naifeh, p. 23.
New York critic" supported Pollock may not seem particularly scathing, but
these words must be glossed in reference to another article, published four
months earlier.47 The April article, titled "High-brow, Low-brow, Middle-brow,"
summarized Russell Lynes's essay of the same title that appeared in Harper's.48
Life described Lynes's highbrow man scornfully: "A cultural snob of the worst
sort, he cherishes obscure trends in thought and art and fights to keep them pure,
noncommercial and within his own limited circle-especially out of the hands of
the hated middle-brows, whom he considers culturemongers."49 Doubtless,
some readers recalled this contemptuous description as they read the words, "a
formidably high-brow New York art critic," and understood the sarcasm used.
Life marketed itself to a lower-middlebrow audience who would have dismissed
the opinions of the critic who supported Pollock.so
So it seems that art critics did not influence the opinions of the lower-
middlebrow public. Traditionally Life readers were not the people who bought
vanguard art, but increasingly during the 1950s new collectors came from
middlebrow backgrounds. Lynes argued that class no longer determined taste;
affluent art-buyers did not necessarily embody highbrow preferences."
47 "Is He the Greatest Living Painter in the United States?" p. 42.
48 "High-brow, Low-brow, Middle-brow," Life Magazine April 11, 1949, pp. 99-
102. Lynes, "Highbrow, Lowbrow, Middlebrow." Harper's Magazine 198 (1949),
49 "High-brow, Low-brow, Middle-brow," 99. Life also mocked art critics,
particularly vanguard critics, in "A Life Round Table on Modern Art," Life
Magazine October 11, 1948, pp. 56-79.
50 Life's lower middle-brow tendencies are obvious when one looks at the chart of
high-brow, upper middle-brow, lower middle-brow, and low-brow tastes that
accompanies the article. The lower middle-brow items shown-bourbon, short-
sleeve sports shirts, processed food products, mass magazines themselves-match
the advertisements that fill Life's pages.
51 Lynes, "Highbrow, Lowbrow, Middlebrow," p. 19
Moreover, Life readers-even if most did not buy art-were significant to the fame
of vanguard art, and fame greatly influenced collectors. Most patrons of the arts
were upper-middlebrow, according to Lynes, but their taste was generally
conservative-they were the MoMA trustees who amassed only small amounts of
vanguard art. Upper-middlebrow audiences were likely to read Time, Harper's,
or the New Yorker.52 These magazines tended to include informational reports on
art trends and occasional essays by well known critics like Rosenberg, but none
of the esoteric criticism that Greenberg wrote.
Fame was more useful to the culture industry than critical acclaim.
Perhaps as mainstream audiences were increasingly exposed to modern art in
the mass media, many critics-in true highbrow fashion-felt the need to create an
elitist aura around the art they supported. In 1965, Robert Wraight (an art critic
himself) complained that most critics were purposely unintelligible in order to
exclude uninitiated readers."5 This technique may have diminished their
audience and influence, but did not much affect the decisions of collectors; a
clear example of Greenberg's lack of influence on the art market is the rapid
ascent of Pop Art despite his strong disapproval. Critical support was not
necessary for sales. If a critic complimented an artist, then a dealer might use the
endorsement, but if a review was negative, critics could be dismissed and
ignored. Art dealers and collectors themselves became prominent proponents of
the art that was financially important to them.
52 Lynes, "Highbrow, Lowbrow, Middlebrow," pp. 26-27.
53 Wraight, pp. 166-170. He quotes a few unnamed critics' reviews of the 1956
Tate Gallery exhibition of new American painting. For example, "In the end they
are reabsorbed into the incommensurability and into the indefinite opening of
the void of the cycle of external relations which ordain among themselves in the
expanse of the surroundings." p. 167.
CULTIVATION: MERCHANTS AND MARKETING
Prominent galleries and collectors conferred a kind of authentication,
similar to that of museums, upon their artists. As Andy Warhol explains:
To be successful as an artist, you have to have your work shown in
a good gallery.... It's a matter of marketing.... [A collector] wants
to buy something that's going to go up and up in value, and the
only way that can happen is with a good gallery, one that looks out
for the artist, promotes him, and sees to it that his work is shown in
the right way to the right people. Because if the artist were to fade
away, so would this guy's investment.... So you need a good
gallery so the "ruling class" will notice you and spread enough
confidence in your future so collectors will buy you.'
Dealers marketed their artists to the "right" collectors, and, as Warhol points out,
continued promotion to guarantee the investment. Leo Castelli said, "Frankly,
this accusation that is leveled against the dealer that they are responsible for
shaping the art market is a very silly one. Naturally, we are there to do that job,
and we are doing it."2 This system of vanguard American art galleries and
collectors was new to the postwar art market.
Before World War II, American collectors of modern art primarily bought
European painting. During the war Peggy Guggenheim did much to show
vanguard American art as equal to the European modern masters in her Art of
This Century gallery. Robert Motherwell described the space thus:
'Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, POPism: The Warhol '60s  (New York:
Harper & Row, 1983), pp. 20-21.
2 Painters Painting: A Candid History of the Modern Art Scene, 1940-1970, eds. Emile
de Antonio and Mitch Tuchman (New York: Abbeville Press, 1984), p. 108.
"It was a U-shaped gallery. As you entered the first leg of the U, so
to speak, that side contained her permanent collection of modern,
abstract art, Cubist works, Mondrians, Mir6s, one of the most
beautiful white Picassos of the 1930s that I've ever seen. The center
of the U was given to whatever the current exhibition was. In the
other side of the U was a tunnel, quite dark, designed by Kiesler,
that contained her permanent collection of Surrealist paintings.
Anybody who showed in the center of the U was surrounded by
some of the most beautiful works of the twentieth century."
Guggenheim showed contemporary American art right beside European modern
masters, symbolically equating them. Guggenheim's gallery, however, was
almost like a museum-she rarely sold anything-and Guggenheim herself was a
collector more than a dealer. She spent large amounts of her own money
building the gallery and buying art. She preferred to socialize with the artists
rather than to promote their work. Also like a collector, Guggenheim received
much advice from her friend and private dealer Howard Putzel.4 Nevertheless,
many Abstract Expressionists, including Hans Hofmann, Jackson Pollock, Mark
Rothko, Robert Motherwell, and William Baziotes, participated in group and solo
exhibitions at Art of This Century, providing them with some exposure if not
When the war ended, Guggenheim and many of the artist exiles returned
to Europe, and the situation began to change. Many of Guggenheim's artists
went to Betty Parsons's new gallery in 1946. Parsons, an artist herself, fostered a
casual atmosphere that made her gallery a hangout for vanguard artists.
3 Painters Painting, pp. 61-62.
4 For a discussion of Putzel's influence see Melvin P. Lader, "Howard Putzel:
Proponent of Surrealism and Early Abstract Expressionism in America," Arts
Magazine 56 (March 1982), 85-96.
5 Guggenheim had a unique arrangement with Pollock in which she paid him a
monthly stipend in return for his annual production minus one painting. A.
Deirdre Robson, Prestige, Profit, and Pleasure: The Market for Modern Art in New
York in the 1940s and 1950s (New York: Garland Pub., 1995), p. 120.
Clement Greenberg explained, "I have seldom been able to bring her gallery into
focus as part of the commercial apparatus of art... rather I think of it as
belonging more to the studio and production side of art."6 However Parsons did
solicit sales: "It wasn't easy to get collectors to come around," she said in
retrospect, "but soon there were the first few converts" (among whom were
Alfred Barr and Dorothy Miller).7
Most of the artists from Art of This Century who did not proceed to
Parsons went to Sam Kootz. Kootz's gallery was more prosperous than Parsons.
While Parsons only sold on consignment (taking one-third of the price as
commission), in the 1940s Kootz offered contracts which included monthly
stipends in return for a minimum number of works per year. Kootz also paid
exhibition expenses that Parsons could not afford and printed highly literate
catalogs.8 Beginning in 1949 Kootz attempted to show his artists as a unified
group, encouraging the image of a new art movement, but he could not keep this
group together for long.
Throughout the 1950s, Sidney Janis gathered most of the prominent
Abstract Expressionists. The migration began in 1951, when Pollock, Rothko,
Barnett Newman, and Clyfford Still asked Parsons to drop her other artists and
devote her full attention to them.9 She declined, and Pollock moved to Sidney
Janis in 1952. De Kooning left Charles Egan's gallery for Janis's the same year.
6 Marcia H. Bystryn, "Art Galleries as Gatekeepers: The Case of the Abstract
Expressionists," Social Research 45 (1978), p. 397; quotation, p. 399.
7 The Art Dealers: The Powers Behind the Scene Tell How the Art World Really Works,
eds. Alan Jones and Laura de Coppet (New York: C.N. Potter, 1984), p. 25.
8 Robson, pp. 102, 119; Alice Goldfarb Marquis, The Art Biz: The Covert World of
Collectors, Dealers, Auction Houses, Museums, and Critics (Chicago: Contemporary
Books, 1991), p. 235.
9 Calvin Tomkins, "A Keeper of the Treasure," New Yorker 51 (June 9, 1975), 46.
Other artists soon followed these two giants, trickling in throughout the decade.'0
Janis was a more prosperous dealer who actively marketed his artists, and sales
of vanguard American art increased. When the Abstract Expressionists joined
Janis in the 1950s it was already a renowned gallery, and the vogue for their art
in the second half of the decade further increased its reputation. By the early
1960s, Janis could confer the "same stamp of automatic approval" that a museum
purchase indicated." Indeed, according to Harold Rosenberg, Pop Art's success
in 1962 was largely due to the fact that Janis had taken on several of the Pop
The most notable and notorious postwar dealer was Leo Castelli. He
offered his artists the security of regular stipends and a publicity machine that
soon extended across America and to Europe.'3 From its inception in 1957,
Castelli's gallery grew rapidly to include such stars as Robert Rauschenberg,
Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and James
Rosenquist. In the thick of the vanguard art boom, many of these second
generation New York artists-unlike their Abstract Expressionist
predecessors-experienced success with their first solo gallery exhibitions. The
most extreme example was Johns's 1958 debut at Castelli. Collector Robert Scull
10 Incidentally, Leo Castelli takes credit for bringing Pollock and de Kooning to
Janis. (He did not yet have his own gallery at that time.) The Art Dealers, p. 86.
Rothko moved to Janis in 1955, Kline, in 1956, Guston, in 1956, Motherwell, in
1957, and Baziotes, in 1959. Gorky's estate was also handled by Janis beginning
in 1953. Robson, pp. 96-97. Janis immediately increased the prices of these
artists' work. See Chapter One, note 15.
" Cleve Gray, "The Gallery, the Museum, and the Critic," Art in America 50
(Summer 1962), 91.
12 "The Art Establishment," Esquire 64 (January 1965), 43. Janis signed on
Wesselmann, Segal, Dine, and Oldenburg after his first Pop exhibition, "New
Realists" in 1961.
13 Robson, p. 101.
wanted to buy the whole show, but Castelli would not allow him to be so
"vulgar." Alfred Barr bought three paintings for the Museum of Modern Art
(MoMA), and asked Philip Johnson to buy a fourth. Additionally Barr and
Dorothy Miller each bought small paintings for themselves, as did Ben Heller,
Emily Tremaine, and other renowned collectors.14 Also important between 1960
and 1965 was the Green Gallery, financed by the collector Robert Scull and
managed by Richard Bellamy.
Dealers like Parsons, who represented only unestablished Americans, had
little financial security and could not afford to give their artists stipends, cash
advances, or much publicity.15 Most dealers who sold vanguard American art
integrated it with European painting. Kootz received regular shipments of
Picassos from Paris along with other European art. Janis sold contemporary
School of Paris paintings. Even Castelli sold European art during his first season
in order to attract collectors.'6 This practice encouraged collectors who entered
the galleries seeking European art to look at the new Americans as well. It also
assured the dealers of some significant sales while vanguard American art was
still gaining acceptance, thereby providing them with money to support their
American artists, to pay exhibition expenses, and to publish high quality
A prominent dealer could help an artist become fashionable-"go to
openings, talk to the right people, murmur the right things, get his name in the
14 Painters Painting, p. 106; Tomkins, Off the Wall: Robert Rauschenberg and the Art
World of Our Time (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1980), pp. 143-144.
5 The Art Dealers, p. 86.
16 Robson, p. 97.
17 Robson, p. 119.
right magazines.""1 Deirdre Robson calls such dealers, including Janis and
Castelli, "audience-rather than artist-oriented."19 Unlike the artist scene at
Parsons, Castelli's gallery became a hangout for critics, journalists, and
enthusiasts-with a few artists in the mix.0" Such an environment was highly
conducive to fame. Audience-oriented dealers held lavish openings. Their
exhibitions were well hung and lighted, often showing works more flatteringly
than a museum might. These dealers closely watched their artists' market,
buying work at auctions to keep prices up if necessary. To encourage reluctant
collectors, galleries sometimes agreed to buy a painting back in a few years at a
higher price to guarantee the investment value.21 Not only did they introduce
their artists to important collectors, but also other helpful people in the art scene,
such as architects who might use their work.22
As Robson points out, Janis, Kootz, and Castelli-contrary to generations of
dealers before them-all had careers in business before they became art dealers.23
This gave them a background in advertising and promotion that other dealers
may have lacked. Castelli said, "I don't decide what art is. My responsibility is
18 Sophy Burnham's interpretation of how an artist becomes fashionable. The Art
Crowd (New York: D. McKay Co., 1973), p. 43.
19 p. 93.
20 Marquis, pp. 222-223. The significance of an "audience-oriented dealer" is clear
when one examines the market for artists who remained with Parsons. Ad
Reinhart's paintings were only selling for $750-$2,000 in 1960 while his peers at
Janis commanded $5,000-$15,000. Robson, pp. 250-251.
21John Russell Taylor and Brian Brooke, The Art Dealers (New York: Charles
Scribner's Sons, 1969), p. 260.
22 Kootz was known to have done this. Doris Brian, "Dealers Help Artists Help
Themselves," Art Digest 25 (October 1, 1950), 11; Robson, p. 101.
23 p. 94.
the myth-making.""4 He made his artists into myths through promotion.
Dealers sent out press releases, bulletins on artists' latest activities, and
invitations to the exhibition openings. They also printed brochures and catalogs,
which included reproductions of the artwork. Occasionally they purchased
advertisements in art journals.25 Sometimes, unbeknownst to the writers, dealers
subsidized reviews or articles focusing on work by their artists.26 They nearly
always supplied reproductions, even if a review was unfavorable.27 In this way
dealers cultivated an audience of collectors and viewers.
Castelli extended the promotion of his artists beyond New York. He
formed collaborative relationships with galleries across America. Castelli also
helped to gain European critical acclaim for American art with shows in Paris.
Kootz had sent a rather unsuccessful show to Paris in 1947 and Janis sent two in
1951-1952, but it was not until Castelli formed an agreement with the Sonnabend
Gallery in Paris (run by his ex-wife) in 1962 that American art could be seen
regularly in Europe. According to Castelli, this exposure in Europe facilitated
Rauschenberg's grand prize award at the 1964 Venice Biennale: "As a result, by
24 Burnham, p. 133.
25 Castelli claimed that he bought ads more to support needy magazines than for
publicity. Burnham, p. 44. In my own informal analysis of Artnews and Art in
America, the two most important art journals in the 1950s and 1960s, I was
surprised at the small number vanguard advertisements I found. In the Fifties
there are occasional, small ads for Parsons, Kootz, Egan, Janis and others near the
back of the magazines, however these are insignificant compared to the large
promotions for traditional galleries like Knoedler and Duveen that are
prominently placed near the front cover. Even in the mid-Sixties, when Janis and
Castelli were realizing substantial profits, they placed few ads in these journals.
Arts Magazine (called Art Digest before 1955) and Artforum (inaugurated in 1962)
show similar patterns.
26 Burnham relates an instance in which Castelli did this for an article by Leo
Steinberg about Johns. pp. 133-135.
27 Marquis, p. 222.
1964 my young artists were much better known abroad than any of the older
generation Abstract Expressionists."28
Despite their dependence on arbiters of taste, many collectors saw
themselves as vanguard tastemakers. Ben Heller explained, "When a painting or
sculpture hits me, it hits me in the stomach or the back of my neck and if I sing in
those places and get the proper resonance then I know that I'm in the presence of
a great work, as it were, for me."29 Heller was an avid collector of Abstract
Expressionism, but apparently he received no biofeedback from these paintings
until the mid-1950s when they became in vogue.30 Vanguard collectors are often
presented as pioneers with a sort of manifest destiny in art. Richard Brown
Baker said, "I leave the established artists to others. My principal joy in
collecting lies in the discovery of new, unrecognized talents. It gives me great
satisfaction to watch unknown, young artists grow and develop. "31 Robert Scull
is referred to as someone who "likes to ride on [the] perimeter [of the acceptable].
He has an appetite for shock, washed away at times by a love for the quiet, the
28 The Art Dealers, p. 98; Burnham, pp. 45-46. According to others, Castelli lobbied
the judges to secure the prize for his artist. For a critical discussion of the politics
involved, see Laurie J. Monahan, "Cultural Cartography: American Designs at
the 1964 Venice Biennale," Reconstructing Modernism: Art in New York, Paris, and
Montreal, 1945-1964, ed. Serge Guilbaut (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990), pp. 369-
416. Perhaps British critic Richard Wraight's 1965 statement that Europeans
were "suspicious of the way in which art is promoted in the United States" is
related to this event. The Art Game (London: L. Frewing, 1965), p. 63.
Janis was not interested in showing Abstract Expressionism abroad since
it sold easily in New York. The two shows that he sent to Paris were at the
request of French galleries. Marquis, p. 244; Robson, p. 99.
29 Marquis, p. 210.
30 B. H. Friedman, "The New Collector: Three Typical Collections," Art in
America 46 (Summer 1958), 14.
31 John Rublowsky, Pop Art, Photo. Ken Heyman (New York: Basic Books, 1965),
subtle."32 However, collectors were rarely the trailblazing explorers or unselfish
missionaries that they puported themselves to be. As Larry Poons explains,
"Robert Scull never walked up to me and said, '. .. I want to help you.' He did it
through Dick Bellamy, and it was a dealer, and it was business."33 Scull was the
first to buy works by several now famous artists before they became popular; he
is known for "discovering" artists by visiting their studios, but a more likely
story is that Bellamy introduced him to these artists and escorted him to their
Regardless of how collectors were introduced to vanguard art, once they
acquired a reputation as important patrons, they could confer prestige and
publicity with their purchases; as Sophie Burnham notes, "It is worth something
to the artist to be seen on the right living room walls.""3 Janis was particularly
influential in placing his artists in the "right" living rooms, because he knew
many prominent collectors of modern art from his experience as a trustee for
MoMA in the 1940s. Harry Abrams suggests that galleries publicized purchases
by renowned collectors (such as himself) to "reinforce their own judgment, so to
speak."36 Indeed, many galleries enjoyed the loyal patronage of a group of
important collectors and often offered discounts to such regular clients.37
32 Allene Talmey, "Art is the Core," Vogue 144 (July 1964), 125.
33 Painters Painting, p. 113.
34 Scull was the first to buy works by Rosenquist, Larry Poons, Robert Morris,
John Chamberlain, and Mark di Suvero, all of whom were introduced by
Bellamy between 1960 and 1965. Marquis, p. 186.
3 Burnham, p. 131.
36 Bruce Kurtz, "An Interview with Harry N. Abrams, "Arts Magazine 47
(September 1972), 49.
3 Burnham, p. 39.
A motivating factor for buyers of vanguard American art was the low
cost. Most vanguard collectors were lower-middlebrow or lowbrow nouveau
riche industrialists attempting to raise their social status.38 When they began
collecting, most could not afford the Old Masters or Modern Old Masters that
traditional art patrons like the Rockefellers preferred. Even those newly wealthy
collectors who had the capital to buy expensive art often tended towards thrift.
Heller, Scull, Larry Aldrich, and others were known for haggling with dealers.39
Sometimes such collectors would buy works directly from artists' studios in
38 Some notable vanguard collectors in the Fifties and Sixties: Joseph Hirshorn
(mining), Roy Neuberger (stockbroker), Walter Bareiss (textile import-export),
Ben Heller (textile manufacturer), Larry Aldrich (clothing designer), Burton and
Emily Tremaine (Miller Company), Albert and Vera List, Robert and Ethel Scull
(taxicabs and insurance), Harry Abrams (publisher), Leon Kraushar (insurance
broker), Peter Ludwig (German; candy), Count Guiseppe Panza di Buomo
(Italian; industrialist). There are a few exceptions to the nouveau riche stereotype:
Richard Brown Baker (private income), Philip Johnson (architect), Alfonso
Ossorio (artist with private income). Major, prestigious collectors (mostly
trustees of MoMA) like the Rockefellers, Lee Ault, and William A. M. Burden
bought some vanguard art also, but it made up only a fragment of their large
39 Marquis, pp. 154, 186. Dealer John B. Myers of the Tibor de Nagy gallery
relates Robert Scull's 1959 visit:
A man cam into the gallery to see the work of a new artist named
Robert Humphrey, who is an advocate of monocolor paintings....
I showed the gentleman one lovely small work about fourteen-by-
twenty inches and told him, upon being asked, that the price was
$125. The man said he wouldn't pay that much; would the artist
reconsider the price. I said I would ask Ralph Humphrey, which I
did.... A few days later the man returned.... "Have you spoken
to the artist?" he wanted to know. "Yes, I have," I replied. Before I
could say anything more, he said, "Good, I will pay you twenty-
This is the only time I've asked a client to leave the gallery
and not come back."
Tracking the Marvelous: A Life in the New York Art World (New York: Random
House, 1983), pp. 216-217.
order to negotiate bargains. While their interest in vanguard art tended towards
the highbrow, such collectors' financial attitudes were still lower-middlebrow.40
These collectors used their art to gain admission to a society that
otherwise would have been inaccessible to them. Scull explained:
I involve myself four to five nights a week and maybe thirty-five
weekends out of the year in doing nothing but getting down to
studios, involving myself with artists and even artists who haven't
really made it yet but just are at the beginning of their careers, so
you've got to jog them along.... And then you get these wild
phone calls at one in the morning: "I'm being dispossessed"; or
someone needs an abortion; or someone's having a baby; or
someone needs this, or that; and, you know, that's part of your
involvement with the whole thing.41
Scull thought of himself as a patron, not just a collector, because of his
involvement in artists' lives. He portrayed himself as a disinterested promoter of
"justice, humanity, and peace" who just happened to acquire artwork and make
money in the process.42 Early on he stopped buying from artists whom he felt
40 Most vanguard collectors were not financially able to purchase established art.
A painting by an "undiscovered" contemporary artist cost from about two
hundred to two thousand dollars-compared to the $200,000+ price of an Old
Master, Renoir, or early Picasso. Yet even modest purchases, if publicized, could
mean entrance into the art world and introductions to the upper echelons of
C6cile Whiting argues that Pop collectors, such as Robert Scull,
deliberately posited themselves against the serious connoisseurship that she
claims Abstract Expressionist collectors like Heller embodied, that Pop collectors
presented themselves as an alternative to both conventional suburban taste and
older collectors. A Taste for Pop: Pop Art, Gender, and Consumer Culture (New
York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 97-98. However Scull actually
owned more Abstract Expressionism than Pop. Allene Talmey, "Art is the
Core," Vogue 144 (July 1964), 123; "At Home With Henry," Time Magazine
February 21, 1964, p. 71. Heller was actually quite similar to the "Pop collectors"
that Whiting describes. Heller and Scull were both canny businessmen who
collected art for display in their homes, social status, and investment value.
41 Painters Painting, p. 111.
42 Gregoire Muller, "Points of View: A Taped Conversation with Robert C. Scull,"
Arts Magazine 45 (November 1970), 38.
"didn't need me."'4 He relished the power derived from his (perceived or
actual) role as benefactor.
Scull admitted that one of the reasons he purchased art was for "social
climbing."44 He enjoyed his reputation as a collector, saying, ".. Don't think I
don't like all the attention. I love it."45 The Sculls' clearly wished to elevate their
social status through their art collection. Servants, conspicuous in photographs
and descriptions of their home, helped to establish class distinctions.46 In 1964
Tom Wolfe launched a flood of mass media attention with a humorous essay
describing the Sculls' ascent. He dubbed them "the folk heroes of every social
climber who ever hit New York," but suggested that, despite a few mishaps, the
Sculls had reached "the top of the ladder" and were enjoying their position.47
The mishaps on the way up are telling. Although Prince Michael of
Greece and Robert Scull were on a first name basis soon after meeting at a
party,48 art world luminaries such as Alfred Barr snubbed the couple. Richard
Brown Baker describes a dinner party which he suspects was contrived so that
Barr would see their collection. Barr, however, was absent with the excuse of
43 Jane Kramer, "Profiles: Man Who Is Happening Now," New Yorker November
26, 1966, p. 87.
44 Muller, p. 39.
45 "You Bought It Now You Live with It," Life Magazine July 16, 1965, p. 57.
46 Baker describes "negro menservants and a maid" serving dinner at a party he
attended at the Sculls' home. "My Dinner with Jasper Johns (and Robert
Rauschenberg, Leo Castelli, Robert Scull, Ethel Scull, Willem de Kooning, Franz
Kline and Lots More) A Journal," Paris Review 143 (Summer 1997), p. 218.
47 The essay originally appeared as "Upward with the Arts" in New York, the
Sunday magazine section of the World Journal Tribune; reprinted as "Bob and
Spike" in The Pump House Gang (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1968), pp.
173-203. Quotations, pp. 179, 181.
48 Kramer, p. 78.
bird-watching that weekend.49 Wolfe tells how Liza Parkinson, then President of
the Museum of Modern Art, was more interested in Ethel Scull's hair than in her
The Sculls reputedly hired a public relations firm to help promote and
shape their image."1 New vanguard art indicated something about collectors.
This was the Sculls' ticket into society: they had the New. The couple appeared
modern or, in 1960s language,"hip," and even their social superiors were
interested. As Wolfe related, vanguard collecting was "tricky business": the
collector must buy "the latest, the most avant-garde, the most wacked-out in
painting .... and, preferably, [be] publicized for purchasing it. One has... the new
Lichtenstein! the new Poons! the new Rauschenberg! the new Dine! the new
Oldenburg!""2 To obtain the necessary publicity, upwardly mobile collectors
aggressively pursued media coverage. Additionally, like the rest of the
middlebrow public, such collectors often learned of vanguard art in the press.
The mass media became crucial to the vanguard art market.
49 Baker, p. 214.
50 pp. 174-179.
51 Burnham, p. 40; Marquis, p. 174. Marquis insinuates that many of the "facts"
known about the Sculls actually may have been fabricated by the PR firm.
Thislikely explains the frequent mentions of the Sculls in the press; there is much
more information about them available than about contemporary vanguard
collectors. Personal publicity also increased the value of their art.
Collectors who acquired social status through their careers or ancestry
were less interested in publicity. Abrams, the renowned publisher, said that he
attempted to be inconspicuous so as not to artificially influence the art market.
Kurtz, p. 49. Richard Brown Baker, who inherited a private income, was a
relatively unknown collector. He never sold any of his art at auction, instead
bequeathing his collection to Yale University (the Sculls auctioned work in 1965,
1970, 1973), and even some art world insiders did never heard of him. Baker, p.
52 p. 189.
DISSEMINATION: MASS MEDIA MYTH-MAKING
Thomas Hess said, "I don't really know why art suddenly became a
possible thing for an upper-middle-class man or woman to buy. I think that it
has something to do with the media: news, magazines, and television. "' Some
scholars argue that the mass media did not take an interest in contemporary
modern art until Pop,2 but certainly the trend began with articles about Jackson
Pollock and other Abstract Expressionists in the late 1940s. Indeed, while Pop
artists like Warhol may have purposely courted the media, Abstract
Expressionists did not eschew attention. Pop artists may have learned
something about promotion from commercial art, but they could have learned
just as much from the effect that media coverage had on Abstract Expressionism.3
One contributor to the success of vanguard art is that "the element of
outrage attracts publicity, and publicity attracts buyers."4 Certainly this outrage
did attract attention, especially in early reports which questioned whether
vanguard art might be a "hoax." More serious accounts disseminated
SPainters Painting: A Candid History of the Modern Art Scene, 1940-1970, eds. Emile
de Antonio and Mitch Tuchman (New York: Abbeville Press, 1984), p. 106.
2 For example Jennifer Wells, "Pop Goes the Market," Definitive Statements:
American Art 1964-66 (Providence, Rhode Island: Brown University, List Art
Center, 1986), p. 56.
3 Christin Mamiya suggests that Pop artists learned about marketing and
advertising from jobs in commercial art. Pop Art and Consumer Culture: American
Super Market, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992), p. 134
4 Taylor, John Russell and Brian Brooke, The Art Dealers (New York: Charles
Scribner's Sons, 1969), p. 261. They use Warhol's soup cans as an example.
information about the activities discussed in the previous chapters. As we have
already seen with the 1949 Life article about Jackson Pollock, the mass media
summarized the achievements of vanguard art in American institutions, New
York galleries, and the European art world. Additionally, reviews of museum
and gallery exhibitions brought art to a vast public that rarely attended the
exhibitions themselves. Reports on art investments and record-breaking sales at
auctions, lent vanguard American art the aura that accompanies dollar signs."
Perhaps most popular were the entertaining details revealed about the
lives of celebrity artists and collectors. In addition to an increase in attention
from art journals as Abstract Expressionism gained acceptance, mass
publications like Life, Time, and Vogue became increasingly interested in notable
artists. This interest began in the 1940s and grew throughout the Fifties,
particularly with articles about Jackson Pollock; if Warhol was the "most famous
American artist," Pollock was the runner-up.6
The mass media increased the fame of certain artists by introducing their
work and/or personalities to the larger "public," but media coverage also could
influence the small group of collectors who actually bought paintings. That
Alfred Barr edited a two-part article for Fortune Magazine on "The Great
5 According to Wraight, media interest in auctions (in England anyway) began in
1958 when Peter Wilson became chairman at Sotheby's and the Goldschmidt sale
of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works grossed 781,000 (over two
million dollars). It seems that the press took interest in the sale due to the record
prices, but Wraight suggests that Wilson henceforth encouraged publicity,
knowing it would be good for business and not unwelcome to the prestige-
seeking buyers. pp. 127-129.
6 Quotation of the title of a Newsweek article at Warhol's death. Jack Kroll, March
9, 1987, 64. The huge attendance at the Pollock retrospective at MoMA last year
attests to his fame. The crowd I experienced there during Christmas week, with
a near two-hour wait to enter the museum and hardly room to breathe once
inside, was not very different from the mob at the opening of Warhol's 1965
show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, except that Pollock
did not appear in person as Warhol did. Mamiya, p. 140.
International Art Market" shows his understanding of the authority that the
mass media could hold for collectors.7 Artnews became Abstract Expressionism's
biggest proponent in the 1950s, and Art in America was important in the 1960s,
but Steven Naifeh suggests that most collectors did not read art journals. They
might glance at the reproductions in Artnews-certainly covers like the January
1958 issue which featured Jasper John's Target with Four Faces attracted
attention-but a blurb in mass publications like Life, Time, or The New York Times
was more useful than attention from an art journal.8 The magazine interviews
and accounts of artists' personal lives may have substituted for actual contact
with collectors.9 Even trustees of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) were
affected by the mass media.o1
At first, most media attention was rather negative. The 1949 Life article
about Jackson Pollock discussed in Chapter Two asked sarcastically "Is He the
Greatest Living Painter in the United States?"" However this unfavorable
7 Alice Goldfarb Marquis, Alfred H. Barr, Jr.: Missionary for the Modern (Chicago:
Contemporary Books, 1989), pp. 294-295. Eric Hodgins and Parker Lesley, "The
Great International Art Market," Fortune Magazine 52 (December 1955), 118-120,
150-169. "The Great International Art Market II," Fortune Magazine 53 (January
1956), 122-125, 130-136.
8 Sophy Burnham, The Art Crowd (New York: D. McKay Co., 1973), pp. 106-108;
Naifeh, Culture Making: Money, Success, and the New York Art World (Princeton,
New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1976), p. 96; Dorothy Gees Seckler,
"Clues to the Future," Art in America 48 (Summer 1960), 105. Thomas Hess
borrowed Target with Four Faces from Leo Castelli just before Johns's first solo
exhibition opened. To Castelli's apparent surprise, it showed up on the cover of
9 Naifeh, p. 115.
10 Irving Sandler, introduction to Alfred Hamilton Barr, Defining Modern Art:
Selected Writings of Alfred H. Barr, Jr., eds. Irving Sandler and Amy Newman
(New York: Abrams, 1986), p. 30.
" "Jackson Pollock: Is He the Greatest Living Painter in the United States?" Life
Magazine August 8, 1949, pp. 42-43
attitude changed throughout the 1950s as the market for vanguard American art
changed. A flattering story about Roy Lichtenstein, published in 1964 and
entitled, "Is He the Worst Artist in the U.S.?" shows that the media had come full
In the 1940s the mass media devoted some attention to modern art, but it
was usually presented with a sarcastic slant. Vanguard painting was called a
"hoax," something to be ridiculed.'1 This attitude can be seen in Life's 1948
"Round Table on Modern Art." Although modern masters such as Picasso were
unanimously acclaimed by the "fifteen distinguished critics and connoisseurs,"
vanguard American artists like Pollock, de Kooning, Baziotes, Gottlieb, and
Stamos were labeled "extremists" and heavily criticized.'4 In 1949 Alfred Barr
wrote a letter to Life Magazine director Henry Luce, defending Abstract
Expressionism.15 A few months later, Life published "Jackson Pollock: Is He the
Greatest Living Painter in the United States?" Although this article still retained
the mocking tone of previous reports, it devoted substantial attention to a major
The tone of mass media exposure may have been less important than the
exposure itself. When in 1951, modern art antagonist Huntington Hartford
bought full-page ads in several major newspapers attacking de Kooning, it was
great publicity for de Kooning and for the New York School. Neither the artist
12 Dorothy Seiberling, "Is He the Worst Artist in the U.S.?" Life Magazine January
31, 1964, pp. 79-83.
13 For a summary, see Mary Lee Corlett, "Jackson Pollock: American Culture, the
Media and the Myth," Rutgers Art Review 8 (1987), 80-84.
14 "A Life Round Table on Modern Art," Life Magazine October 11, 1948, pp. 56-79.
5 Serge Guilbaut, "Postwar Painting Games," Reconstructing Modernism: Art in
New York, Paris, and Montreal, 1945-1964, ed. Serge Guilbaut (Cambridge: MIT
Press, 1990), p. 35.
nor his dealer could have purchased such expensive advertisements; regardless
of Hartford's intention, de Kooning's name had wide circulation that day. The
same was true of the sarcastic articles about Pollock and other vanguard artists;
they included reproductions and information that reached audiences impossible
for dealers to address. Several prominent collectors suddenly became interested
in Pollock after the Life article, and his next exhibition at Parsons sold more
paintings than any of his previous shows. As one visitor commented, "Who
wouldn't have been willing to pay a few hundred dollars to have a painting by
'that artist who was profiled in Life'?"16
As Bradford Collins points out, the Abstract Expressionists occupied a
peculiar position in relation to the mass media: they were a counter-culture
group who situated themselves contrary to the bourgeoisie, but simultaneously
they needed to court that same bourgeoisie if they were to attain financial
success." Adolph Gottlieb felt artists should be outside of society and speak to
an elite rather than the general public.'8 Barnett Newman held particularly
16 Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, Jackson Pollock: An American Genius,
(New York: C. N. Potter, 1989), p. 599. Some notable visitors to Pollock's
November 1949 opening at Parsons include collectors Roy Neuberger, Burton
Tremaine, and Edward Root, Alexey Brodovitch of Harper's Bazaar, Happy and
Valentine Macy, and Alfred Barr. Buyers included regulars Tony Smith, Alfonso
Ossorio, Ted Dragon, and the Macys plus newcomers Tremaine, Edgar
Kaufmann, Jr., Dwight Ripley, Root, movie star Vincent Price, and Mrs. John D.
Rockefeller. Eighteen out of twenty-seven paintings sold. A number of art critics
were suddenly more respectful toward Pollock also. Steven Naifeh and Gregory
White Smith, Jackson Pollock: An American Genius, (New York: C. N. Potter, 1989),
pp. 597-599; quotation. Naifeh, pp. 597-599. Pollock sold thirty-five paintings
for a total of $13, 870 (including $4, 578 gallery commission) that year. Serge
Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art: Abstract Expressionism,
Freedom, and the Cold War, trans. Arthur Goldhammer, (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1983), p. 243, note 50.
'1 "Life Magazine and the Abstract Expressionists, 1948-1951: A Historiographic
Study of Late Bohemian Enterprise," Art Bulletin 73 (June 1991), 283-308.
18 "The Artist and the Public," Art in America 42 (December 1954), 266-71.
radical, anti-bourgeois, anarchist political views.19 Although a number of the
artists had such antisocial convictions, the Abstract Expressionists actually
campaigned for publicity. Overt publicity led James Rosenquist to see the
Abstract Expressionists as performers for a mass audience.20 One successful
effort was their protest of the Metropolitan Museum's 1950 exhibition of
contemporary American art which they felt would be judged too conservatively.
Eighteen artists sent a letter to the president of the Metropolitan and to the New
York Times. They received front page coverage from the newspaper, and Life
included a photograph of the protesters, dubbed "the Irascibles," in its review of
the exhibition.21 Several group members felt that appearing in a mass magazine
might compromise their defiant attitude, but perhaps the success that Pollock
experienced after his appearance in Life was more persuasive.22
Mary Lee Corlett associates Pollock's brooding, rebellious image with that
of young popular culture idols such as James Dean and Marlon Brando,
suggesting that this fashionable image, depicted in mass magazines, helped new
audiences relate to the artist in the late 1950s.23 Indeed, photographs of Pollock
support this image, showing him casually dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, cigarette
19 See, for example, Newman's comments in Painters Painting pp. 71, 159.
20 Dorothy Gees Seckler, "Artist in America: Victim of the Culture Boom," Art in
America 51 (December 1963), 36.
21 "The Metropolitan and Modern Art," Life Magazine January 15, 1951, pp. 34-38.
22 Collins, pp. 297-298. The "Irascibles" did insist on an "honest" photograph,
shunning their usual thrift store clothing to pose "like bankers," instead of the
more personal, subjective images of Pollock.
23 "Jackson Pollock: American Culture, the Media and the Myth," Rutgers Art
Review 8 (1987), 94-97,101-102.
dangling from his lips, and brow furrowed in anguish.24 From the beginning in
1949, Pollock was described as "moody" and "brooding," but this personality
was seen as melodramatic or subversive throughout the 1950s.25
By the end of the decade, the gloomy, rebellious youth had become an
American hero, and so had Jackson Pollock. By this time Abstract Expressionism
was selling tremendously, bolstered by a large group of second generation
artists. Dorothy Seiberling described Pollock in 1959 as a "myth." In addition to
his "reckless, restless, brooding" personality, she emphasized his "originality,
energy, and freedom," his cowboy past, his slow, diligent ascent to self-made
success, and his suburban lifestyle-in short, his Americanness.26 Max Kozloff
discusses the existential American freedom suggested by "action painting,"
which allowed the United States government to use vanguard art as a Cold War
weapon despite the anti-establishment defiance of many painters.27 As one
critic observed in 1960, "Defiance, it appears, can quickly become fashionable, at
least when expressed in paintings that are abstract and not obviously political.28
Similarly Johns's flag paintings-whether celebratory or critical-were
undeniably American, as were the consumer images of Pop Art. Pop was seized
by the media very soon after its debut in art galleries. Major articles began to
24 For example, "Is He the Greatest Living Painter in the United States?" pp. 42,
45; "The Champ," Time Magazine December 19, 1956, p. 66; "Rebel Artist's Tragic
Ending," Life Magazine August 27, 1956, p. 58; Seiberling, "Baffling U.S. Art:
What It Is All About: Part I," Life Magazine November 9, 1959, pp. 70, 74-75.
25 "Is He the Greatest Living Painter in the United States?" pp. 42-45. Films like
Rebel Without a Cause and Wild One appeared in the mid-1950s, but they were
highly controversial at the time.
26 "Baffling U.S. Art," pp. 68-80.
27 "American Painting During the Cold War," Artnews 13 (May 1973), 43, 46-47.
28 Spencer Klaw, "The Cultural Innovators," Fortune Magazine 62 (February 1960),
appear in mass magazines as early as 1963.29 If the public prefers art that is
familiar, as Russell Belk suggests, not only did most viewers recognize the banal
imagery of Pop, but they were more familiar with the art itself, due to its
prominence in the media.30
With such mass media attention devoted to vanguard art, artists became
celebrities. As the names of stars like Pollock and Warhol became famous, their
sales increased accordingly. Michel Foucault discusses the connotations of an
artist's name in his 1969 essay, "What Is an Author?" The name or signature
attached to a work describes it, referring to other works by the same artist and
the artist's public image.31 When collectors purchase a painting by a certain
artist, they also buy all of the connotations that the artist's name implies. With
media attention a famous name implied much. Society columns reported the
29 For example, Aline B. Saarinen, "Explosion of Pop Art: A New Kind of Fine Art
Imposing Poetic Order on the Mass-Produced World," Vogue 141 (April 1963),
86-87, 134, 136, 142; "Pop Art: Cult of the Commonplace," Time Magazine May 3,
1963, pp. 69-72; "Is He the Worst Artist in the U.S.?"; Tomkins, "You Think This
Is a Supermarket?" Life Magazine November 20, 1964, pp. 138-44; Gloria Steinem,
"The Ins and Outs of Pop Culture," Life Magazine August 20, 1965, pp. 72-89.
30 Collecting in a Consumer Society (New York: Routledge, 1995), p. 108.
It is interesting that Pop was not seen as a hoax. Although it was
representational and contained recognizable imagery, if mass media viewers did
not think "I can do that," they might have thought, "I can buy that." At least
"action painting" retained the indexical trace of the artist's hand in its gesture,
conferring a kind of authenticity and preciousness; the absence of such aura in
Pop Art could have made it seem even more suspect than its predecessor. As
Mamiya points out, Pop's shift away from the Abstract Expressionist interest in
process, emphasized its commodity and therefore commonplace status. While
Abstract Expressionism was marketed as highly individualistic and creative, Pop
lacked the aura conferred by the marks of the artist-genius's hand. Perhaps
Pop's relatively easy acceptance illustrates the advanced state of culture
industry promotion of vanguard art by the 1960s.
31 Michel Foucault, "What is an Author?"  The Art of Art History: A Critical
Anthology, ed. Donald Preziosi (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp.
303-305. See also Mieke Bal and Norman Bryson, "Semiotics and Art History,"
Art Bulletin 73 (June 1991), 180-184.
activities of artists, art columns described their successes and failures, and
feature articles shared interviews, photographs, and other privileged
information. The words of mythologized artists took on a kind of aura
regardless of their informational value or lack thereof. This is seen in Warhol's
many "unreliable" statements; although such interviews are not considered to be
trustworthy sources of information, they are to this day quoted frequently.
Christin Mamiya notes that Warhol's interviews were intended to generate
interest more than to disseminate information.32
An aura of distinction-the glamour that makes stars seem special-is a
celebrity's cultural capital, so while magazines sought to bring readers closer to
famous personalities, the reduction of social distance also threatened to disperse
this aura.33 While articles might provide some information, they often served to
make artist celebrities seem even more enigmatic and intriguing. Artists
supported this technique, sometimes unknowingly, with statements that were
often incomprehensible to readers outside of the New York art world. Warhol
was a master of creating publicity without revealing any aura-diminishing
information about himself. In this way mass magazines helped to broadcast aura
to lower middlebrow audiences as museums did to upper middlebrow patrons.34
32 pp. 138-139.
33 Gary Gumpert discusses this delicate balance in "The Wrinkle Theory:
Deconsecration of the Hero," American Heroes in a Media Age, eds. Susan J.
Drucker and Robert S. Cathcart (Cresskill, New Jersey: Hampton Press, 1994), p.
34 Richard M. Ohmann, Selling Culture: Magazines, Markets, and Class at the Turn of
the Century, (New York: Verso, 1996), pp.244-45. Although Ohmann refers to an
earlier time period, magazines and celebrities had not changed much by mid-
Interviews given by Pop artists have been widely quoted and have
become, as Mamiya writes, "a definitive source of information" on their art.
However, there are a number of interviews of Abstract Expressionists and even
Pop also appeared in advertisements styled after vanguard art, which
could reinforce images of the art itself. For example, a 1964 promotion for
Brazilian Coffee, depicts a melodramatic romantic comic-strip style scene. Ads
resembling comics were not new, but the visible benday dots refer to
Lichtenstein instead of a cartoon.35 Vanguard art was also used as backdrops in
fashion layouts, such as the Pollock drip paintings used in Vogue in 1951 and
Marisol's sculptures in Harper's Bazaar in 1963.36 These seemingly irreverent uses
of vanguard painting were additional publicity for the art.
Not only were articles about famous artists published, but also articles
about prominent collectors. Such attention began as early as 1950 with Fortune's
"The Businessman and Picasso," profiling seventeen "relatively new [collectors
more writings by very articulate artists like Motherwell, Reinhardt, Newman,
and Gottlieb. These Abstract Expressionist sources are generally less often cited
than statements by Warhol. This may be because many Abstract Expressionist
statements were published in less widely circulated magazines like PM,
Possibilities, or Partisan Review while those of Pop artists appeared in major art
journals and mass magazines. Also, since the predominant criticism of Abstract
Expressionism was formalist, the artists' intentions were thought not to be very
important to the viewer's experience of the artwork. Since this kind of criticism
was useless and antagonistic to Pop, the artists' own words became helpful in
explaining their art.
Our ideas about Pop and the media are distorted also by Warhol's
particularly great following. Other Pop artists were less vocal. For example,
Rosenquist had a lively social life; his activities were similar to bar brawl type of
the Abstract Expressionists, but hardly garnered him the kind of publicity that
35 For further discussion see Whiting, pp. 138-141. Full-page Brazilian Coffee
advertisement, New York Times Magazine June 28, 1964. The speech/thought
bubbles read: "Say Button-nose, this iced coffee sure has that rich, full bodied
flavor we fellows go for!" Ooh, I'm the happiest wife alive. As soon as Jim
finishes kissing me I must phone Mom. She was a peach to tell me to make iced
coffee with a pure all Brazilian brand!"
36 "American Fashion: The New Soft Look," Vogue 117 (March 1, 1951), 156-159;
"The Fashion Independent: Marisol," Harper's Bazaar 97 (October 1963), 198-201.
of] more controversially radical paintings and sculptures."37 A number of these
patrons went on to collect Abstract Expressionism and were featured in Artnews
and Art in America in the late 1950s when the art boom for vanguard American
art was fully underway.38 Then in the 1960s mass magazines began to highlight
vanguard collectors.39 While the 1950s art journal articles were illustrated
primarily with reproductions of art itself, the mass magazines used large and
numerous photographs to depict the collectors and their art in situ at home.
Robert and Ethel Scull, the patrons most often featured, look exuberant, carefree,
and fun-loving surrounded by their Pop Art.40 The Sculls became celebrities
themselves through their collecting. The publicity they received helped to
promote the value of their collection, while attention to art they owned in turn
aided the Sculls' ascent into high society.
This kind of media attention could positively influence other collectors.
As Philip Johnson explained, "I find that if I look at a photograph of Ethel Scull,
and behind her back hangs a particular painting, I am more apt to take a look at
that particular phase of that particular artist's work than I would if I hadn't seen
it behind her back."41 In this way, the value of the painting behind Ethel Scull
7 "The Businessman and Picasso," Fortune Magazine 51 (June 1950), 102.
38 For example, George Heard Hamilton, "The Collector as a Guide to Taste,"
Artnews 57 (April 1958), 41-43, 58-59; B. H. Friedman, "The New Collector: Three
Typical Collections," Art in America 46 (Summer 1958), 12-19; E.P. Richardson,
"Collections: Four Environments," Art in America 46 (Summer 1958), 32-44.
39 For example, "At Home With Henry," Time Magazine February 21, 1964, pp.
68-71; Emily Genauer, "Can this be Art?" Ladies Home Journal 81 (March 1964),
151-155; Allene Talmey, "Art is the Core," Vogue 144 (July 1964), 116-123, 125;
"You Bought It Now You Live with It," Life Magazine July 16, 1965, pp. 58-63.
40 Their Abstract Expressionist and other art is rarely pictured, presumably since
Pop was the newest and most controversial at the time of the articles.
41 Painters Painting, p. 103.
could increase dramatically as other collectors bought similar works. Moreover,
mass media images of major patrons could influence the market of wavering,
novice collectors. According to Johnson, "These people that buy, that set
standards, make everyone else itch to emulate. The itch to emulate, the desire for
status, is certainly one of the main things in our society. It's not true that you get
rich by buying paintings and reselling them later. Nevertheless, if you think it's
true, it'll help the market."42 The mass media showed a large public whom and
what to emulate, nourishing the art market.
While media attention greatly helped the art market to grow and artists to
prosper, there were hazards involved in such publicity. As Barbara Rose
The existence of the media as audience for the novel means that
nothing can ever challenge art from the stance of the far-out again.
The minute Pollock ceased to be "Jack the Dripper" for the Luce
publications, the radicality of extremism was doomed.... The
moment private acts became public, subversion was not only
applauded but given a platform.43
Rose suggests that media attention compromised the revolutionary politics of
vanguard artists, rendering their art ineffectual, meaningless, or conservative
even. The mass media greatly contributed to the demise of a politically engaged
vanguard, but it was only the most conspicuous of several contributing factors.
As we have seen, MoMA vigorously promoted vanguard American art. Both the
museum and galleries cultivated collectors. The media generally followed these
other two components of the art world, conferring the ultimate sign of success.
Mass media endorsement was the final phase of selling vanguard American art.
42 Painters Painting, p. 103.
43 "The Problems of Criticism, VI: The Politics of Art, Part III," Artnews 7 (May
1969), 48. Pollock was dubbed "Jack the Dripper" in "The Wild Ones," Time
Magazine February 20, 1956, p. 75.
In a series of articles probing art criticism, Barbara Rose states "In the past,
lack of patronage, institutional approval, and critical support has defined avant-
garde art."' Once these elements and the mass media endorsed Abstract
Expressionism, the radicality of the New York School was called into question,
yet such support was necessary for the renown that stimulated financial success.
This is the paradox of modern art: commercial and popular success are
incompatible with vanguardism, yet most artists-no matter how subversive or
counter-culture-yearn for this potentially self-destructive success. To sell
vanguard American art, artists must sell out. Today this quandary is quotidian;
is it possible that postwar artists were more naive? Perhaps, since contemporary
modern art had never before experienced commercial and popular success, the
American avant-garde had yet to confront the contradictions inherent in the
vanguard art market.2 Strong reactions against this market motivated
antiestablishment trends like earthworks and performance art in the 1960s and
Success was not such a problem when the New York School first
materialized. Vanguard American art enjoyed neither fame nor fortune through
1 "The Problems of Criticism, VI: The Politics of Art, Part III," Artnews 7 (May
2 The avant-garde did witness the ill effects of commercialism on the political
content of Regionalism however, and Abstract Expressionists specifically wished
to avoid such a situation.
the early 1950s. Sales, prices, and recognition began to increase around the time
of Jackson Pollock's death in 1956. The years 1958-1959 were pivotal: Abstract
Expressionism triumphed in Europe and at the Museum of Modern Art with the
"New American Painting" exhibition, sales boomed, and Life Magazine
mythologized Jackson Pollock, while Jasper Johns's first solo exhibition heralded
the spectacular success of the younger generation. By the 1960s, when
ultraconservative corporations such as Chase Manhattan Bank began to purchase
vanguard American art, it was clear that the American avant-garde was defunct.
Although Abstract Expressionism did not look to mass culture for inspiration, its
fate was the same as that of the art Thomas Crow discusses: "the avant-garde
serves as a kind of research and development arm of the culture industry."3
The transformation of vanguard American art from impoverished
obscurity to fame and prosperity occurred through the activities of several
elements of the New York art world. MoMA's support conferred a kind of
authenticity upon new art. High prices and perceived acclaim from Europe
bolstered the museum's efforts. Audience-oriented art dealers and prestige-
seeking collectors further promoted the art. Finally, the mass media
disseminated information and images to a large, mainstream audience,
constructing vanguard art celebrities. Aesthetes may debate formalist concerns
and artists' intentions, but, as we have seen, the actual "triumph" of American
painting was through savvy mass marketing.
It is virtually impossible to isolate and understand exactly why certain
artists or styles are popular and others are not. As Harold Rosenberg observed
in a 1965 article, "All of these forces-dealers, museums, collectors-have
notoriously failed to affect responses of the art world in at least as many
SModern Art in the Common Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), p.
instances as they have succeeded."4 Moreover, it is difficult to isolate
components of the market since various elements often cooperate. For example,
if the mass media review a Museum of Modern Art exhibition of works from
private collections, how can one discern which factor most impacts the art
market? My project has sought to show how a number of institutions and
individuals together influenced the mid-century market for vanguard American
art. While the support of a single museum, gallery, collector, or magazine may
not guarantee success, the combined support of several constituents propelled
the postwar art market to celebrity and success.
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Christine Bianco grew up in South Florida, graduating from Cooper City
High School in 1994. She studied the humanities in the honors program at
Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, graduating in 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts
degree. In 2000 she obtained a Master of Arts degree in art history from the
University of Florida with an emphasis on modern art. Next she begins work
towards a doctorate in art history at Binghamton University in Binghamton, New
York. She anticipates a career in university teaching and research.