Alfred H. Barr, Jr. and the Intellectual Origins of the Museum of Modern Art

Alfred H. Barr, Jr. and the Intellectual Origins of the Museum of Modern Art

by Sybil Kantor
     
 

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Growing up with the twentieth century, Alfred Barr (1902-1981), founding director of the Museum of Modern Art, harnessed the cataclysm that was modernism. In this book — part intellectual biography, part institutional history — Sybil Gordon Kantor tells the story of the rise of modern art in America and of the man responsible for its triumph. Following

Overview

Growing up with the twentieth century, Alfred Barr (1902-1981), founding director of the Museum of Modern Art, harnessed the cataclysm that was modernism. In this book — part intellectual biography, part institutional history — Sybil Gordon Kantor tells the story of the rise of modern art in America and of the man responsible for its triumph. Following the trajectory of Barr's career from the 1920s through the 1940s, Kantor penetrates the myths, both positive and negative,that surround Barr and his achievements.

Barr fervently believed in an aesthetic based on the intrinsic traits of a work of art and the materials and techniques involved in its creation. Kantor shows how this formalist approach was expressed in the organizational structure of the multidepartmental museum itself,whose collections, exhibitions, and publications all expressed Barr's vision. At the same time, she shows how Barr's ability to reconcile classical objectivity and mythic irrationality allowed him to perceive modernism as an open-ended phenomenon that expanded beyond purist abstract modernism to include surrealist, nationalist,realist, and expressionist art.

Drawing on interviews with Barr's contemporaries as well as on Barr's extensive correspondence, Kantor also paints vivid portraits of, among others, Jere Abbott, Katherine Dreier, Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Philip Johnson, Lincoln Kirstein, Agnes Mongan, J. B. Neumann, and Paul Sachs.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Alfred Hamilton Barr Jr. remains a figure of fascination and contention." The New York Review of Books Michael Kimmelman

"An important contribution to the historiography of twentieth-century American art... intellectual and biographical history at its most rigorous." Daniel A. Siedell College Art Association Reviews

The New York Review of Books - Michael Kimmelman
Alfred Hamilton Barr Jr. remains a figure of fascination and contention.

The New Criterion - Hilton Kramer
It is to the intellectual history of modern art that [this book] makes an indispensible contribution.

College Art Association Reviews - Daniel A. Siedell
An important contribution to the historiography of twentieth-century American art... intellectual and biographical history at its most rigorous.

Library Journal
A handful of figures contributed to the establishment of modern art in the U.S. museum community: Juliana Force (Whitney Museum of American Art), Chick Austen (Wadsworth Atheneum), Duncan Phillips (Phillips Collection), and, preeminently, Alfred H. Barr Jr. In a book that serves as both a biography of Barr and a textbook on the theoretical foundation of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, independent scholar Kantor focuses on the philosophical underpinnings of Barr's early life. He explores in great depth the philosophers, teachers, collectors, artists, and others who helped to form the mind of MoMA's founding director (Barr was a mere 27 at the time of his appointment). Barr's important and influential colleagues (Lincoln Kirstein, Agnes Mongan, Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Philip Johnson, and others from both inside and outside of MoMA) are placed in historical and personal context. This excellent treatment explores Barr's contribution both to modern art in America and to many of the museum practices that are now taken for granted. For a more traditional biographical treatment, see Alice Goldfarb Marquis's Alfred H. Barr, Jr.: Missionary for the Modern (LJ 4/15/89). Highly recommended for all collections with an interest in 20th-century art. Martin R. Kalfatovic, Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, DC Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780262611961
Publisher:
MIT Press
Publication date:
09/01/2003
Pages:
496
Product dimensions:
7.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.25(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Robert Rosenblum
At last, Alfred Barr's towering stature as scholarship art historian,evangelical educator, and visionary museum director has been given its due.

Meticulously documented, Kantor's study recreates not only the formation,step-by-step, of Barr's unique genius but also the audacious intellectual milieu of the 1920s that nurtured it.

Helen Searing
This truly significant book is at times as compulsively readable as a novel. Yet the spell that the author casts does not come at the expense of rigorous argument backed up by exhaustive primary documentation and pertinent secondary references.

From the Publisher

"This truly significant book is at times as compulsively readable as a novel. Yet the spell that the author casts does not come at the expense of rigorous argument backed up by exhaustive primary documentation and pertinent secondary references."--Helen E. Searing, Alice Pratt Brown Professor of Art, Smith
College

The MIT Press

"A worthy contribution to the literature. Kantor's book is the most detailed and revelatory account of Barr's approach to modern art ever published."--Francis M. Naumann, author of Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Making Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1999)

The MIT Press

"At last, Alfred Barr's towering stature as scholarly art historian,
evangelical educator, and visionary museum director has been given its due.
Meticulously documented, Kantor's study recreates not only the formation, step by step, of Barr's unique genius but also the audacious intellectual milieu of the
1920's that nurtured it."--Robert Rosenblum, Professor of Fine Arts, New York
University

The MIT Press

Francis M. Naumann
A worthy contribution to the literature. Kantor's book is the most detailed and revelatory account of Barr's approach to modern art ever published.

Meet the Author

Sybil Gordon Kantor is an independent scholar living in Columbus, Ohio,and Lugano, Switzerland.

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