America's Medicis: The Rockefellers and Their Astonishing Cultural Legacy

Overview

The first book to explore the immense cultural contributions of one of America's wealthiest and most influential families: the Rockefellers.

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller sparked her family's passion for art, but it was her husband, John D. Rockefeller Jr., who once was hailed as the "greatest friend and patron of the arts since Florence's Lorenzo de Medici." Together and separately they, as well as their descendents, became a major force on the American art scene. The dozen ...

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America's Medicis: The Rockefellers and Their Astonishing Cultural Legacy

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Overview

The first book to explore the immense cultural contributions of one of America's wealthiest and most influential families: the Rockefellers.

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller sparked her family's passion for art, but it was her husband, John D. Rockefeller Jr., who once was hailed as the "greatest friend and patron of the arts since Florence's Lorenzo de Medici." Together and separately they, as well as their descendents, became a major force on the American art scene. The dozen Rockefeller-sponsored museums, including MoMA and the Cloisters, are among the world's finest. Their architectural projects—Rockefeller Center, the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, Lincoln Center—are equally stellar. The family also enriched existing institutions with entire collections of modern, Asian, "primitive," and folk art, in addition to ancient artifacts.

Based on a wealth of information culled from the family's extensive archives, America's Medicis traces the Rockefellers' artistic philanthropies from their beginnings to the present. As author Suzanne Loebl makes clear, the Rockefellers did more than simply provide money and artworks; they also devoted themselves to the causes they believed in—a commitment that helped define and direct America's artistic tastes. In spite of all these material gifts, the Rockefellers' most lasting contribution was to teach America that art does not belong to a rarefied elite, but can be enjoyed and understood by all. Erudite and engaging, America's Medicis is a remarkable account of the twentieth-century American art world and the extraordinary family at its center.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Loebl (America's Art Museums) chronicles the collecting and funding exploits of oil heir John D. Rockefeller Jr.; his wife, Abby; and their children in this placid, appreciative study of "America's greatest arts patrons." Their imprint on 20th-century art was indelible--Abby cofounded New York's Museum of Modern Art--but the author surveys a vast set of initiatives underwritten by the family, including the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute Museum, Colonial Williamsburg, influential collections and museums of medieval Mexican, African, and American folk art. There were also grand houses and parks, and architectural gems like New York's Rockefeller Center and Riverside Church. Loebl generally applauds Rockefeller tastes, downplays the dynamic of plutocratic vanity, and shrugs off urbanist criticisms of the Rockefeller-led Lincoln Center. Aside from the brouhaha over Diego Rivera's Communist-inflected Rockefeller Center mural, with images of a saintly Lenin and wealthy socialites wreathed in syphilis germs, there's not much excitement. Loebl's interest is less in personalities than in the art and architecture, which she describes in rapturous detail accompanied by lavish photos that make the book feel like a gracefully written but staid gift shop catalogue. 16 pages of color photos, 48 b&w photos. (Dec.)
Kirkus Reviews

Loebl (America's Art Museums: A Traveler's Guide to Great Collections Large and Small, 2002, etc.) celebrates the myriad contributions of generations of Rockefellers to the public enjoyment of art.

The author focuses on the fortune of the Rockefellers and how they chose to dispose of much of it, but she offers very little criticism or analysis. Instead, she provides a simple chronology of the family's rise and their major collections and endowments, with a final chapter on their smaller legacies. There is no gainsaying the significance of the Rockefellers to the cultural life of the country. Rockefeller Center, MoMA, the Cloisters, Colonial Williamsburg and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Museum of American Folk Art, Lincoln Center, the Nelson Rockefeller Empire State Mall—these are colossal gifts to the country. Loebl also looks at endowments to Dartmouth, Vassar, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and numerous others. The author's strategy in each chapter is fairly fixed: some background on the relevant Rockefellers involved in the endowment, a construction history of the building(s), a few quick comments about the prominent pieces on display and some gushy prose about how gorgeous it is. Loebl confesses at the end that she began to feel like a member of the family—perhaps too much so. Hers may be the only published account of the death of Nelson Rockefeller, for example, that neglects to mention the Megan Marshack controversy, and the author becomes so accustomed to writing about enormous gifts and acquisitions that she notes without irony that circumspect John D. Rockefeller III limited himself to "only" $1-$1.5 million per year in art purchases. Loebl also characterizes as mere "string-pulling" the maneuvering that enabled Chase to acquire Lower Manhattan land for its skyscraper.

The Rockefeller family's contributions to American culture are unquestioned, but this book veers too close to panegyric.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061237225
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/16/2010
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 826,477
  • Product dimensions: 9.50 (w) x 11.68 (h) x 1.45 (d)

Meet the Author

Suzanne Loebl is a writer living in New York and Maine. She is the author of fourteen books, most recently America’s Art Museums.

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