Advancing American Art: Painting, Politics, and Cultural Confrontation at Mid-Century
Publisher: Fire Ant Books
Edition: 2nd ed.
Publication Date: 2005-06-13
Number of pages: 176
Conceived and funded by the State Department in 1946 as part of a new emphasis in international diplomacy, the exhibition of paintings called "Advancing American Art" was launched on what was enthusiastically projected as an extended goodwill tour of Europe and Latin America. But almost immediately the exhibition was attacked by conservative groups as "un-American" and "subversive", and its abstract paintings were ridiculed in the national media, in Congress, and by no less a critic than President Truman. Following their dramatic recall by Secretary Marshall in 1947, the exhibit's 117 paintings were quietly declared "surplus property" and sold under unusual and curious circumstances by the War Assets Administration. Most of the collection was acquired by a small number of public universities in what could be called the art bargain of the century, since works by such figures as Marin, O'Keeffe, Shahn, Dove, Kuniyoshi and Hartley were sold for $100 or less. But the chronicle of this almost forgotten exhibition is less art history than an account of an event that tells us something about America after the war, when the nation sought to reconcile its sacrificial experiences of the last 15 years with its unsettling role in the new international theatre. A reconsideration of "Advancing American Art" within the context of its times captures a significant transitional moment in US history, defining the figures of confrontation that challenged America's tenuous self-conceptions in the critical period of postwar passage. The introduction is written by Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian, Leon Litwack.