Max Beckmann, Artists with Vegetable, 1946, oil on canvas, 59″ x 45″
This will give some idea of what just a thorough wrecking ball the New York Art mafia took to the artists that had to be toppled to allow the Triumph of Abstract Expressionism to take place. When I went to art school in 1972 there weren’t more than a couple of these artists who would even be mentioned. And if they were mentioned they were considered completely irrelevant and insignificant.
That’s how cult ideology works. The small group at the top define what is of value. And the legions of followers (critics, galleries, artists, etc.) all line up in salute, modeling their own values on the values of the Leaders. What MoMA Says Goes. What Greenberg Says Goes (Flatness!) that is, of course, if one wants to court success. Training in drawing, craft, thinking… complete unnecessary. The rules are clear… I recall a painting class in which all the students showed up painting in various ways. At the end of the class they were all painting large color squares. Now that’s what I call indoctrination. And what did the teacher paint…. why, of course, shaped canvases a la Frank Stella. And people think of the French Academy as stale and conformist?
From Ralph Jentsch’s George Grosz: Berlin-New York:
At the end of 1947 the American magazine Look (15,650,000 readers) published the results of a survey among thirty-nine museum directors, curators and art critics, which asked them to name the ten most significant living American artists. Because the tenth place was awarded twice, elven artists were chosen in all: Charles Burchfield, Stuart Davis, Lyonel Feininger, George Grosz, Edward Hopper, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Jack Levine, John Marin, Ben Shahn, Franklin Watkins, and Max Weber. Before the magazine released the results of the survey, these eleven selected artists were each asked in turn by the publisher to name the most significant American artists. All together, they indicated a total of forty-nine artists, among which the following ten appeared, here in alphabetical order: Max Beckmann, Stuart Davis, Philip Evergood, George Grosz, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, John Marin, Ben Shahn, John Sloan, Rufino Tamayo, and Max Weber. Grosz was therefore one of the six artists who ranked among the most significant living American artists in both surveys.
How sudden the coup must have seemed to the above group of artists. The expunging of their names and even memories of who they were is a feat worthy of Stalin. Max Weber? Franklin Watkins? Levine? Kuniyoshi?
And what do all the artists have in common? Some kind of recognizable subject matter. Absolutely forbidden! That’s not art. That’s illustration! Retrograde! Out of date! Un- Modern.
One can only guess what happened to the 39 museum directors, curators and critics. Were they eased out? Forced to recant their heresies?
Being an art buff I’m familiar with all the names listed except for Franklin Watkins. I note looking him up that he studied with Cecilia Beaux at the Pennsylvania Academy. Well, there you have it. Coincidentally, Watkins died the year I started art school, 1972.
Franklin Watkins, Roman Garden, 16 x 20 in., oil on canvas