The “Art Chronicle” in Vol. IV, no.2 was a review of an exhibition of the work of Jean Arp at A.E. Gallatin’s Museum of Living Arts at NYU in 1936. The author was George L.K. Morris (1905-1975), who was on the original editorial board of Partisan Review and wrote art reviews for Partisan Review until 1943 when he went into the War.
Morris was known as one of the “Park Avenue Cubists,” a group of abstract artists, born into old American families with money and educational privileges. His wife, Susy Frelinghuysen, was an opera singer as well as another member of the “Old East Coast” elite. Morris and Suzy created a life for themselves as advocates of abstract art. Another member of the PAC was the painter Charles G. Shaw, who trained for a time to become an architect, and made the skyline of New York City an emblem of American abstraction. Shaw was also a rich New Yorker, an heir to the Woolworth fortune, and a graduate of Yale.
And backing them all, the patron of European and American Modernist art — collector, painter, philanthropist — A.E. Gallatin, who created in 1927 The Gallery of Living Art, a few years later renamed The Museum of Living Art’ at NYU, where he curated the Arp exhibition reviewed by Morris.
Dwight McDonald was a close friend of Morris, part of the same literary crowd at Yale, and Dwight was his introduction to the Partisan Review crowd, most of whom were distinctly not from old American families. But Morris spent time in Paris where his mother had moved when Morris was very young, and he studied with Leger, and came to be one of the most active supporters of European and American abstraction. A look at the house where Morris and Suzy Frelinghuysen displayed their collection gives a good example of how money, taste, and connections came to make abstract art the art of the twentieth century.
When I was growing up in New York City, one wall of our living room was covered with bits and pieces of Modernist art. When they were in their 30s, my parents weren’t wealthy enough to buy paintings, but they had lithographs and drawings by their close friends — Sidney Geist, Ben Benn, Theodore Roszak, Alcoply, Jacques Lipschitz — and when the boom years smiled on them, they had moved on to becoming book collectors, immersed in discovering the world of Henry James and his circle. After my father broke his hip in his 80s, he decided to sell most of what they had on the walls. and that helped to pay for his care as he got older and frailer. And when my sister and I were young, we had each claimed a piece of art for ourselves. After my parents died, I brought the Juan Gris lithograph of Jean Le Musician back to London and Jean looks at me with his clarity of vision as I make my coffee in the mornings.
But there was another piece I also liked as a little girl: it was either a collage or a drawing or maybe a print made by Jean Arp, and to me it looked like a cross between a butterfly and a bat. It floated on a white background and looked as if it was rising into the wind without having to beat its wings. I particularly liked that the artist’s name was Arp…..
Jean Arp (1886-1966), was born Hans Arp to a couple who were German and French. He is mostly known to us as one of the founders of DADA, and was interested in chance as a component of art…Here is a photo of his house/museum in Clamart, France. In the 1930s he became well-known, and he experimented with collage and with labile forms that alluded to nature without being themselves natural.“The forms arrive pleasant, or strange, hostile, inexplicable, mute, or drowsy. They are born from themselves. It seems to me as if all I do is move my hands.” Jean Arp was an artist’s artist, the Abstract Expressionist painters of the 1950s and 1960s returned to him and to the plasticity of his forms, and admired his history with Dada and with Surrealism.
George L.K Morris was quite right to say in his review that Arp’s new work was better and more grounded than it had been earlier and that,
“Some day it may appear that among the purest and most authentic comments on the post-War Europe we may find these elusive and reticent compositions of Arp”: read the review here:
Art Chronicle: Hans Arp:
And here are some examples of Arp’s collages:
This one on the left reminds me of the butterfly bat piece