Just as the John Reed Clubs were the foundation for the Communist Party’s Partisan Review in its first incarnation, and as the CP’s American Writers’s Congresses were platforms for the developing ideas of the Popular Front, so the American Artists Association also had its source in the John Reed Clubs and was modelled on the American Writers’ Congresses, but for the visual arts.
What you see below is a piece by the writer and abstract painter, Balcomb Greene (1904-1990). Its a satirical collage of voices inspired in form by T.S. Eliot, with its repetition of the lyric moment of The Waste Land. but ripe with the sounds and barks and even the drinks of the New York City artistic and writing scene…. sorry but I haven’t mastered the art of bringing scans to the blog, and I suppose you will have to lie down on your side to read this…
As for myself, I had never heard of Balcomb Greene nor of his wife Gertrude Glass Green (1904-1957) until the I turned the page of PR3, 1938 and found this little teaser. But what I learned was that Greene and Gertrude had been active in the politics of abstract art within the anti-Stalinist left.
Balcomb and Gertrude Glass Greene.
Balcomb was an early New York abstract painter, and he was one of the original founding members of what became the Abstract Artists Association in 1936.
Gertrude Glass Greene was one of the first American sculptors to make abstract sculptures.
In 1935, Balcomb Greene took part in an important protest against the way the Museum of Modern Art bought mostly European modern work: Fifth Avenue, Balcomb Greene on left of abstract object, Byron Browne on the right. The protest did have some effect on MoMA’s acquisition process.
Greene had begun as a student of English Literature and later became a Professor Art History. When he met and married Gertrude Glass, he became increasingly interested in painting: although he later became a figural painter, this early works were influential on the young artists of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism:
This one makes me think of Saul Steinberg. Did they know each other? Anybody know?
What I enjoyed about Greene satirical squib is that it sets us up for the following two articles in the journal. One is by our stalwart Dwight Macdonald, on the political atmosphere in Washington, D.C. in 1938, and the other by Macdonald’s close journalist friend, Rose Stein.
So, next time, we look at Macdonald’s piece, Cross Country.
And just to say, in 2017, the Fine Arts Museums of San
Francisco (de Young Collection) purchased and displayed a newly acquired Balcomb Greene, and gave it a full fanfare of Welcome