An American Museum of Modern Art
by Alfred H. Barr
For many years, certainly consistantly since the riotous, epoch-making Armory Exhibition of 1913 an increasing number of people have thought and talked about and set their hearts upon a museum of modern art in New York. Urgent editorials have been written, excellent dinners c eaten and fulminating speeches delivered, but until this autumn no positive, large visioned effort has been made to briny about a public institution which might give New York a consistantly adiquate idea of moderntired art. Tentative experiments have been tried such as the c extreme leftward exhibitions of the heroic Societe Anonyme,Washington the Whitney Studio Club, and the Gallery of Contemporary Art at Washington Square College. But these, worthy as they are, have lacked scale anti resources and the capacity for growth.
The Metropolitan Museum New York's single important public art gallery, has only at times been persuaded to touch, a little gingerly, the less controversial phases of modern art. This reluctant policy has induced facile critics to call - or cat- callÄthe Metro. politan a mausoleum. Apparently they forget those remarkable achievements which at times have put the Metropolitan ahead of other great museums. Long before the Louvre or any other European gallery had recognized Manet's existence as an artist the Metropolitan had acquired two of his paintings. Before the Luxembourg could tolerate the post- impressionists, indeed while Paris was still debating over Claude Monet's art, the Metropolitan had purchased a Cezanne. But these bold steps were taken, alas, long ago, before the war. Since then the inadequate French exhibition of 1921 the Bellows Memorial Exhibition, and the recent "modernistic" decorators' show have been the only c vents at the Metropolitan which might be called modern.
Meanwhile, museums throughout Europe and America have left New York far behind. Little German industrial towns such as Halle and Erfurt, Essen and Mannheim, Russian cities such as Witebsk and Kharkov, have galleries devoted primarily to modern art. Tourists who visit Utrecht or Novgorod, Bremen, Strasbourg, Prague, Hanover, in search of the quaint and picturesque are surprised to discover rooms in public museums which are alive with an emphatically contemporary atmosphere.
And in our own country are Worcester with its Gauguins and Dufresnes, Detroit with its Matisses and Chiricos and its splendid modern German collection. Brooklyn, without the means to purchase extensively, has given temporary space most courageously and generously for al] phases of modern art from impressionism to sur-realisme The Los An" geles Museum, through the Preston Harrison gift, confronts its citizens with Dufy's wit, Picasso's abstractions, Derain's power. Columbus, with Ferdinand Howald's encouragement prides itself on its Demuths and Marins.
More enviable still to the poor New Yorker are the Birch-Bartlett and Martin Ryerson rooms in the Chicago Art Institute. Here are magnificent Van Goghs, Seurat's La Grande Jatte, Cezanne's greatest still-life, works of the first rank by Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri Rousseau Segonze, Utrillo, Picasso, Lhote andpertinently others.
Yet even more pertinently important are the modern collections of New York's peers the great "world-cities". Berlin, Paris, London, Moscow, Amsterdam, Munich, while they force us to most uncomfortable comparisons also offer us valuable suggestions. The Louvre, the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square, the Rijksmuseum, the Kaiser Fredrich Museum these, like the Metropolitan, are great historical museums, national collections of supreme importance. But they differ in one essential from New York's institution: they do not even pretend to any interest in modern art. Their function is to preserve the past rather than to explain the present. But in addition to these shrines of the traditional there are in all of these cities separate institutions with distinct organization, staff and buildings, which are given over specifically to modern art.
Berlin has its National-Galerie in the former Crown Prince's Palace where the abstract impressionists, Kandinsky and Klee, and the cubists, Picasso and Feininger, prove their victory over popular contempt. Moscow has three or four museums of modern art both native and "western". In the latter, housed in the Tchukine and Morosov Palaces, may be seen the greatest collection of modern French painting in the world, including, one may remark in passing, twenty Cezannes, sixteen Gauguins, nine Rousseaus, thirty-five Matisses, a dozen Derains and fifty-five Picassos. Even in placid, conservative Munich, one can leave the Alte Pinakothek to visit the Neue Stuats-Galerie where, among a half-dozen Van Goghs, is the most famous of his Sunflowers.
Another and equally fine version of the Sunflowers has found a permanent home in an even more surprising place, the Tate Gallery of LondonÄsurprising, that is, to Americans who tend to consider the Tate sacred to the memory of Turner, Watts and Sir Frank Dicksee, R. A. Yet one may leave the Pre-Raphaelites, pass through a magnificent room of Daumier, Manet, Degas, and Renoir, into a shrine where hangs one of the greatest modern paintings, Seurat's La Baignada, surrounded by first-rate Cezannes, Matisses, Bonnards, Utrillos.
But of all these stimulating modern galleries, the oldest, the most famous and for us the most significant is the Luxembourg, for it was founded in order to solve a problem very similar to that which confronts New York. Neither the Louvre nor the Metropolitan can afford to take a chance of being wrong. But the Luxembourg does not pretend to confer any final sanction upon its painting and sculpture, which is, all of it, tentatively exhibited. If the work of art survives time's criticism, it may go, ten years after the artist's death into the Louvre or it may be discarded as unworthy of remaining permanently public property. But during this process of trial and error, or critical selection, even those works which may prove of transitory importance remain constantly visible to the generation which created them and admires them. It is then a principle of acknowledged fallibility upon which the Luxembourg is founded, though unfortunately it has been hampered by politic timidities and inadequate financial support, so that it has not always been able to realize the latitude of taste which the principle permits.
It is, nevertheless, with an ideal Luxembourg in mind that seven enthusiastic and influential American men and women have organized themselves into a committee which, during the past few months, has made remarkable progress toward the foundation of a Museum of Modern Art.
The committee, fully realizing the difficulties of their project, have decided that for the first two years the new museum should function as a series of the finest possible load exhibitions.
These loan exhibitions will be held on the twelfth floor of the Heckscher Building, on Fifth Avenue and Fifty. seventh Street, where the new galleries will be opened early in November.
The exhibitions will cover a wide range of modern activity. American art will of course be emphasized, together with French, from which most modern art throughout Europe and America derives. But painting and sculpture from Germany, England, Mexico, Russia, and other countries will also be included. The work of living men will form the majority of exhibitions but will not exclude occasional homage to the past.
Fifty years ago one of the greatest of all French painters died, Honore Daumier. Long neglected, and even now too little known, he will be honoured by a memorial exhibition.
The first, and perhaps, intrinsically the most important exhibition at the new museum will be devoted to four of the founders of that great period of European Art, which began about 1875. Cezanne and Surat, Van Gogh and Gauguin, are great springs at which hundreds of subsequent and lesser men have drunk. Cezanne and Gauguin died about 1905. Van Gogh and Seurat as long ago as 1890. The first three are known the world oven their work has borne the brunt and reaped the glory of that remarkable revolution ineptly labeled Post-Impressionaism. The fourth, Gorges Seurat, has suffered even longer neglected having at first been pigeon-holedd with faint praise for his invention of the "pointilliste" or "spot" technique. During the last fifteen years we have begun to recognize his importance as a very great master calf composition, disciplined, classical in the essential meaning of the word. Even in the two drawings which accompany this article there is preserved something of that extraordinary poise arid simplicity of vision which are peculiarly Iris. Today Seurat's seven masterpieces es are divvided among the museums of Paris London, Chicago, and The Hague, and the collections of three very foresighted connoisseurs. Of these scant seven, La Parade, will hold the place of honor in the first exhibition of The Museum of Modern Art.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The seven members of the organizing committee, which is shortly to be considerably augmented, are:
Miss Lizzie Bliss