An epilogue for a prologue

This post is an epilogue of sorts. The project to process, describe, and make accessible the Meyer Schapiro Collection at Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library is now complete.

This post is also a prologue. Now that the collection will soon be available to the public, I can only imagine that new scholarly and historical perspectives will emerge relating to Schapiro: his influence, relationships, and contributions to the field of art history. As a historical figure, Schapiro was at the center of many important circles, whether artistic, philosophic, or scholarly and this collection will give the public a new understanding of not only Schapiro but to the historical period of the pre- and post-war years.

The collection, with a total of 398 linear feet of material, is a portrait of a man through documents, recordings, and his art works.

I’d like to use this final post to give readers a description of the collection and how the records were arranged. Stay tuned for the full finding aid to the collection in the near future.

Description of the collection

The collection of art historian Meyer Schapiro contains a vast range of material documenting the professor’s personal, professional, and artistic life. The collection encompasses Schapiro’s early academic training to his rise as a prominent theorist and historian of Medieval, Romanesque, Impressionist, and Modern art. His personal life is documented through early school records, course notes from college, typescripts and notes relating to his masters thesis and doctoral dissertation, and photographs and notebooks from his travels abroad between 1927 through 1957. The collection also houses an extensive set of Schapiro’s own art work in various mediums that spans from the early 1920s through the 1980s.

Schapiro was at the center of many artistic and political debates from the 1930s through the 1990s and his correspondence in the collection  reflects his ongoing support of academics, artists, and philosophers. This includes his efforts to aid German and Jewish refugees of World War II.

Schapiro’s professional activities as a professor and lecturer are strongly represented in the collection. Materials include transcripts, outlines, research notes, and audio recordings of his lectures, many of which formed the basis for his written corpus. Also in the collection is Schapiro’s extensive research notes on subject matter relating to art, politics, and sociology that are arranged alphabetically by subject.

Included in the collection is a substantial array of Schapiro’s published and unpublished writings, including articles, essays, manuscripts, published works, reviews, translations and poetry. Schapiro’s intellectual curiosity necessitated his own constant reappraisal of his professional written work. This includes editing, clarifying, and expanding upon typescripts, outlines, and notes relating to lectures that he foresaw as being published.

A constant source of support for Schapiro’s professional and artistic output was his wife, Lillian Milgram Schapiro. After Schapiro’s death, she would work to complete projects that Schapiro began and oversaw the management of his legacy. As a result, material in the collection that post-dates Schapiro’s death in 1996 was generated by Lillian Milgram Schapiro and is noted throughout the finding aid.

Arrangement

This collection is arranged in VIII series.

Series I: Personal papers, 1919-2001

Subseries: I.1: Awards, degrees, and prizes, 1959-1995

Sub-Subseries: I.1.1: Awards, 1959-1995

Sub-Subseries: I.1.2: Degrees, 1966-1988

Sub-Subseries: I.1.3: Prizes, 1979-1985

Subseries: I.2: Biography files, 1927-2001

Subseries: I.3: Dedications and eulogies, 1980-1996

Sub-Subseries: I.3.1: Dedications, 1980-1996

Sub-Subseries: I.3.2: Eulogies, 1996

Subseries: I.4: Exhibitions, 1960-1989

Subseries: I.5: Photographs, 1928-1990s

Sub-Subseries: I.5.1: Portraits   , 1928-1990s

Sub-Subseries: I.5.2: Travel photographs, 1927-1957

Subseries: I.6: Private collection, 1961-1998

Subseries: I.7: School records, 1919-1929

Subseries: I.8: Travel notebooks, 1926-1974

Sub-Subseries I.8.1: Notebooks, 1927-1974

Sub-Subseries I.8.2: Detached leaves and tourist maps, 1927-1947 

 Series II: Correspondence, 1920s-2001

 Series III: Professional papers, 1929-1990

Subseries: III.1: Administrative records, 1950s-1990s

Subseries: III.2: Courses, 1929-1977

Sub-Subseries: III.2.1: Columbia University, 1929-1977

Sub-Subseries: III.2.2: New School for Social Research (New York, N.Y.), 1930s-1954

Sub-Subseries: III.2.3: New York University, 1930s

Sub-Subseries: III.2.4: Other or unknown institutions, 1930s-1965       

Subseries: III.3: Lectures, 1930s-1980s

Sub-Subseries: III.3.1: 1930s

Sub-Subseries: III.3.2: 1940s

Sub-Subseries: III.3.3: 1950s

Sub-Subseries: III.3.4: 1960s

Sub-Subseries: III.3.5: 1970s

Sub-Subseries: III.3.6: 1980s

Subseries: III.4: Committees, memberships, and professional affiliations, 1972-1990

Sub-Subseries: III.4.1: Committees, 1972-1978

Sub-Subseries: III.4.2: Memberships, 1939-1989

Sub-Subseries: III.4.3: Professional affiliations, 1989-1990

 Series IV: Writings, 1928-2009

Subseries: IV.1: Administrative records, 1960s-2003

Subseries: IV.2: Articles, 1929-1994

Sub-Subseries: IV.2.1: 1929-1930s

Sub-Subseries: IV.2.2: 1940s

Sub-Subseries: IV.2.3: 1950s

Sub-Subseries: IV.2.4: 1960s

Sub-Subseries: IV.2.5: 1970s

Sub-Subseries: IV.2.6: 1980s

Subseries: IV.3: Essays, 1930s-1990s

Subseries: IV.4: Manuscripts, 1930s-2002

Subseries: IV.5: Publications, 1928-2009

Subseries: IV.6: Reviews, 1930-1972

Subseries: IV.7: Scrapbooks, 1928-1966

Subseries: IV.8: Translations and Poetry, 1930s-1970s

Series V: Research files, 1930s-1990s

Subseries: V.1: Administrative records, 1950s-1980s

Subseries: V.2: Articles and clippings, 1930s-1980s

Subseries: V.3: Bibliographies, 1930s-1960s

Subseries: V.4: Research card files, 1930s-1980s

Subseries: V.5: Research notes, 1920s-1990s  

Subseries: V.6: Reproductions, 1930s-1990s

Series VI: Exhibition announcements, invitations, and press releases, 1920-2001

Subseries: VI.1: 1920-1942

Subseries: VI.2: A-E, 1943-2001

Subseries: VI.3: F-L, 1943-2001

Subseries: VI.4: M-R, 1943-2001

Subseries: VI.5: S-Z, 1943-2001

Subseries: VI.6: Group exhibitions, 1945-2001

Subseries: VI.7: Oversize

 SeriesVII: Sound and video recordings, 1952-1990s

Subseries:VII.1: Administrative records, 1985-1990s

Subseries:VII.2: Audiocassettes and audiotapes, 1952-1982

Subseries: VII.3: Videocassettes, 1988

Series VIII: Works of art, 1920s-1980s

Subseries: VIII.1: Administrative records, 1980s-1990s

Subseries: VIII.2: Prints and drawings, 1920s-1980s

Subseries: VIII.3: Paintings, 1930s-1980s

Subseries: VIII.4: Sculptures and printing plates, 1930s-1980s

Subseries: VIII.5: Linoleum printing blocks, circa 1930s-1960s

Subseries: VIII.6: Sketchbooks, 1960s

I’d like to thank the following interns for their excellent work in making this project a success. Bronwen Bittetti rolled her sleeves up to work on Series VIII: Works of art, 1920s-1980s; Tamara Kemp organized  Series VI: Exhibition announcements, invitations, and press releases, 1920-2001 brilliantly; and Megan S. Rulli jumped right in to sort out Series V: Research files, Subseries: V.2: Articles and clippings. Additional collection management support was provided by Columbia University work-study student Haruna Otsuka.

I will end with a quote from John Pope-Hennesy’s Learning to look where he describes Schapiro brilliantly: 

"The function of art history is to determine why individual artifacts took the form they did. This task involves a mastery of widely divergent areas of knowledge, which extend from simple history (if any history is simple) to semiotics and psychology. In relation to the ideal requirements of the subject the equipment of most art historians (myself included) is sadly inadequate. They operate in the conventional, clumsy way in which dentists used to drill teeth half a century ago. But with Schapiro one is constantly astonished by the variety of angles from which problems are attacked, and by the lucidity with which his concepts are expressed. His work is at root visual."

Thank you all for following this blog!

Signing off …

Farris Wahbeh

Project Archivist, Meyer Schapiro Collection

Columbia University | Rare Book & Manuscript Library

 

Archival archeology: a working definition

As the project for processing and describing the Meyer Schapiro Collection comes to a close, I’ve come to realize how, like an archeological dig, I sifted through strata of documents, papers, images, photographs, and countless other mediums, to make an intellectual framework for Schapiro’s records.

I first came across the linking of the term "archeology" with "archives" in the paper "A Transition of Bits: A Case Study in Preserving the Michael Joyce Digital Papers at the Harry Ransom Center." The authors, discussing the processing of electronic files by hypertext author Michael Joyce, discuss the data recovery and preparation of these files stored on floppy discs from the 1980s as "digital archeology."

As they write, "many of the procedures that were used to extract and identify the electronic records were dictated by the characteristics of the storage media. "

 

Their "digital archeology process" is a six step procedure as follows:

1. Receive and identify physical media

2. Create a cataloging system for the physical media

3. Copy files from physical media and record metadata

4. Perform initial file processing

5. Create an item-level listing of all recovered files

6. Create working copies of all files and protect the original copies

Because born digital records are easy to create, and countless iterations of a single document can count as potential "records" in and of themselves, the process of understanding where, when, and by whom records are created require a form of authentication.

As the authors of the paper suggest, in regards to irregular or incorrect data in countless digital records, there is a "fundamental assumption in digital archeology: we assume that the date provided by the original user is correct. This is really no different than the analogous case in physical archives, where dates are written on paper as best the creator can recall and are subject to error. The lesson learned here is that although digitally assigned dates may be reliable in most cases, they are not immune to error and must be taken as a best estimate rather than indisputable fact."

A case in point that is quite important to remember. As archivists and collection managers, we deal with records that, at  times, are difficult to ascertain their veracity. With large physical collections, records are dispersed across cabinets, boxes, and files. With digital collections, files and documents can be of the same content, but with various different file names and located in a variety of folders.

Making a cohesive arrangement and description of records requires that you utilize the records as sources of evidence and that, in the end, those evidential exhibits form a larger whole to the records motive. In this sense, extending "digital archeology" to a broader term "archival archeology" suits both practices of analog and digital archival material, but links them in a process that is principal to archival practice: the importance of provenance and the authenticity of records.

In the article "Making the Leap from Parts to Whole: Evidence and Inference in Archival Arrangement and Description," Jennifer Meehan gives a stunning overview on how evidence gathered from the archival collection itself can be used to infer why those records were created, by whom, and for what purposes.

As Meehan articulates, "As archivists we must reason about the records in this way not only because we are removed from past events by both space and time, but because the information about these events obtained from existing sources is always only partial, and therefore incomplete. Gathering contextual information is not sufficient to understand the various contexts of any given collection. To arrive at such an understanding requires the archivist to make a leap of sorts, an inferential leap from what is available in the present texts (the contextual information) to some past event (the specific activity that gave rise to and/or subsequently shaped the records)."

As Meehan suggests of making inferential leaps,"the archivist in effect creates the external and internal relationships of a body of records. Rather than merely identifying these relationships on the basis of gathered information, the archivist for all intents and purposes constructs these relationships on the basis of the inferences drawn from the gathered information."

As a case in point, I’d like to give a quick gloss into how archival archeology plays a part in inferring the "parts to whole" relationship of archival records.

Meyer Schapiro wrote extensively throughout his whole life. He constantly had in mind various projects that could be potential books, but, for one reason or another, never manifested as books. These files were essentially compiled papers, outlines, and research notes that were assembled and often times paginated to reflect a cohesive manuscript.

Schapiro was notorious for revisiting his writings later in his life, reworking, editing, and expanding upon writings from the 1930s to the 1960s. His wife, Lillian Milgram Schapiro, would also aid him in those efforts, and by the 1990s, after he had passed away, she would continue to edit those records (and, to add to the volume of material, she would copy everything in triplicate!).

Indeed, it was quite a challenge, when as an archivist, you would see files such as the images illustrated in this post. But it was through archival archeology, and the process of inference, that I came to understand the meaning of these records and what their motives were.

For instance, I utilized correspondence and editorial notes to understand the context of these records. I also drew on other record types such as reproductions, editorial notes, and other materials found across the entire collection to synthesize what these records actually meant. The following is an arrangement note for the manuscript Schapiro wanted to publish titled " The content of modern art: studies in the painting of the end of the nineteenth century from Manet to Munch" and it gives a sense of how complex archival processing really is, and how archival archeology and inference play a part in contextualing records.

<arrangement>According to correspondence in file 18 of box 242 of this series, plans to publish this manuscript began in 1937, when Oxford University Press, New York, initiated contract discussions with Schapiro. There was also an agreement between Oxford University Press and the Museum of Modern Art to collaborate on the publication in 1939, but that never materialized. In an announcement dated 1938 found in file 19 of box 242 of this series, Phaidon Press was to publish the manuscript as "The content of modern art: studies in painting from Manet to Munch." That publication was also never realized. There are three variations of the title; the longer version is used since it includes variants from the other two titles. When possible, file titles below were supplied or condensed using Schapiro’s annotations or text to guide users to the contents found in the manuscript. Original file order is maintained to preserve Schapiro’s ordering. As a result, file titles may not include sequential sequencing such as section numbers. Files have research notes and editorial notes interleaved in the typescript sheets).</arrangement>

In another example, Schapiro continually worked on a manuscript titled "Pablo Picasso’s Guernica". The arrangement note is as follows

<arrangement> From a book jacket design in file 5 of box 248 in this series and correspondence in file 9 box 248, this manuscript was to be published by the Museum of Modern Art, New York as "Guernica: studies, postscripts" possibly in the 1970s or 1980s. Schapiro wrote consistently on Picasso’s Guernica, and material found in these files is culled from the 1940s through the 1990s. Files are organized by a pagination scheme devised by Lillian Milgram Schapiro in the 1990s through the 2000s relying on Schapiro’s original annotations on the typescripts. Her notes and lists relating to the reconstruction of the manuscript can be found in file 5 of box 248</arrangement>

Providing the researcher a note on how the archival material was arranged, and the process by which inference and archival archeology played a part in contextualing those records, gives the records a sharper focus and plays a part in authenticating their context.

As Meehan rightly suggests, one should provide information about "the analytical work done during processing, including the rationale for a particular arrangement, the reasoning behind decisions, and the sources of information used in reaching a particular decision. This sort of information would go a long way toward documenting the archival context of the records. And, if made available to the public, this information would enable users to make their own decisions about the possible meaning order(s) of a particular collection."

Describing processes that go into contextualing records can be recorded in order to authenticate records. Following the parameters set out by the InterPARES 1 project "Authenticity Task Force ‘Requirements for Assessing and Maintaining the Authenticity of Electronic Records,’"Michael Forstrom elaborates on this discussion in the article "Managing Electronic Records in Manuscript Collections: A Case Study from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library" in the journal American Archivist.

The author provides recommendations on how archival archeology, inference, and description can work in tendem “to guarantee the records’ identity and integrity.” These steps include utilizing elements of Describing Archives: a Content Standards (DACS) and explicating on the whole process of preserving and contextualizing the records.

In the end, the work of documenting and explaining how a set of records came to be arranged, described, and processed is part of a larger whole: one that balances the use of evidence gleaned from archival archeology with an archivist’s inference into their relationship with the creator of records.

This can at times be a journey for the archivist and one which opens the work of archival processing into the sphere of archival documentation: an important reminder on how archival archeology should be utilized as evidence in the process of describing archival material.

Borrowing privileges: Leon Trotsky, André Breton, and Meyer Schapiro’s books

Once in a while, as an archivist, you come across records that are so extraordinary that you simply stop and stare: partly in awe and partly in puzzlement.

This happened to me as I was processing Meyer Schapiro’s correspondence files several months back. I came across a letter from the well-known political thinker Leon Trotsky.

Aside from the fact that the letter was from Trotsky himself, I was also shocked to read that Schapiro had lent Trotsky books relating to the Surrealist artist, philosopher, and over all enfant terrible André Breton.

The relationship between Schapiro, Breton, and Trotsky is a complex one. All three knew each other, but never met as a group. They did, however, share a common interest in the arts and politics, and also, apparently, some books.

As Trotsky writes on June 14, 1939 to Schapiro from Coyoacan, Mexico, (he was in exile and writing one year prior to his death): “I was informed from my friend Jac Wasserman that you were gracious enough to send me some of Breton’s books. ¶ In my eyes it is a sign that you belong to the camp of friends, who as yet are not too numerous but who are, fortunately, increasing. I hope to return the books in short time.”

According to a typescript in Schapiro’s research files relating to Breton, Schapiro writes that he had seen Breton in 1939 in the Paris neighborhood of St. Germain-des-Près, but that they officially met in June of 1941 through their mutual friend, the artist Gordon Onslow-Ford.

As Schapiro writes of their 1941 encounter: “He [Breton] received me with a studied courtesy and graciousness. Gordon [Onslow-Ford] was radiant with happiness in the presence of Breton, as if he were showing me his father of whom he was inordinately proud before the world, and he was also proud before Breton for having presented him to me. Breton discussed so many things that I can no longer remember the order of our conversations; we talked for three hours about painting, poetry and psychology and the personalities of some artists.”

What they did discuss that day was Pablo Picasso’s work Guernica: “…[Breton] asked me what I thought of the bombing of Guernica, whether I considered it something good. I found nothing at all good in it, and distinguished the horror of the destruction of Guernica from the horror of the painting of Guernica. To this Breton said nothing.”

Breton and Trotsky, on the other hand,  knew each other from their meetings in Mexico while Breton was traveling there on a cultural mission granted by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1938, Breton, alongside Diego Rivera, wrote a treatise on how art can be in service of the revolution, Pour un art révolutionnaire indépendent, which was inspired from that visit in Mexico and the meeting with Trotsky.

Breton, however,  had an ambiguous relationship with politics in general, and Marxism in particular, because political activism was always cloaked under the mantle of Surrealism, as Pierre Taminiaux writes in the article “Breton and Trotsky: The Revolutionary Memory of Surrealism.”  

This may be why Schapiro would denounce Breton after the death of Trotsky, when Breton criticized the political leader for not bringing the revolution he promised: “Just as Kerensky attacked Lenin by asserting that Lenin as a boy tormented dogs in the streets of his village, Breton attacked the dead Trotsky for his rationalistic treatment of dogs and his illusions about them. Always dogs in the resentments of these deposed exiles! But to imagine that a Breton who devotes his days to speculations about occultism, astrology and playing cards, and constructs a black gadget to register all the significant events about the year 1713, which resembles the signature of his initials, should scold the revolutionary hero and greatest political thinker of our time, for not providing the revolution he has promised to Breton. If you do not give it to us soon enough, warns Breton, we shall have to excommunicate you from Surrealism.”

Schapiro’s characterization of Breton’s edict on Trotsky brings to light the many allegiances and friendships that Surrealism either shaped or broke.

In all, its curious how, in hindsight, Breton, Schapiro, and Trotsky  have become emblematic of the spheres in which they worked in: as artist, art historian, and political thinker respectively. It also shows how intricately connected the art world and the political sphere were back in the 1930s and 1940s and how, at times, hidden relationships (and the books exchanged) are not really known unless you have archival records to prove them. 

 

Picasso, the FBI, and why he became a Communist

 I came across this clipping, Pablo Picasso’s "Why I became a communist," from Meyer Schapiro’s research files on Communism and art. Written in 1945 and sent by cable to the publication The New Masses (of which Schapiro was a contributor), Picasso wrote:

"My joining the Communist Party is a logical step in my life, my work and gives them their meaning. Through design and color, I have tried to penetrate deeper into a knowledge of the world and of men so that this knowledge might free us. In my own ways I have always said what I considered most true, most just and best and, therefore, most beautiful. But during the oppression and the insurrection I felt that that was not enough, that I had to fight now only with painting but with my whole being." 

For Picasso, Communism was a means towards freedom and happiness, as he wrote in the article:  "I have become a Communist because our party strives more than any other to know and to build the world, to make men clearer thinkers, more free and more happy."

The year 1945 was a pivotal one for thinkers on the left, after the "Great Purge" of 1936 through 1938 in Russia by leader Joseph Stalin, many leading figures began to deflect from Communism and, like Schapiro’s friend and former Communist spy Whittaker Chambers, would altogether denounce it as a failed concept and governmental form.  As Picasso’s stance suggests, many individuals in artistic and entertainment circles moved within the orbit of Communism as a liberal concept. To counter this trend, the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), presided over by the United States House of Representatives, was created in 1938 to criminalize those activities in hostile congressional hearings.

Many artists who identified as Communist or were considered "Communist sympathizers," a euphemism at times for being merely progressive, were blacklisted from working, as witnessed by the "Hollywood blacklist." Individuals were monitored by federal agencies such as the FBI, which, to no surprise, kept files on individuals such as Picasso for their engagement with what HUAC deemed as "Communist activities" and/or the Communist party.  A document from the FBI archives on Picasso includes a mention of his article "Why I became a communist" and reasons that, because of this, "any information concerning Picasso" should be "furnished to the Bureau in view of the possibility that he may attempt to come to the United States." 

In the late 1940s to early 1950s, Museum of Modern Art director Alfred H. Barr Jr. would compare Communist Russia to Nazi Germany in his article for the New York Times Magazine titled "Is Modern Art Communistic?" Barr would write this it seems to distance and even undermine the assumption that artists, perceived as liberals,  where in any way affiliated with Communism — an important distinction to be made in order to avoid more prosecution from a paranoid populace.  

Indeed, as the 1950s progressed, old acquaintances parted ways ideologically, as Michael Kimmage shows in his book The conservative turn: Lionel Trilling, Whittaker Chambers, and the Lessons of Anti-Communism, yet Schapiro remained friends with individuals on both sides of the ideological divide — an interesting fact that is at times forgotten.

Needles to say, it was a volatile and paranoid moment in American history — one that still holds many fascinating insights into the role of politics, the arts, and how the two collide. 

 

 

 

 

Illustrating The Raw and the Cooked: Lévi-Strauss and Schapiro

Last year saw the passing of Claude Lévi-Strauss, an innovator of anthropological studies and an expert on non-western myth and culture. His work has had lasting effects in cultural and anthropological studies and his legacy is as controversial as it is influential.

Lévi-Strauss’ life also intersected that of Meyer Schapiro’s. In 1941, Lévi-Strauss was invited to become a visiting professor in the New School for Social Research in Manhattan and he was friends with the anthropologist Franz Boas. At the time, Boas was the eminent espouser of what would become known as modern anthropology. It is alleged that Boas died in the hands of Lévi-Strauss in 1942 after a dinner held at Columbia’s Faculty House.

Indeed, Lévi-Strauss, like Boas, worked across disciplines to cultivate his theses. Working across philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and the pure sciences, Lévi-Strauss wove a tapestry of thought into how mythology plays a large role in constructing societies.

Lévi-Strauss’ work jarred Anglo-Saxon academic circles by upending how people perceived so-called "primitive cultures." He did this by traveling, studying, and living with different tribal cultures across the Americas and his written work demonstrates the complexity with which indigenous tribes create their systems of belief and society.

As Lévi-Strauss would articulate in his 1977 Massey Lecture: "What I tried to show in Totemism and in The Savage Mind, for instance, is that these people whom we usually consider as completely subservient to the need of not starving, of continuing able just to subsist in very harsh material conditions, are perfect capable of disinterested thinking; that is, they are moved by a need or a desire to understand the world around them, its nature and their society. On the other hand, to achieve that end, they proceed by intellectual means, exactly as a philosopher, or even to some extent a scientist, can and would do."

Like Lévi-Strauss’ thinking on how mythology constructs ways of thinking, Schapiro was also interested in how form and content conveyed societal and cultural patterns. And, in this regard, both men played fundamental roles in shaping how anthropology and art history are studied respectively.

Because Lévi-Strauss was in Manhattan in the early 1940s, he undoubtedly met Schapiro via the Columbia connection with Boas. The first instance of correspondence between the two was in 1944, while Lévi-Strauss was teaching at the "Latin American Center" at the New School.

 

 

It was in July 24,1963, however, when Lévi-Strauss wrote Schapiro with a favor: "In order to illustrate a forthcoming book on mythology, I need a painting (or preferably a drawing) some old master, either known or unknown, representing live animals jumping into a cauldron set on a burning fire, or else throwing themselves upon the pit. This obviously would have to do with the ‘land of plenty’ cycle. I have looked through Callot, Flemish Renaissance painters, Italian popular drawings, and was unable to find anything. Would you by any chance, with your tremendous knowledge of medieval iconography, remember something along those lines?"

Given that Lévi-Strauss was writing in 1963, the book he mentions is undoubtedly the Le Cru et le Cuit (The Raw and the Cooked) the first volume of his four part "Mythologiques."

Schapiro replied to Lévi-Strauss on July 27, 1963 with advice, but it seems that the two never really pinned down the exact image Lévi-Strauss was looking for.

 

In August 7, 1963, Lévi-Strauss would write Schapiro: "Many thanks for your letter of July 27, which reached me in the country. The trouble is, I have no reference to submit. When I first thought of this image, there was no doubt in my mind that it existed and that I had seen it. Right now, I can see it in my mind, and I could even draw it … I felt certain too that it was by Callot, and I had one of my assistants looking through the entire work of Callot, without success, and also working at the Cabinet des Estampes for several days, still without success. Now I wonder if by any chance it could not be Japanese, for instance one of the mythological prints by Kuniyoshi … Whatever the case, the fact that you should not be aware of such an image makes me feel that I have probably dreamt it and that it is a figment of my imagination. This is too bad, since from a theoretical view point such an image should exist. But it only proves that there are limits to deductive anthropology!"

 

Judging from the image used in the first printing of Le Cru et le Cuit in 1964 by the publishing house Plon, Lévi-Strauss did in fact find an image very similar to what he was describing. While he was looking for live animals jumping in a cauldron, he found live birds jumping into a pie: an English silver repoussé from the 19th century that illustrates the famous nursery rhyme and that is housed in the Louvre.

 

While Lévi-Strauss may not have used "deductive anthropology" to find this cover illustration, it shows that his theory may prove a point: myths cross time and cultures to become an illustrative map of diverse societies.

 

 

 

 

 

Winter cheer : the archival edition

Now that the first major snow storm of the season has descended, perhaps a little winter cheer is in order. But how do you convey that through an archive?

Here’s a thought…featuring visually stunning archival exhibition announcements that Meyer Schapiro collected and that are now rehoused, processed, and described.

Leave it to an archivist to think of such a thing, but I’ll leave it to you reader to enjoy the images below.

 

Claes Oldenburg, The Store: 623 E. 9th Street, 1967

 

 Dan Flavin, Retrospective, The Jewish Museum, 1970

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

50th anniversary of the foundation of Swiss Dadaist movement, La Galerie Krugier & CIE, 1966

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Lucio Fontana, Martha Jackson Gallery, Inc, 1970

 

 

Collection highlight: Albergo pensione centrale, Siena

As well chronicled in the Getty Research Institute publication Meyer Schapiro abroad: letters to Lillian and travel notebooks, Schapiro spent the year of 1926 traveling abroad in Europe and the Near East.

 

While he kept extensive records of his travels in notebooks and diaries, Schapiro was also inspired to draw on found material. As evinced in this drawing found in the archive, Schapiro was so taken by drawing that even a business card for his hotel room was not spared.

 

Could this have been drawn en plein aire in Siena? Or was it done back in his room at the pensione?

 

One may never know exactly, but it certainly gives a nice glimpse into his artistic practice as one that was inspired as it was inspiring.

Meyer Schapiro’s exhibition and studio visits

Meyer Schapiro, known as a prominent art historian, was also an artist. In a previous post, I wrote about Schapiro’s own art work housed in his archive and about the publication, Meyer Schapiro: His Painting, Drawing, and Sculpture, which illustrates a range of his artistic endeavors.

Given his fondness for art practice, it is no surprise that Schapiro was also very interested in individual artist’s methods. Apart from frequenting New York City art galleries and museums, Schapiro also visited artist’s studios. Frequently, he was given specific invitations or was requested to view an artist’s exhibition at a gallery.

 

 

Take for instance this one personal invitation from the artist Josef Albers. Writing from Harvard University where he was teaching, Albers requests that Schapiro visit his exhibition in 1941 at the Nierendorf Gallery in New York. He writes: 

 

"From February 10 to March 1 the Nierendorf Gallery-18 E. 57-is exhibiting my paintings I did during my sabbatical leave [...]. I believe that with my new paintings I have taken a small step forward. I would be honored if you could visit my exhibition."

 

In another example, the artist Piet Mondrian invited Schapiro in March 1944 to view his works at his studio on East 59th Street of Manhattan.

Another artist’s studio Schapiro visited was that of Fernand Léger in 1942.

Schapiro met Léger seven years earlier in 1935 and wrote an extensive essay about their encounter.

This unpublished essay gives an insight into how Schapiro discussed and looked at paintings with artists. The act of looking, as is evident in many of Schapiro’s writings, is a central part of his scholarship.

Schapiro and Léger met at the Museum of Modern Art by appointment, where Léger was to accompany Schapiro through his exhibition.

Schapiro wrote: "He asked me what questions I wished to ask …, whether I had a questionnaire -as if I were a journalist. It was a little difficult to make clear to him that I had no prepared questions in mind, but simply wanted to look around with him and discuss things as they came up."

 

Looking is one exercise Schapiro was passionate about and the above excerpt gives a glimpse of its importance. The act of looking preceded the questioning. Questions, and the theories they sprouted, were to be deftly constructed after the process of looking. A common thread in Schapiro’s writing is that looking and perceiving both unlock potential stratagems from which to understand the visual.

And Schapiro’s visit with Léger is no different. Schapiro writes:

"Recalling to him [Léger] his remarks of the night before–in his lecture on objects, as isolated, interesting in themselves–I asked why he painted only certain things and not others. He explained that these objects provided the forms he desired. But how did you come to the new forms from the old? Why had he changed from overlapping, intersecting elements to distinct alignments of single objects? The latter, he answered, have more strength; isolation, completeness of elements, add to [sic] strength of the whole.

I asked then whether or not such separated objects would posses even greater strength if there were some interplay or activity involved in their juxtaposition. I cited Michelangelo; whose strength he denied; then Giotto, whose strength he admitted. Are not Giotto’s compositions strengthened by the relations of the figures? They confront each other, as two neutral objects cannot possibly do, and in this way they are strengthened as a whole. This he admitted finally, and said we have no meanings with which to operate."

This conversation must have been as intellectually vigorous as it was animated and gives a nice picture of Schapiro’s interactions with artists. Of course, while I have kept my above references to the 1940s, Schapiro was extremely active interacting, discussing, and engaging with artists throughout his life.

One such artist is the photographer Robert Bergman, whose exhibitions are now currently at the National Gallery of Art and MoMA’s P.S.1. In an interview with the "Brooklyn Rail," Bergman captures Schapiro’s enthusiasm for art when he says: "Meyer’s intellect was driven by fire. We all know genius level IQs who bore us. Meyer was driven by fire. I used to think of the closing stanzas of the Divine Comedy ‘my will was moved by the will that moved the sun and all the other stars.’ His interest in art was moved by will, not by arid intellect; his intellect was only in the service of the fire inside him, the passion for art." 

Provenance and primary sources : an adventure

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, one component of the Meyer Schapiro Collection includes a comprehensive series of exhibition announcements he collected spanning from the 1920 through the 1990s.

Being ephemeral in nature, exhibition announcements tend to be dispersed across collections or discarded. When they are in fact retained, they are treated as miscellaneous records that are not sufficiently described and therefore not always accessed. But there are several reasons why exhibition announcements are used for research, specifically when one is tracking the provenance of a specific work of art.

Because the Meyer Schapiro Collection houses a focused collection of New York City exhibition announcements and are organized by the artist’s last name and then chronologically, these records may become a vital source for provenance researchers seeking the custodial or ownership chain of a work of art.

Provenance research for works of art held in museums are crucial for tracing the legality of their ownership, especially since local, national, and international laws require proof of legal custody. Works of art looted during the Nazi era and illegally excavated works of art purchased by institutions are two examples of how dubious provenance can ultimately effect the present day custody of a work of art.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York houses a Provenance Research Project which focuses on Nazi Era looted works of art, as is appropriate for their collecting scope of modern art.

The Project for the Study of Collecting and Provenance (PSCP) at the Getty Research Institute focus their expertise on providing a historical framework to understand the provenance of works of art by providing primary source material for researchers, such as the Provenance Index Database.

Primary sources found at the PSCP also include auction house catalogs and estate inventories. Information can go as far back as the 16th century to allow further research into the chain of custody for works owned or created during those times.

Provenance research is not only important legally, it also gives a glimpse on where art works have been exhibited, who sold them to whom, and why certain art works are where they are today.  All these questions can potentially be answered by using primary sources, such as exhibition announcements, to track the custody, ownership, and exhibition history of a work of art.

For kicks, I decided to do a very informal run on provenance research using Meyer Schapiro’s exhibition announcements. My only disclaimer is that this is not a comprehensive research assignment, but a quick tour on the internet that illustrates how primary sources can serve each other vis-à-vis provenance research.

I decided to narrow in on one particular exhibition announcement that also served as an exhibition checklist for the then recent paintings of André Masson at the Paul Rosenberg & Co. gallery from May 1 through May 20, 1944 in New York City.

I chose this particular exhibition announcement in particular because Schapiro himself annotated and drew in it, giving me further visual clues of what the art work can look like. This was the case with the art work listed as number six, Masson’s Pasiphaë that is given the dimension of 40 by 50 inches.

In another "never-underestimate-the-power-of-the-internet" moment, I searched  the keywords "Masson" and "Pasiphaë" and yielded that the MoMA in fact holds a work by Masson with that title, but it was in fact a drawing with different dimensions. (This drawing could in fact have been shown at the Buchholz Gallery which was exhibiting drawings by Masson simultaneously as the announcement indicates.)

Another search result was found on Artnet‘s website that documents the results of auction sales. In particular, a Masson Pasiphaë came up as being sold at a Sotheby’s New York auction on Tuesday, May 6, 2003 in their Impressionist & Modern Art sale, part one as lot number 38. 

Going to Sotheby’s website and searching under their "explore auctions" feature, I located this work and its attendant provenance as researched by Sotheby’s.

The image is very similar to Schapiro’s sketch in the exhibition announcement.

Interestingly, the exhibition history as listed on Sotheby’s website does not include the exhibition held at Paul Rosenberg & Co. in 1944. Neither is it confirmed that Paul Rosenberg & Co. ever formally held it in their custody.

For its provenance, Sotheby’s claims that Galerie Simon of Paris acquired the work directly from Masson and that, subsequently thereafter, Galerie Louise Leiris of Paris acquired it from Galerie Simon and held it until at least 1958.

For its exhibition history, Sotheby’s shows these three exhibits for the 1940s:

  1. Paris, Galerie Simon, André Masson, circa 1943, no. 19
  2. New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, European Artists in America, 1945, no. 82 (as dating from 1944)
  3. Paris, Galerie Louise Leiris, André Masson: Rapportées d’Amérique, 1945, no. 6

The Paul Rosenberg & Co. exhibit is never mentioned.

After the 1950s, Sotheby’s lists that a William Rubin of New York possibly acquired the work and that subsequently the painting was in the custody of the Richard Feigen Gallery, Inc. in Chicago. It was acquired by Dr. and Mrs. Jerome H. Hirschmann from the Feigan Gallery in 1960 and they were the ones bringing it to sale at Sotheby’s 2003 auction.

So is the painting auctioned at Sotheby’s in 2003 the one mentioned in the Paul Rosenberg & Co. exhibition announcement ? It potentially could be, given that the painting was exhibited at the Whitney Museum in 1945, possibly directly after the Rosenberg & Co. exhibition.

Of course, a more detailed, serious, and in-depth research assignment would be required to ascertain if the painting from Rosenberg & Co. is the one auctioned at Sotheby’s in 2003 (there is, after all, a discrepancy in dimensions by a 1/4 inch between what is listed in the exhibition announcement and Sotheby’s  listing), but a quick gloss such as this gives a sense of how complex provenance research really is and the surprises that it yields. 

What, dear reader, would be your hypothesis on this? Your comments are most welcome.