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Advancing American Art, Advancing American Art, 0817352589, 0-8173-5258-9, 978-0-8173-5258-5, 9780817352585,

Advancing American Art
Painting, Politics, and Cultural Confrontation at Mid-Century
Edited by Taylor D. Littleton, Maltby Sykes

Quality Paper
2005. 176 pp.
4-color illustrations
978-0-8173-5258-5
Price:  $19.95 s

A representative collection of avant-garde American painting from the 1930s and ’40s, owned by Auburn University.
 
Conceived and funded by the State Department in 1946 as part of a new emphasis in international diplomacy, the exhibit of paintings called Advancing American Art was launched on what was enthusiastically projected as an extended goodwill tour of Europe and Latin America. But almost immediately the exhibit was attacked by conservative groups as “un-American” and “subversive” and its abstract paintings ridiculed in the national media, in Congress, and by no less a critic than President Truman. Following their recall by Secretary Marshall in 1947, the exhibit’s paintings were quietly declared surplus property and sold under rather curious circumstances by the War Assets Administration. Most of the collection was acquired by a small number of public universities in what could be called the art bargain of the century, since works by such figures as Marin, O’Keefe, Shahn, Dove, Kuniyoshi, and Hartley were sold for $100 or less.

The chronicle of this exhibit tells us something about America after the war, when the nation sought to reconcile its sacrificial experiences from the Depression and in World War II with its new role on the international scene. Defining the figures of confrontation that challenged America’s tenuous self-conceptions at the time, this book captures a significant transitional moment in U.S. history while also serving as a catalog of the 38 masterpieces purchased by Auburn University.

Taylor D. Littleton is W. Kelly Mosley Professor of Science at Auburn University. Maltby Sykes was Emeritus Professor of Art at Auburn University. Leon F. Litwack is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian at the University of California, Berkeley.

“The Advancing American Art exhibition of 1946-47 provides fascinating insight into the dynamics of public involvement with fine art. After a brief but tumultuous and sensational history, this collection of contemporary works purchased by the State Department as an effort at cultural diplomacy was distrubuted mainly to educational instututions. A sizeable portion was acquired by Auburn University. Littleton and Sykes have collaborated on a conscientious study of these works and of the exhibition they represent.
     "The Auburn collection is a substantial treasure [that] documents remarkably well a period critical to the development of American painting, and includes works of excellent quality. Its extraordinary history gives it great symbolic significance, and Professor Littleton and Sykes deserve much credit for a well-researched, intelligently presented study.”--Southern Humanities Review

“The events surrounding Advancing American Art portray perfectly the dangers of censorship and nativism.” --Academic Library Book Review 

“Fascinating and also exemplary. . . . Littleton and Sykes have done a great service.”--Southern Changes

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