Susan Harris

A folded paper construction of a boat sits on my desk where I work and eat. A paper construction of a boat sits on my desk.

One year ago during an AICA-USA Board meeting I was hosting in my home, Irving Sandler sat folding and transforming the meeting agenda into this boat, which he playfully presented to me as his “signature artwork.” Now that Irving is gone, the paper boat is a cherished memento.

When I was invited to join the AICA-USA Board thirteen years ago, I felt honored to be part of a group of esteemed art writers that included Irving Sandler. Irving Sandler! I revered Irving for his definitive work on the history of Abstract Expressionism and the New York School of the fifties—subjects, by the way, that were still too novel for the staid curriculum at The Institute of Fine Arts when I began graduate school. As I grew into my career as an art writer and curator, Irving was crucial for inspiring and affirming my instinct for engaging in the art of my time, and was a role model for his commitment to and love for art and artists.

During my terms as president of AICA-USA, Irving consistently advocated for programs to address the crisis in art criticism which he felt was excessively driven by market issues rather than by art. Shortly before his death, the Board unanimously voted to establish the Irving Sandler Award for Distinguished Art Criticism. When Phong Bui, Amei Wallach, and I visited Irving to present him with the award, he perked up and became engaged in conversation about young art critics. Asked what the age limit of the award recipient should be, he didn’t miss a beat: “Probably younger than 92.”

It was a privilege to have known Irving as a colleague and friend with shared ideas and values. His passion for art (and the boat) is his legacy to the world and to me.

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