The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2019

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JUL-AUG 2019 Issue

The Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation

A History of Artistic Necessity and Mutual Aid

John Sloan class photo (Art Students League), 1924. Adolph Gottlieb pictured in far rear, standing above the crowd. Alexander Calder is sixth in from the right. Courtesy the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation, New York.

An artist isn’t motivated by need alone. One of the unique aspects of pursuing an artistic life is that the intent of such a life is driven by a personal vision and, if there is an economics of that desire, it is for “more vision.” Adolph Gottlieb believed, unequivocally, that to be an artist was the ultimate life choice. He also acutely knew, however, that from this choice, pragmatic necessities do, unavoidably, arise. Gottlieb’s bequest in his will to establish a foundation assisting both older, mid- to late-career artists, and also artists needing immediate emergency assistance, set the practical and ethical standard for the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation (AEGF). Established in 1976 by a triumvirate of his wife Esther, the artist Sanford Hirsch, and the economist Dick Netzer two years after the artist’s death, the foundation has since awarded unrestricted grants in both categories in the total amount of $16,000,000 to date. The AEGF is the fortunate outcome of an artistic life predicated by the financial and ideological struggle that Adolph and Esther knew quite well. Yet they never let their fiscal struggles overshadow their shared focused goal of living a life fully in the arts. This kind of resolute commitment to conceiving and maintaining an artist’s life (including their provisions for the afterlife) asks for an explanation of the social background that supported such an idealistic endeavor, if only to avoid the impression that such idealism wasn’t essentially rooted in the same soil as real social necessity. While Gottlieb eschewed the idea that an artist should be the ideal product of a utopian society,1 he was himself the early beneficiary of progressive societal programs set up for the benefit of the general good, a fact which undoubtedly played a part in his final wish to establish a charitable foundation for artists. The philanthropic bedrock of the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation wasn’t quarried overnight.

Adolph Gottlieb was born into a specific social milieu. New York City in 1903 was (as it has been perennially since) a seething mix of demographics, including a broad range of classes across older and newer immigrant populations. The top four nations of origin of newly arrived immigrants, according to the United States Commissioner of Immigration in 1903, were Italy, Poland, Scandinavia, and “Hebrew.” The lattermost category illuminates a historical administrative distinction between ethnic makeup and country of origin, establishing a pattern of discrimination that has become increasingly prevalent today.2 The Immigration Act of 1924 drastically reduced the number of Italians, Greeks, Eastern Europeans, and Jews that were allowed to enter the country. Gottlieb’s parents, both of Jewish heritage, were first generation child immigrants to the U.S. from the Bohemia region of what was then Austria-Hungary. The artist’s family, among that earlier group of upwardly mobile immigrant strivers, would ultimately become the owners of a wholesale stationery business in New York City. The downtown New York social and political communities that both grew from and were supported by such families included institutions like the Educational Alliance, which was founded by German Jews in 1889. Dr. Stanley Coit had established The Neighborhood Guild a few years earlier in 1886. Coit was among a group of 19th century progressive reformers that included his mentor Felix Adler (himself a child immigrant of Jewish descent), who had earlier founded the Society for Ethical Culture. The Settlement movement, established in part by these social visionaries, lent a sorely needed respite, characterized by an educational supplement, from the often inhumane living and working conditions of New York’s tenement precincts. In its constitutional document, the University Settlement Society (formerly the Neighborhood Guild) expressed its aim “to bring men and women of education into closer relations with the laboring classes in this city, for their mutual benefit. The society shall establish and maintain in the tenement house districts places of residence for college men and others desirous of aiding in the work, with rooms where the people of the neighborhood may meet for social and educational purposes.”3 Most of these reformers, as their midwestern colleague Jane Addams expressed, believed implicitly that “the social gulf is always an affair of the imagination.”4 A diverse proto-Modernist generation of brilliant journalists, writers, poets, and artists such as Lincoln Steffens, Jacob Riis, Randolph Bourne, Emma Goldman, Max Eastman, Jacob Epstein, John Reed, Dorothy Day, and John Sloan gravitated toward such intent. Gottlieb, therefore, grew up immersed in an environment that purposefully combined socially progressive reform with aesthetic innovation. Practically an autodidact (in 1921 he dropped out of high school at 17 to travel to Europe, charting his own course of artistic study), Gottlieb could yet rely on the model of applied education, which surrounded him in his youth. After spending hours and days on his own, studying European masters at the Louvre in Paris, he supplemented these museum outings with additional excursions to artistic destinations in Berlin, Munich, Vienna, and Dresden.

Photograph of Barnett Newman, Adolph Gottlieb, Alex Borodulin, Otto Soglow, and unidentified friend in Central Park, c. 1925. Courtesy the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation, New York.

Upon his return to New York in 1923, Gottlieb was even more determined to make his way as an artist. His resolve meant that he wouldn’t be following in his father’s footsteps by taking up the family business, not a decision taken (or likely received) lightly, since he was the Gottliebs’ eldest, and only son. At approximately this time he reconnected with a friend he had met as a teenager, Barnett Newman. Like Gottlieb, Newman came from a middle-class Jewish family, also first-generation immigrants (from Poland) that eventually owned its own business, a men’s clothing manufacturer. Newman, like Gottlieb, chose to make the same fateful decision not to go into the family business. Unlike Gottlieb, however, Newman was among that group of second-generation children of immigrants to become first-generation college students, studying philosophy at and graduating from the City College of New York (CCNY). The college was also founded on the same type of democratic/egalitarian principles as the University Settlement Society: a distribution of educational opportunities based upon intellectual merit and need, rather than upper-class privilege. CCNY, therefore, became the de facto finishing school for those “huddled masses” first uplifted in settlement house seminars, a capstone institution of that hybrid doctrine of American self-reliance and progressive social responsibility.

Gottlieb and Newman solidified their friendship and quest for artistic identity while attending classes at the Art Students League where they both briefly came under the loose mentorship of painters Robert Henri and John Sloan. It was perhaps natural that Gottlieb gravitated towards the League’s open-studio approach to arts education, where the cooperative serves as a platform to pragmatically traverse, rather than as an institution from which to derive one’s professional standing. Refusing to avail himself of the steady income that involvement in his family’s business would bring, Gottlieb found himself in the situation that many self-supporting artists before (and since) his time would: taking whatever job one can that would afford the basic essentials of food, shelter/studio, and artist’s materials, while not allowing any such work to aggressively interfere with the creative process. In an interview with Dorothy Steckler recorded in 1967 for the Archives of American Art, Gottlieb related, “Towards the end of the ’20s I was supporting myself with part-time jobs, working settlement houses, […] teaching arts and crafts. Then I’d work in summer camps, teaching arts and crafts. I wasn’t much good at it, but I got by.” The social safety net then available to Gottlieb was the very same that backstopped his family’s older immigrant generation. No doubt there are many artists reading this today who can identify with this economically-downward mobile trajectory and concomitant reliance upon social welfare systems originally set up for marginalized populations not necessarily identified as artists. This experience in hustling to support his nascent arts career was an essential life lesson for Gottlieb, one that undoubtedly influenced his decision to establish a charitable foundation benefitting artists. Later in the Steckler interview Gottlieb described crucial early opportunities for showing his work,

I began exhibiting and one of the first places in which I can recall exhibiting was something called the Opportunity Gallery which was on 56th Street. It had something to do with the Art Alliance. […] It was for young painters and every month a different artist who was established would come and be the juror. Some of the artists were like Kuniyoshi, Alexander Brook, and whoever in the ’20s was well-known. Almost every month I’d submit something, which would get in. So this was pretty good for me. Then I got to be known among the younger painters. [Two] of the painters who used to show there [were] Mark Rothko and Avery. Milton Avery was given a one-man show there.

In recapitulating this early exhibition history, the artist vividly expresses how cooperative spaces—willing to show emerging artists—comprised yet another level of inspired para-institutional support. Milton Avery was to become an important older mentor to both Gottlieb and Rothko, so these meeting places also represented crucial points of artistic contact that inevitably shaped the course of American art history. The informal aspect of these momentous meetings and the idea that risk and chance were essential elements involved in fomenting a lively community of hands-on thinkers possibly attracted these three disparate artistic sensibilities in the first place, raising the larger question as to how any social group might become attracted to, participate in, and feel reciprocally compensated by collective support and action. In 1936, during the depths of the Great Depression, the art historian Meyer Schapiro—who would later become closely associated with the Eighth Street Club (or simply “The Club”) of the New York School artists and writers—wrote,

If modern art seems to have no social necessity, it is because the social has been narrowly identified with the collective as the anti-individual, and with repressive institutions and beliefs, like the church or the state or morality, to which most individuals submit. But even those activities in which the individual seems to be unconstrained and purely egoistic depend upon socially organized relationships.”5

There was by the early 1930s a necessary inclination toward “mutual aid,” a term derived from the Russian naturalist and anarchist philosopher Pyotr Kropotkin’s book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. Published in 1902, the year before Gottlieb’s birth, Kropotkin’s text would, by the late 1920s, still have been a relatively contemporary text and because of its currency, be considered a “modern” treatise of its times. Kropotkin applied what he learned as a naturalist to oppose social Darwinism, supplanting his own ideas of species “mutualism” and “altruism” in a vital, life-supporting community. Kropotkin’s version of anarcho-communism is often cited as an alternative to Karl Marx’s communist theory based in historical materialism. A bit later in this story we’ll encounter the continuing relevance of Kropotkin’s version of the social to the loose-knit community of the New York School of artists in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Adolph Gottlieb and fellow artists at the Provincetown Art Association's Forum 49 exhibition, July 1949. Seated in first row, l - r: unidentified, Adolph Gottlieb, Karl Knaths, Weldon Kees, unidentified, Giglio Dante. Courtesy the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation, New York.

Having been acknowledged by both his peers and the public during his early forays into exhibiting his work, Gottlieb secured his first one-person show via an annual competition held in 1930 by the prominent Dudensing Gallery, located at 57th Street in Manhattan. The exhibition was well-received and Gottlieb considered it the moment he first established a name for himself. Perhaps as a related result of Depression economics, Dudensing (aka Valentine Gallery) would eventually close its doors in 1947.

Gottlieb was not able to sustain that gallery's representation during a similar period. Knocked back again to struggling to get by, the artist took on a variety of odd jobs: photo retouching, sign painting, etc. Again, the precariousness of such life responses can’t fail to resonate with today’s generation of artists. Simply substitute the underpaid and unsupported adjunct teaching jobs and other part-time positions available to artists and non-artists alike in the so-called gig economy of 2019. Precarity is old news for artists. Gottlieb had married Esther Dick in 1932 and, fortunately for the couple, Esther maintained a teaching position at a vocational school during the worst of the economic crisis, instructing young women in needlework. In later years, when the so-called Abstract Expressionists had become successful in their careers, she would playfully gibe that she was the one mainly responsible for the financial well-being of that generation, but within her circle of peers it wasn’t far from the truth. A typical support scenario involved Adolph asking Esther for some cash for materials, then lending a portion of this loan to the sculptor David Smith for food, who would in turn lend a part of his loan to Mark Rothko for whatever he needed. In this way Esther helped contribute to a very early precedent of artists supporting artists. Esther’s paycheck-derived artist’s welfare seemed to anticipate the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation’s format. Together, the Gottliebs knew a community of artists’ needs firsthand. The concept of mutual aid was not merely political theory.

Works set out in former Gottlieb studio, in preparation of "Adolph Gottlieb in Provincetown" exhibition, 2018. Courtesy the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation, New York.

Franklin Roosevelt’s progressive New Deal policies, which stabilized and stimulated the moribund economy, were considered a timely response to the Depression. During the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), employed millions of mostly unskilled laborers to build transportation and housing infrastructure nationwide. The Federal Art Project (FAP), a department of the WPA, funded individual artists in various projects. At its peak in 1936 it employed over 5,300 artists. Participants in the Art Teaching Division were deployed in urban settlement houses and community centers nationwide, eventually serving an estimated population of eight million people. Gottlieb’s relationship to the WPA, however, was not a simple one. Although he did receive assistance from the program, and for a time volunteered his and Esther’s apartment to serve as a contact point for other artists to pick up their monthly checks, he eventually withdrew due to his perception that it was being infiltrated by more doctrinaire representatives of the American Communist Party attempting to exert their stylistic preferences (mainly influenced by figurative Soviet-style social realism). His reaction (although himself a card carrying member of the John Reed Club at the time)6 is an example in microcosm of the ideologically progressive American left coming into conflict with elements of the Communist International. Gottlieb linked the model of a state-sponsored artist’s welfare system with this repressive association and its potential to impose a chilling effect on a freely creative society. As an active leader and initiator of successive artists support organizations from the 1930s onward, Gottlieb knew that collective political action could be effective in bringing about change to the shared plight of individual artists in America. In 1935 he became a founding member of “The Ten,” a group of artists intent on promoting abstract and expressionist painting. In 1937, he resigned from the WPA over his perception of the aforementioned political/aesthetic conflict. In 1939 he resigned from the American Artists’ Congress,7 for that organization’s refusal to oppose the Hitler/Stalin non-aggression pact, which would eventually result in both leaders’ invasion of Poland. All of these decisions were made by a highly committed artist who also happened to be a highly principled citizen of the world. The progressive social milieu of his local experience growing up in downtown New York City had prepared him with an appropriate range of responses to the overlapping political and cultural tragedies that led to the Second World War.

During, but especially after, the war Gottlieb’s local and personal social support structure as a downtown artist would watershed into what artist Philip Pavia coined the “Gulf Stream” current of writers, poets, sculptors, musicians, and painters circulating between the Waldorf Cafeteria, the San Remo Restaurant, Washington Square Park, and the Cedar Tavern in downtown Manhattan.8 Out of these informal meetings and discussions grew what came to be known as “The Club,” located at 39 East 8th Street, where the aesthetic backdrop essential to artistic nurturance could be actively composed in a heterogeneous mélange of politics, discussions of formal issues, and more esoteric concerns encompassing the lives of the artists involved. Gottlieb, Newman, and Rothko had already gained hard-won knowledge about how group dynamics could support their highly individualistic goals.9 Their experiences began in a veritable desert of thought about advanced art in American culture. Their financial deprivations during the Depression showed them how Kropotkin’s concept of mutual aid could get them through on both counts. Newman showed a particular interest in Kropotkin, even writing a foreword to a newer edition of the writer’s compiled works in 1968. In the ramped-up, postwar, national economic boom fed by what then-president Eisenhower famously termed the “military–industrial complex,“ the three = would continue to effectively support one another as friends of artistic spirit.

By the end of the 1950s up until Gottlieb’s death in 1974, these artists would gain fame and financial reward beyond what they could possibly have imagined in their leaner years, yet they retained visceral memories of what it took to sustain their morale and financial stability. In their individual quests to keep the focus on their respective studio practices they had learned how to be “professionally poor” (at least according to the upwardly-mobile, standard hype of the American dream). Consider this excerpt from a statement Gottlieb delivered to a Pacific Arts Association (PAA) Conference in 1956: “In the 25 or more years that I have survived as a painter, I never had the slightest interest in being adjusted to society. Whether I was right or wrong is immaterial to the fact that at this stage of the game it would be virtually impossible to correct this. […] If we agree that the artist today is alienated from society, is a derelict, then we must also agree that the artist exists in a hostile environment, where the basic problem is survival. I would go further to state that young artists find themselves helpless in a brutally predatory society.”10 Gottlieb’s momentous decision to devote his estate to the support and assistance of fellow artists was, therefore, a deeply informed one.

Installation photograph of "Adolph Gottlieb: Classic Paintings" exhibition at Pace Gallery, 2019. Courtesy Pace Gallery. Photo: Guy Ben-Ari.

In 1976 the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb foundation was formally established, as stated in the foundation’s declaration of intent, to “provide grants-in-aid to mature, creative painters and sculptors.” According to Sanford Hirsch, he, Esther, and Dick Netzer, in order to remain true to Gottlieb’s final wishes, had come up with the concept of a charitable foundation to fund older artists, an idea that had no real precedent. Netzer, a noted economist, was essential to setting up the fiduciary model for the foundation, while Hirsch, who had been a trusted part-time employee of Esther’s, took on a pivotal role in the AEGF, first as a coordinator/curator and soon after that holding the position of executive director. Hirsch has written, “The Gottlieb Foundation had several challenges to meet almost immediately: to devise a grant program that would be open and non-discriminatory, to define a ‘mature, creative painter and sculptor,’ how to manage the collection of art it would inherit, and how to handle gallery representation of Gottlieb’s art.”11 To complicate their task, in 1975 a highly publicized and contentious legal battle over allegations of the mishandling of Rothko’s estate and foundation was being decided in court. Hence, the very notion of setting up an artist’s foundation for charitable causes seemed, just by association, a suspect activity. Artists of Gottlieb’s generation would have been familiar with this kind of suspicion, having once been lambasted in William Randolph Hearst’s right-wing press/propaganda machine (the equivalent of today’s Fox News) as “Hobohemian chiselers.”12 Hirsch has commended Esther for sticking by Adolph’s wishes as stipulated in his will, regardless of these highly unfavorable conditions for success. Despite these early difficulties the foundation was set up, and managed to borrow $10,000 in order to fund its first four grantees, in 1976: Herman Cherry, Jacqueline Freedman, Peter Golfinopoulos, and Hyde Solomon. 

From this rocky and humble set of circumstances the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation (AEGF) was launched. Sanford Hirsch remains the original chair of the foundation to this day. In an interview given for this article he recounted this primary role and the initial steps in working out the details of the AEGF: “In October 1976 I was filling in for a part-time employee of Esther Gottlieb. Esther and I began talking about her plans for a foundation and her concerns that the kind of organization she and Adolph envisioned—specifically, one to make grants to mature artists in need—could become a reality and how it could function. There were no private foundations in the arts that made grants to individual artists at the time, so there was no model for the type of program the Gottliebs intended. In addition to being an artist, I had worked at a couple of major art galleries and had friends in various positions in the art world (artists, curators, dealers, collectors, and others). Most important were the artists I knew who were at various points in their careers and who had experienced different levels of success and failure. My sense at the time was of a structure that viewed the artist as the least important participant in the art world. I was also acutely aware that there were no support mechanisms for individual artists other than the relatively new NEA and NYFA. Clearly, I was sympathetic to the need for a foundation that would provide assistance to individual artists. Esther and I extended our initial discussion and at her suggestion we included Dick Netzer. Dick was Esther’s nephew and he had lived with Adolph and Esther when he was a teenager. […] Dick was a prominent urban economist and he was the first to publish a serious study on the economics of funding artists (The Subsidized Muse). Dick advised several mayors and governors of New York City and State, and he was a member of the original MAC [Municipal Assistance Corporation] board that was formed to bail New York City out of its financial crisis in the mid-1970s. He taught at NYU and served as dean of its Graduate School of Public Administration (now the Wagner School) from 1969-1982. Out of those discussions we were able to develop specific proposals for a grant program and an exhibition program that became the Gottlieb Foundation. My original position was Administrator/Curator. I became Executive Director after a few years and I was elected to serve on the board of directors after about 10 years.”

Installation photograph of "Adolph Gottlieb: Classic Paintings" exhibition at Pace Gallery, 2019. Courtesy Pace Gallery. Photo: Guy Ben-Ari.

Key to the AEGF mission are the two categories of funding that it maintains: the support of older artists (Individual Support Grants) and the diversion of funds to artists in crisis or emergency situations. The former category has included artists as heterogeneous in their scope and methods as David Diao, Martha Diamond, Charles Clough, Joe Fyfe, Stefan Eins, Cora Cohen, Allan McCollum, Marjorie Welish, Steve Keister, Robert Forman, Ann McCoy, Noah Purifoy, Judith Linhares, Peter Hutchinson, and Mercedes Matter, among many others. Eligibility for these grants according to the AEGF includes the stipulations that applicants “demonstrate that they have been working in a mature phase of their art for at least 20 years.” Maturity is defined as the embodiment of a “level of intellectual, technical, and creative development maintained over (that) time period,” and that “artists must show that their primary involvement has been with their artistic goals, regardless of other personal or financial responsibilities.” In addition to these requirements, “artists must work in the disciplines of painting, sculpture, or printmaking” and provide a documented demonstration of “current financial need.” As the heterogeneous group listed above indicates, the AEGF adheres to a purposeful continuance of a polyglot community of artists similar to that of Adolph and Esther Gottlieb’s original society of support. Older artists of various situations in their careers are each acknowledged as members of a creative community, coalesced around their demonstrated commitment to a life in the arts.13 One might even extrapolate this community as an ad hoc “club” of the sort that gravitated to 39 East 8th Street back in the heyday of The New York School. The Individual Support Grants, however, are open to an international cadre of older artists in need. A panel reviews applications annually, with each consisting of five people: three artists and two art professionals such as critics, curators, or writers. The panelists alternate each year in order that the foundation distributes grants to the broadest group of artists. The AEGF strives to account for various diversities when assembling these committees by including people who demonstrate different approaches. They also try to include at least one past grant recipient on each committee. Every application is carefully reviewed to determine if it is complete, if the artist qualifies for the program based on financial need, and if each applicant has demonstrated that he or she has been creating art on a mature level for at least 20 years. Panelists are requested to visit the Foundation (located in Gottlieb’s final studio at 380 West Broadway, in New York) individually to review each eligible application in detail and then create a list of artists they would like to see advance as finalists. When the reviews are complete, Hirsh and his colleagues combine the finalist lists. Then the panel convenes to make a final selection of 12 artists from the remaining applicants who they agree should receive assistance in that year. A full day is allowed for this final review.

The AEGF Board of Directors reviews emergency grant applications as soon as possible after submission. It typically will take about four weeks on average to complete a review of such an application, with the ultimate time frame depending on how much information and documentation is given to begin with, and how long it can take for the board to contact various individuals (references, professionals, etc.) to determine the extent of need. However, in rare and extraordinarily dire circumstances the board has reviewed emergency requests and issued awards within 24-48 hours. Emergency grant recipients are kept private by the AEGF for obvious reasons of propriety. Yet for the purposes of this article Hirsch was willing to allude to a few anonymous, remarkable examples of these grantees. In one instance an artist who was fabricating work with a table saw badly injured his right hand. An emergency grant from the AEGF paid for the costly reconstructive surgery. In a poignant coda, Hirsch mentioned his later coincidental meeting with this same individual at an opening event in Manhattan, realizing that he was shaking the hand that the foundation had helped to reconstruct. Another such story involved an artist/father in the Midwest whose daughter needed emergency cancer surgery. The artist was able to arrange lodging and transport to Memorial Sloan Kettering in Manhattan, yet was unable to raise funds for the actual surgery. The AEGF stepped in and paid for his daughter’s surgery after reviewing his application. Internationally, the foundation was responsible for financially assisting a Somali artist who was a displaced war refugee living on the edge of an airstrip. He managed to borrow a laptop to apply for emergency assistance from the AEGF, who funded him. According to Hirsch, the opportunity to both fund older artists and artists in emergency need was one of the fundamental joys of his association with the foundation.

Adolph Gottlieb and Esther Gottlieb sailing in Cape Ann, c. 1934. Courtesy the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation, New York.

Now in its 43rd year of operation, the AEGF has served to fulfill its dual purpose of funding older artists and artists in emergency need. In addition, it promotes the work and legacy of Adolph Gottlieb. A recent show of the artist’s work facilitated by the foundation at Pace Gallery, Classic Paintings (March 1 – April 13, 2019) demonstrated Gottlieb’s abiding relevance as a painter who, in the words of Irving Sandler, “translated the ideas of both gesture painters and color-field painters into an abstract symbolism.”14 This conception of abstract symbolism is recently renewed with the demand on our current collective consciousness to assimilate an ever-accelerating array of contemporary symbolic abstractions generated by a plethora of computer-augmented information. It is fitting therefore that Gottlieb’s perennial relevance as an artist has continued to fund a wide array of existing practitioners and interpreters of present-day culture at large.15 Adolph and Esther Gottlieb may or may not have recognized the exact informational formats of today’s abstract symbols, but they would have been well aware of their aesthetic, social, and political sources and import. Their insight was due in large part to the social milieu in which they developed as engaged aesthetic and political thinkers: a society of “mutual aid” that eventually lead to their philanthropic vision in establishing the AEGF. In doing so, they have extended a model for such a society well into the foreseeable future.

  1. In a 1954 speech Gottlieb remarked: “[T]here is a sentimental attitude that longs for the reconciliation between artist and public. […] The notion of an organic society, within which the artist can exist harmoniously, is a utopian fantasy.” Adolph Gottlieb, Address to the College Art Association, “The Artist and Society,” College Art Journal, New York, 1955.
  2. United States Library of Congress, Immigration Figures for 1903. (From data furnished by the Commissioner-General of Immigration. Comparison of the fiscal years ending June 30, 1902 and 1903). Interestingly, a law dubbed the Anarchist Exclusion Act was also instituted by Congress in 1903. It restricted anarchists, epileptics, beggars, and importers of prostitutes. Its provisions related to anarchists were expanded in the Immigration Act of 1918.
  3. Directory of Social and Health Agencies of New York City, (Vol. 20, 1911), 352.
  4. Stansell, Christine, American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2000), 15.
  5. Schapiro, Meyer, The Social Bases of Art, a lecture delivered in New York City, to the American Artists Congress, 1936.
  6. The John Reed Club (1929-35) was comprised of Marxist writers, artists, and social organizers. It was named after the American journalist and activist John Reed, most famous for documenting the 1917 Russian Revolution in his book Ten Days That Shook the World. It was affiliated with the Communist Party USA in order to influence the American cultural sector.
  7. The American Artists’ Congress was founded in 1936 in response to the rise of world fascism, imminent world war, and economic instability caused by the Depression. Its membership brochure stated, “The Congress is open to any artist of the first rank living in the U.S. without regard to the way he paints or the subject matter he chooses to deal with in his work. The only standard for membership is whether he has achieved a position of distinction in his profession and the only requirement that he support the program of the Congress against war and fascism.” Prominent members included Stuart Davis, Meyer Schapiro, and Milton Avery.
  8. Pavia, Philip, Club Without Walls: Selections from the Journals of Philip Pavia, ed. Natalie Edgar (New York: Midmarch Arts Press, 2007).
  9. Dore Ashton described Gottlieb as someone who “through historic circumstance and local tradition struggled with the problem of the collective aspiration versus his individual salvation (as an artist).” Ashton, Dore, The New York School: A Cultural Reckoning (New York: Viking Press, 1972), 129.
  10. Adolph Gottlieb, Pacific Arts Association lecture notes, 1956. Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation Archive, New York.
  11. Sanford Hirsch, “The Start of the Gottlieb Foundation,” Brooklyn Rail, (December 2018-January 2019).
  12. Ashton, 64.
  13. Gottlieb’s commitment to funding older artists had in part to do with his perception that this group was the most in need of support, in an art world that he saw, toward the end of his life, develop artists at increasingly younger stages. For example, Gottlieb’s contemporary Willem de Kooning had his first solo show in 1948 at the age of 44. By comparison, the Museum of Modern Art mounted Frank Stella’s first career retrospective in 1970, when the artist was only 34. Gottlieb was therefore keenly aware of the dwindling recognition that older artists were most susceptible to both in their careers and in general society. In the 1956 PAA address, he implies as much: “One can be an artist for many years without being sharply aware of one’s social position, or the great gap between one’s self and average people. Artists tend to cluster together in groups, summer colonies, art schools, socially, etc. In New York I know artists who never go anywhere but 8th Street or 57th Street. I try to stay in my studio most of the time and socialize mostly with artists. However, on occasion one is torn out of this cloistered atmosphere into the hard, outside realities.”
  14. Sandler, Irving, The Triumph of American Painting: A History of Abstract Expressionism, (New York: Harper and Row), 201.
  15. Proceeds of the sales of Gottlieb’s works from the AEGF collection remain its sole source of funding.


Tom McGlynn

Tom McGlynn is an artist and writer based in the NYC area.


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