this issue contains
>> MoMA in Berlin: Knowing Alfred H. Barr Jr.
>> Portrait: Günther Uecker

>> archive


Old Fogg Museum Sculpture Gallery Fogg interior, workshop with students, 1932

Throughout the twenty-five years it took to amass his collection of art prints and drawings, Sachs cultivated and developed what Sybil Kantor calls an "old boy-network" comprised not only of some of the richest men in America as well as the Rothschilds and Wildensteins, but also a worldwide network of art dealers, editors, critics, collectors, and museum curators. Sachs used these contacts to train the future museum people in his class. During their travels, his students broadened these connections, making new contacts and discovering new places of relevance. They wrote articles for magazines or organized exhibitions for the Fogg Museum affiliated with the university, filling them with loans from Sachs' partners or former students. Indeed, Barr was to curate his first exhibition here in 1925, which focussed on the avant-garde movement of the Paris School. Equipped with up to one hundred letters of recommendation, Sachs' students embarked on their European travels; they were expected to collect detailed information on the art world, which Sachs then added, country by country, to his list of names, addresses, collections, paintings, and galleries. At the same time, this solution also proved to be of immense value to his students. Whoever earned Sachs' favor could be sure of a later position of employment. Not only does his relationship to Barr testify to this; so do Sachs' relationships to other participants in his museum class, among which were Henry Russel Hitchcock, Paul Vanderbilt, and Kirk Askew, all of whom went on to become world famous art historians and to play an important role in Barr's career and, hence, the history of the MoMA.

Tradition and Revolt
It was only at the very last minute that Barr informed his parents of the curriculum for the Modernism course he was about to teach at Wellesley College in 1927, where he began working following his studies at Harvard and Princeton. "Tradition and Revolt" was the course's title: "The achievement of the past - especially in the nineteenth century. The 20th century, its gods and isms. The painter, critic, dealer, collector, the museum; the academies; the public. Contemporary painting in relation to sculpture, the graphic arts, architecture, the stage, music, literature, commercial and decorative arts. Fashionable aesthetics, fetish and taboo. Painting and modern life. The Future." The seminar at Wellesley was probably the first college course to concern itself with the art of the last hundred years. Back then, Barr showed color slides - in those days a rarity - of the works of Bonnard , Feininger, de Chirico, and Chagall, and initiated his students into Cubist and Futurist art. Included among the "isms" he treated was also a young movement he called the "Superrealists," as the term "Surrealism" had not yet been coined. Inspired by Le Corbusier's book Towards a New Architecture (1922), he had his classes visit train station buildings and factories, such as Necco, which were then discussed every bit as much as the design of everyday objects, furniture, or automobiles.

Piet Mondrian: Composition in White, Black and Red, 1936, Gift of the Advisory Committee, Museum of Modern Art, New York

The entirely innovative approach of Barr's course on Modernism clearly demonstrates that Barr was anything but unprepared when he, midway in an academic year, embarked on a European tour with his friend and later MoMA assistant Jere Abbott in 1927 that lasted several months and that was to acquire tremendous meaning for the establishment of the future museum.

Although Barr had seen the photographs of the Bauhaus school designed by Walter Gropius at the Machine Age Exposition of the Little Review shortly before he left New York, visiting the actual building in Dessau far surpassed all his expectations. Starting in Holland, where they studied the works of Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg, and other members of the de Stijl group in museums and private collections, Barr and Abbott traveled to the Bauhaus via Berlin, where the connection between Harvard tradition and the Modernist adventure seemed to come full circle. Barr later recalled: "This multi-departmental plan [of the Museum] was (…) inspired by Rufus Morey's class in Medieval art (…) and equally important, the Bauhaus of Dessau. Morey, who used to lose his temper and swear about the Bauhaus, would be surprised at this parentage, but there are real similarities between the Bauhaus and the Medieval art course when you come to study them."

Machine -Age Exhibition (The Little Review, Mai 1927) Bauhaus Dessau Südansicht, Foto: Lucia Moholy, 1927,
©VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2004

Barr's sojourn in Dessau must have been something like an initial kindling that fortified his idea of a total culture and infused Walter Gropius' guiding principle with life: "Let us desire, devise, and together create the building of the future, which shall be everything in a single form: architecture and sculpture and painting." Barr was impressed by the school's internationality and by the formal studies taught in its workshops as well as by Feininger's enthusiasm for the Bauhaus jazz band, Gropius' seriousness, his encounters with Paul Klee, and his debates with Moholy-Nagy. The huge amount of ground the two Harvard men covered on their European trip attests to an urgency to use every chance possible to absorb Modernism. Departing from Berlin, Abbott and Barr traveled to the Soviet Union. "He was constantly preoccupied with the Constructivists," remarked Philip Johnson in this context. "The Constructivists were on his mind all the time. Malevich was to him, and later to me the greatest artist of the period. And you see, the Constructivists were cross-disciplinary, and I'm sure that influenced Alfred Barr, both that and the Bauhaus." Barr's encounters in Moscow could have easily comprised an address book of the Russian avant-garde. Friends organized cinema parties for him, introduced him to theater directors or arranged visits with Tatlin, Lissitzky, and Rodchenko. Regardless of whether he was hunting down icons in museums, watching Sergei Eisenstein as he edited October, buying a watercolor from Diego Rivera, who was staying in Moscow at the time, or studying the architecture of modern apartment buildings - everything Barr did was done with great intensity.

Alfred H. Barr Jr., Jere Abbott, and their
interpreter, Petra Likhatchew, Moscow, February 13, 1928.
The Museum of Modern Art Archives, NY: Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Papers, 9.F.71.

Back in Germany, Barr embarked on a tour of the country; he discovered some "wonderful small museums" in Darmstadt and Mannheim and wrote to Sachs that Germany had "forged new paths in museum technology" following the war. The later success of his 14-year career as MoMA director was also based on exhibition techniques adopted from his European travels: the explanatory labels in Russian museums, the portable display walls of Hanover's Sprengel Museum, the separate, rotating "artist rooms" at Berlin's Kronprinzenpalais.

[1] [2] [3] [4]