Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mark Polizzotti on Alice Goldfarb Marquis' The Pop Revolution

Alice Goldfarb Marquis' last book has been published posthumously by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Her editor wrote about it on Artbook:
In my ten years at the MFA, I’ve been fortunate to enjoy an administrative climate that supports broadening our program beyond traditional notions of “museum publications.” One way we’ve tried to do this is to feature works on our list that can appeal to curious but non-specialized audiences, the same audiences courted by such quality-minded publishers as Knopf, Norton, or Farrar, Straus & Giroux. And I can think of few better examples of such works than Alice Goldfarb Marquis’ The Pop Revolution.

To my mind, Alice’s books epitomize what the “trade” side of our list (for lack of a better term) is seeking to accomplish. An independent historian and onetime journalist, she brings to the table a profound interest in artistic creation, a real-world appreciation of the marketplace in which these creations circulate, a reporter’s keen nose for The Story, and a seemingly inborn ability to convey it all with unflagging panache. Her first two books with MFA, Marcel Duchamp: The Bachelor Stripped Bare (2002) and Art Czar: The Rise and Fall of Clement Greenberg (2005), both earned extensive kudos for precisely those reasons. Similarly, The Pop Revolution, even in advance of its April 2010 publication, has garnered enthusiastic comments from the likes of philosopher of art Arthur C. Danto (who called it “the best account I have yet read of the New York art world in the sixties”), art dealer Ivan Karp (“engrossing and exuberant”), critic Peter Plagens and artist Charles Hinman.

But beyond my absolute agreement with these authoritative supporters, I have personal reasons for spotlighting this book. In the ten years of our collaboration, Alice and I established one of those gratifying author-editor rapports that make this business worthwhile. In a sense, we grew up together at the MFA, for she was my author virtually from the moment I started here—indeed, I arrived with the Duchamp manuscript in my briefcase. Our phone chats (since she lived in California, face-to-face meetings were rare) ranged from manuscript conferences to Surrealist trivia to real estate woes to her ever-expanding and unapologetic collection of outlandish sneakers. Though I probably shouldn’t admit it, I always had the sense that, of all her books, The Pop Revolution was closest to her heart, the one she’d been prepping for since she first began writing and on which she lavished the most care and anxiety. It was many years in the making and it went through its share of false starts, revisions, and back-to-the-drawing-board redrafts before settling into its beautifully realized voice. Little wonder that the final chapter, when she delivered it, was accompanied by a note that read simply, “Breathing, at last, in La Jolla."

Sadly, that was the last note I received from Alice. A few weeks later, even as I was getting ready to send back my editorial comments, she was hospitalized for what I later learned was inoperable cancer. She passed away soon afterward at the age of 79, the editorial remarks unsent and the book’s completion uncelebrated.
You can buy a copy at More on Alice Marquis in this email from Blair Tindall:
Dear Dr. Jarvik: I just read, on your blog, that Alice had died. I knew she was ill, and I wish I'd checked in sooner.

She was an inspiration to me, and she was integral -- to say the least -- in research for my first book. I met her first in NYC while finishing it, and later in San Diego when I had moved to the area. I was impressed not only by her scholarship and writing, but by her friendship and business sense.

Thanks for writing such a beautiful post in her memory. I am sure her son is grateful. Ever since I first encountered her research on arts policy, I have been dumbfounded that she was not recognized as the maverick she was. I guess it's a testament to how "buried in the sand" arts administrators have become in the name of their salaries. But I could go on and on...

..In any case, your remembrance made my heart sing. Thanks for taking the time and thought to do it.

Blair Tindall
--author, "Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music" (Grove/Atlantic Press, 2006; US, UK, Korea, Turkey, Japan, Portugal)
Michael J. Lewis of The Wall Street Journal reviewed Alice's book favorably in May (I must have been on my walking tour of Dartmoor and Exmoor). Here's an excerpt:
For Ms. Marquis the key figure is Leo Castelli, the upstart New York dealer who specialized in Pop artists, in contrast to Sidney Janis, who showed the leading Abstract Expressionists. Castelli (1907-99) was born as Leo Krausz in Trieste, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His youth was peripatetic to the extreme: study in Milan, work in the family insurance business in Bucharest and, eventually, art dealing in Paris, where he opened a gallery at the worst moment (May 1939). It was Castelli's last false step. Fleeing the Nazis, he made his way to New York, where his diminutive stature, linguistic gifts and preposterous Hapsburg courtliness made him an effective purveyor of art—especially novel contemporary work, which seemed to demand the imprimatur of an older culture, a tacit endorsement of lasting value.

Ms. Marquis, who was herself born in Germany and fled the Nazis in her childhood, brings a sensitivity to the international dimension of Pop. She shows how the term originated in England and was at first resisted by Americans (an influential exhibition in 1962 came close to permanently branding the artists "the New Realists") but how Pop gradually won acceptance, losing the angry social content of its English counterpart along the way. Ms. Marquis also shows how Castelli's ex-wife, Ilena (they divorced in 1959), worked cordially with him to establish her Sonnabend Gallery in Paris in 1962, which gave his stable of artists an overseas outlet. Without this European presence—and without Castelli's cosmopolitan roots—it is possible that one of his artists, Robert Rauschenberg, would not have won the first prize in painting at the V enice Biennale (in 1964), the first American painter to do so.