Meyer Schapiro and the New School: From the Popular Front to the Cold War
Where: The New School
66 W. 12th St.
212-229-5108 Price: Free
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In the winter of 1937, Meyer Schapiro published a critical review, “Nature of Abstract Art,” in the Marxist Quarterly, organ of the self-styled American Marxist Association, which had an address on West 90th Street. This review achieved almost legendary reputation among art historians as a critical demolition of formalist interpretations of modern art. Beginning in the 1970s, a new wave of social historians of art interested in Schapiro’s Marxist past noted that he had already mooted basic theses of “Nature of Abstract Art” in a paper read at the First American Artists’ Congress on February 15, 1936 in The New School for Social Research. The American Artists Congress was a communist front organization and its foundation can be understood as a manifestation of the Communist Party’s Popular Front strategy. What has passed largely unnoticed is that Schapiro had actually advanced the same arguments in the fall of 1935 in a course of six lectures, “The Content of Modern Art,” at the New School. This lecture reconstitutes Schapiro’s 1935 course from his notes and considers his arguments in relation to the politics of the moment. It also sets it against Schapiro’s later lecture courses at The New School from the 1940s and 1950s and consider them as an index of the changing political situation and his responses to it.