ART IN THE SERVICE OF POLITICS AT THE DAWN OF THE COLD WAR
New Edition of Book Tells Story of "Art Bargain of the Century"
TUSCALOOSA, AL-Nearly sixty years ago the State Department came
up with the idea of sending an exhibit of American art around the world.
This exhibit, titled "Advancing American Art," was supposed to send a
group of paintings, purchased at taxpayer expense, on a goodwill tour of
Europe and Latin America.
In 1946 the government spent almost fifty thousand dollars to
purchase a number of modernist paintings by American artists. Almost
immediately, critics began ridiculing the abstract paintings, and
attacking the exhibit as "un-American" and "subversive." Conservative
groups questioned the use of public money, and even President Truman
bluntly offered his (negative) opinion.
The tour was cancelled and the more than 100 paintings were
returned to the U.S. in 1947. The art was declared "surplus property"
and sold by the War Assets Administration. Works by Romare Bearden,
Arthur Dove, John Marin, Ben Shahn, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Jacob Lawrence
were sold off, sometimes for less than $100 each. The sale netted just
Who were the beneficiaries of this "art bargain of the century"? Most of
the paintings were acquired by a small number of public universities.
Thirty-six of these masterpieces-nearly a third of the original
exhibit-were purchased by Auburn University in 1948, and they quickly
became the core of a stunning collection.
In 1999 The University of Alabama Press published Advancing
American Art: Painting, Politics, and Cultural Confrontation at
Mid-Century by Taylor Littleton and Maltby Sykes. The book functioned
both as an introduction to the Auburn Collection and a history of the
almost forgotten exhibit. By examining the events in the context of
post-war years the book captured a significant transitional moment in
U.S. cultural history as we sought to redefine ourselves in the wake of
tremendous international upheaval.
A second edition of the book has just been released, which the New
Yorker describes as an "appropriately amused and acerbic account."
Published under the Press's Fire Ant Books imprint, it includes
thirty-six color plates (the original edition only included
These "books with bite" feature compelling stories aimed at a
broad audience. Concentrating on southern culture and history, and
including both original volumes and reprint editions, they represent
some of the finest work published by university presses today.
Advancing American Art: Painting, Politics, and Cultural Confrontation
by Taylor D. Littleton and Maltby Sykes
Second Edition * Publication date: July 17, 2005
176 pages * 9 x 6 *ISBN 0-8173-5258-9 * $19.95 paperback
To order, contact the Chicago Distribution Center * 773-702-7000 *
For additional information, contact: Dennis Lloyd *
* direct line: 205-348-9534