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Lincoln Kirstein at MoMA – Tablet Magazine

Lincoln Kirstein at MoMA – Tablet Magazine

In a portrait photograph on the exhibition Lincoln Kirstein’s Trendy, which opens Friday at MoMA and runs by way of June 15, Walker Evans caught the youthful, undefended eyes of his topic. His head dropping ahead, his clouded expression hovering between meditation and sullenness, Lincoln Kirstein was alone together with his ideas. It was 1931 and Kirstein was lately graduated from Harvard. With frontal mild casting shadow towards the naked wall and throwing shine alongside the width of his topic’s brow, Evans appeared down from above and throughout, permitting his lens to absorb the complexities of texture: the slight fuzz of crewcut, luxuriant eyebrows, chapped lips, the imperfections of freckles and still-adolescent pores and skin, the deep wrestle that was simply turning into evident in strains breaking above the forehead. Years later, reflecting again on their early encounters, Evans remembered, “I might see he was an excellent younger man.”

For some time, the 2 have been good buddies. Shut in age (Evans was 4 years older), each from elite backgrounds and each bisexual, they traveled in a number of the similar circles. However Evans was, as he put it, ascetic, “since I had a genteel upbringing [I thought] that actual life was hunger.” Kirstein, however, was drawn to the bohemian world, its highs and lows, which included the dives and sailor bars the place he might be reckless. He wrote in his diary about some shut calls and unexpectedly tough encounters: “my thoughts is often acutely aware of what the physique is doing, even urging it away from … an curiosity in peril that quantities to madness.” In one other collection of pictures Evans posed Kirstein as a gangster with a bowler hat and cigarette like James Cagney in Public Enemy, which had just lately been within the film theaters, after which, in a few mug photographs, as a rogue. “Lincoln, you understand he loves all types of humorous enterprise,” Evans would say later.

That yr, Kirstein was typically in New York. He’d meet Evans for meals, choosing up the tab since he fearful his pal didn’t have the funds for to eat. Within the spring, he invited Evans to hitch him and one other good friend, the Marxist poet John Brooks Wheelwright, on an expedition to watch and report 19th-century New England homes, many in disrepair; he needed Evans to take the images. For 5 days they drove by means of Boston, Chestnut Hill, Salem, and Arlington; later they went right down to Boston’s South Finish and as much as Newbury Port. They have been taking a look at Greek Revival and Gothic Revival buildings in addition to homes with mansard roofs and others from the Italian Villa Faculty. As Kirstein wrote about it, these have been examples of New England’s “constructing throughout its most incredible, imaginative, and impermanent interval.” Within the course of, he discovered concerning the exactitude of photographic method and the monotony of setup; Evans was captivated with capturing and insisted upon returning to varied places many occasions to get the fitting “onerous and vibrant” mild. For Evans, it was the start of a lifelong devotion to structure and architectural types, an integral part of the well-known photographs of rural communities that he did for the Farm Safety Administration. It additionally led to the 1933 present, Walker Evans: Pictures of Nineteenth-Century Victorian Homes, the primary one-man images exhibition on the nascent Museum of Trendy Artwork.

Nevertheless it was Kirstein who organized the venture, donated the pictures to the museum, and wrote about Evans as “a surgeon working on the fluid physique of time.” The symbiotic relationship he developed with Evans, initiated by some grand concepts and fortified by the generosity of his patronage, included a willingness to work by his good friend’s aspect “like a surgeon’s assistant.” It was a paradigm for a lot of of Kirstein’s inventive undertakings, most notably his partnership with George Balanchine whom he delivered to America that very same yr. Collectively Kirstein and Balanchine would turn out to be administrators of the Faculty of American Ballet and ultimately the New York Metropolis Ballet. Their success was delicately balanced, depending on Kirstein’s deference to Balanchine’s genius as a choreographer and his willingness to face as help, taking care of particulars, elevating cash, ensuring the lights would activate and the curtains would rise. “Don’t fear about something, Lincoln,” Balanchine would write to Kirstein almost 20 years later. “Every little thing is all proper.”


Lincoln Kirstein died in 1996 however his centenary was celebrated in 2007 with reveals and occasions at many establishments the place he had an affectionate bond: the Whitney, the Met (throughout his lifetime, he gave them greater than 1,000 works from his personal assortment), the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (the recipient of his monumental personal assortment of dance supplies that have been at one time housed at Harvard and MoMA), the New York Metropolis Ballet, the Wadsworth Atheneum, and the Harvard Theatre Assortment. Kirstein gave to American arts organizations the best way a beneficiant father or mother provides to a toddler. On the finish of his life, he organized for Jerry Thompson to photograph the association of objects in his home for the ebook Quarry. The textual content, which Kirstein wrote, served as a solution to say goodbye to the fabric world, the hundreds of issues he had collected and treasured, and to elucidate their connection to the life he lived. Like lots of Kirstein’s tasks, this concerned synergy, since he deliberate for the guide for use as publicity for the public sale of what was primarily all his worldly items, the proceeds going to the endowment of the Faculty of American Ballet.

In the course of the centenary yr, Peter Kayafas on the Eakins Press up to date Lincoln Kirstein: A Bibliography of Revealed Writings with 575 entries of books, articles, performs, ballet libretti, catalogues, and program notes. Martin Duberman revealed a well-received and helpful biography, The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein; and the dance historian Nancy Reynolds, who carried out within the New York Metropolis Ballet and labored with him on Motion & Metaphor: 4 Centuries of Ballet, edited an enthralling anthology, Remembering Lincoln during which he was variously recalled by associates and acquaintances as a bear (he was 6-foot-Three), a fox, a New England seafaring prophet, a ghost, a shadow, an enigma, a tempest, a facilitator, a Cheshire cat, an enormous, an eagle, and an “virtually child-like man who sometimes got here out for buddies.”

In essence, there have been two Lincoln Kirsteins. When issues have been going nicely, his plentiful vitality resulted in marvelous tasks. It’s been stated that Kirstein invented the sector of dance historical past, publishing his first three books on the topic in three years when he was nonetheless in his 20s: Najinsky, an nameless collaboration with Romola Nijinsky, in 1933; Fokine, in 1934; and Dance: A Brief Historical past of Basic Theatrical Dancing, in 1935. Decade after decade, he was nonetheless going, together with his pursuits spoking out in unpredictable instructions. On the age of 82, he revealed Memorial to a Marriage, a profound reflection on the story of Saint-Gaudens’ statue of Marian (Clover) Hooper Adams commissioned by her husband Henry Adams and located in D.C.’s Rock Creek Cemetery. That very same yr, the movie Glory, influenced by his earlier guide Lay This Laurel, gained two Academy Awards.

At different occasions Kirstein was troubled by demons so fierce that his prose would snarl into the passive voice and entangle his lengthy, 19th-century sentences past the principles of grammar. Ballet college students and employees have been on alert if he confirmed up on the workplace sporting his previous military jacket (what they known as his Boy Scout jacket) as an alternative of his customary double-breasted black go well with with tarnished brass buttons. There have been events when he needed to be hospitalized and constrained throughout full-blown episodes of manic-depression.

Throughout a lot of his life, Kirstein was a social gadfly, starting at Harvard the place he had lovers of each sexes and a big group of associates, together with Maurice Grosser and Virgil Thomson, Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Agnes Mongan, Alfred Barr, and Everett (Chick) Austin, in addition to a circle of Boston Brahmins whom he met via his sophomore yr roommate Francis (Frank) Cabot Lowell. In New York, he got here beneath the affect of Muriel Draper and her excessive bohemian although shabby salon the place she hosted the charismatic mystic George Gurdjieff. However his group quickly expanded to incorporate a conglomeration starting from E.E. Cummings to the gallery proprietor Julien Levy, and the gang that was related to MoMA like Philip Johnson, Eddie Warburg, and Nelson Rockefeller. In London, he turned near David Garnett, Lytton and Esther Strachey, John Maynard Keynes, E.M. Forster, and lots of others. Due to Hound and Horn, the literary journal which he and Varian Fry began in 1927; the Harvard Society for Modern Artwork, the gallery which he, Eddie Warburg, and John Walker based in 1929; in addition to the Junior Advisory Committee of the Museum of Trendy Artwork, which he joined in 1930, the yr after the museum was based; he established himself whereas he was a really younger man on the eye of the hurricane that was modernism. Paradoxically, his personal pursuits—which ranged from Napoleonic furnishings to West African masks, Abraham Lincoln memorabilia, and pussycat trinkets—was typically removed from trendy.

None of this might have been attainable with out the wealth and connections of his forbearing mother and father with their origins within the Jewish group of Rochester, New York (the identical group the place Florine Stettheimer’s paternal grandparents settled and the place she was born). His grandparents, who got here to Rochester within the mid-19th century, learn Goethe and Heine and, like different Reform Jews of their time, believed in deed over creed, contemplating themselves assimilated whereas their social lives existed inside the boundaries of their giant prolonged Jewish households and Jews of comparable social standing. Boys have been circumcised on the eighth day (though, in Lincoln’s case this wasn’t finished by a mohel however by the household physician and the end result was virtually deadly when septicemia set in) and the lads went to the synagogue on the Day of Atonement—his father referred to as it “the day of at-one-ment.”

The grandfather on his mom’s aspect, benefiting from Civil Struggle contracts for army uniforms, established the Stein-Bloch Firm, some of the profitable males’s clothes producers within the nation. Within the Gramercy Park townhouse the place Lincoln Kirstein lived together with his spouse, Fidelma, he stored a memento from the Stein lakeside “cottage”: a gilt-bronze tree of life, commemorating a 50th anniversary, the bauble festooned with polished cabochons engraved with the names of seven youngsters, his mom, Rose, being the youngest.

Louis Kirstein, Lincoln’s father, had a spotty begin; amongst different issues, he was stated to have been a hobo and a janitor in a bordello in St. Louis. Ultimately, he rose to turn into vice chairman and subsequently chief government officer of Filene’s division retailer in addition to president of the Boston Public Library. When he died, he was remembered as one of the influential Jews in America, holding main positions in Jewish philanthropy, with ties to Felix Frankfurter, Mayor La Guardia, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in addition to the three presidents earlier than him. Not solely was Louis a big benefactor to his son’s many tasks, typically bailing him out when he was in a jam, however he additionally offered him with a beneficiant allowance so he didn’t want a gentle job or revenue.

The method of individuation was a very ugly ordeal for Lincoln Kirstein. The privileges of his wealth and schooling insulated him from the backyard selection anti-Semitism his mother and father had labored round by staying inside the confines of Jewish society (their society included Justice Louis Brandeis and Rabbi Stephen Clever). To that extent he had a free run and will select what he referred to as “low life,” or combine with artists, writers, or the superrich like Nelson Rockefeller. However there was the issue of easy methods to face off towards his father, a person who appeared to characterize excessive social rectitude and achievement. The way to strike out towards somebody who had indulged each stage of his improvement and been affected person with extravagant stumbles (it took Lincoln three tries to cross the Harvard entrance exams) and infatuations (Louis and Rose thought Muriel Draper was “a menace”)? How ought to he put issues collectively with out becoming a member of the service provider class or one of many professions? Ultimately, recognizing that he wasn’t going to make his approach as a novelist (he revealed two novels), a dancer (he took classes with Fokine), or a painter, he developed a variant mannequin of his father’s entrepreneurship, charisma, and philanthropy, and made it his life’s work to construct and help nice cultural establishments.

To a sure extent, Kirstein had a charmed life, typically discovering himself inexplicably on the proper place on the proper time, beginning with the accident of witnessing his unique hero Diaghilev’s funeral cortège on the Grand Canal in Venice in 1929. Throughout World Struggle II, stationed outdoors of Washington, D.C., he was shopping on the Lowdermilk bookshop and got here throughout the discarded leather-bound album containing Frances B. Johnston’s platinum prints of the Hampton Institute commissioned for the 1900 Paris Centennial Exposition (he donated it to MoMA in 1965). As a part of the Arts and Monuments Fee, he and the architect Robert Posey have been the primary to find and go into the salt mine at Altaussee close to Salzburg. Collectively they unlocked the iron door of the compartment the place Van Eyck’s panels of The Adoration of the Lamb lay on the ground. At different occasions, he had the thunderous power to make issues occur: When he wanted to put in two heroic-sized Elie Nadelman marble sculptures contained in the newly constructed State Theater at Lincoln Middle, he organized for holes to be blasted into the just-finished theater partitions.


Lincoln Kirstein’s Trendy honors his contributions as an early benefactor, adviser, author, purchaser, and exhibition organizer. Kirstein, who wasn’t an artist however an inventive presence, makes an uncommon topic for a present, however there’s a logic behind the venture. As a result of the museum will shut for 4 months this summer time earlier than reopening in an enlarged and reconfigured area, it’s an applicable time to take inventory and look again to the earliest concepts for the establishment and the thought of “trendy.”

It’s customary to speak about modernism as a motion that necessitated a break with the previous: Artists had come to the top of illustration and changed it with abstraction. However Kirstein had an alternate imaginative and prescient, insisting on a sequence of continuity and, the truth is, there’s a rising consensus as we speak that’s on his aspect, reminding us of a giant group of forgotten artists, typically within the type of the human physique, who labored in the course of the trendy interval and have been ignored. Kirstein was answerable for the 1932 present Murals by American Painters and Photographers and he had his hand in reveals on Gaston Lachaise, two Walker Evans exhibits, Latin American Portray, American Battle Work, Elie Nadelman, American Realists and Magical Realists, in addition to the Hampton Album. A rupture occurred when he revealed an explosive article, “The State of Trendy Portray,” in Harper’s journal, explicitly criticizing MoMA and Alfred Barr for what he regarded as a bias in favor of Faculty of Paris artists. He was bewildered by the eye swirling round motion portray and summary expressionists.

The present exhibit consists of portraits, work, sketches, and pictures of Kirstein and his circle, in addition to artistic endeavors that have been within the many exhibits he helped manage, donations he made to the museum, and a big group of work he purchased on behalf of the museum in 1942 when he was touring by way of Latin America whereas engaged on an intelligence mission for Nelson Rockefeller. From that assortment, Antonio Berni’s powerfully vibrant New Chicago Athletic Membership stands out and should be proven extra typically. One thread that runs via the exhibition as an entire is Kirstein’s love for craftsmanship, the artistry of the hand. You see this within the once-famous Pavel Tchelitchew’s layered and membranous “Nervous System,” a part of his design for the ballet Cave of Sleep, and in addition in his monumental work “Cover and Search,” a fantastically grotesque portray that, to my thoughts, is blessedly out of trend at the moment. After WWII, when figurative artists have been overshadowed by summary expressionists, Kirstein championed Gaston Lachaise and Elie Nadelman, represented right here with polished bronze items which are equally classical in addition to trendy.

Probably the perfect a part of the Kirstein present is the massive middle room the place you’ll be able to see video excerpts from the early Ballet Caravan items like Billy the Child and A Thousand Occasions Neigh. Paul Cadmus’ pleasant designs stand out, particularly the see-through overalls worn by the fuel station attendant in Filling Station. Kirstein himself wrote the libretto for Filling Station. With music by Virgil Thomson, it was choreographed and carried out by Lew Christensen enjoying the station attendant in 1938. Whenever you watch it within the gallery, it’s exhausting to think about a extra American story with its truck drivers, state trooper, badly mannered household, wealthy woman, wealthy boy, and gangster with a gun. The burlesque, danced with delicacy and virtuosic excessive jinks, balances comedy and tragedy.

There’s a Flannery O’Connor undercurrent to the plot that raises questions on want, terror, strangers, and accident. These have been the themes that haunted Kirstein from earliest childhood, themes he tried to neutralize, in his means, with artwork, with the drive of character, after which vigorously and variously with atheism and faith. In a diary he stored from his boarding-school days he wrote with self-loathing: “in chapel I prayed, which exhibits what a sniveling little coward I’m.” Later, he tried Gurdjieff’s philosophical dialect on the Institute for the Harmonious Improvement of Man at Fontainebleau. After contemplating Catholicism for many years, he was baptized as a Catholic when he was virtually 80 years previous and, for some time, even attended neighborhood Mass. Predictably, as he stated about Judaism, it didn’t stick.


Learn extra of Frances Brent’s artwork criticism in Pill journal right here.

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