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PATRON SAINTS by Nicholas Fox Weber

PATRON SAINTS

Five Rebel Patrons Who Opened America to a New Art (1928-1943)

By Nicholas Fox Weber

Pub Date: June 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-394-57854-6
Publisher: Knopf

 Art critic Weber (The Drawings of Josef Albers, etc.--not reviewed) offers vivid, laudatory portraits of five individuals who helped revolutionize American artistic sensibilities in the 1920's and 30's. The best-known figure here is Lincoln Kirstein, prolific author and a founder of the New York City Ballet, who, as an undergraduate in 1928, started, along with the ``animated,'' well- connected Edward M.M. Warburg, the Harvard Society for Contemporary Art. Kirstein and Warburg showed staid New England the wonders of Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion House, Calder's Circus, and design from the Bauhaus. They regularly had lunch with Agnes Mongan, who, at the Fogg Museum, was beginning the scholarship that ``fostered an unprecedented appreciation of drawings.'' In Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum director A. Everett Austin was picking up some of the Harvard group's avant-garde shows, while James Thrall Soby began collecting modern paintings and shocked the insurance city with a living-room showing of Bu§uel and Dali's film, L'Age d'Or. In 1933, Kirstein enlisted Austin, Soby, and especially Warburg to bring choreographer George Balanchine to this country. Certainly Weber achieves his stated purpose of conveying ``something of the spirit'' of these privileged and complicated five, but it's hard not to want even more on Kirstein and Warburg--who both became disillusioned with the art world--and, above all, on Mongan, not a modernist yet in some ways the most pioneering. We get a glimpse of the passions that drove this distinguished woman (who finally became head of the Fogg in her 60s) when she writes to Bernard Berenson of ``the magic and unearthly beauty which you led me into when we emerged from the grove in darkness.'' A welcome inside look at a loose circle of patrons in an era when money, taste, and risk-taking could steer the progress of art in America. (Seventy-seven illustrations.)ica. (Seventy-seven illustrations.)