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Benjamin F. Feinberg

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Benjamin Franklin Feinberg (October 23, 1888 – February 6, 1959) was an American lawyer and politician from New York. He was Temporary President of the New York State Senate from 1944 to 1949.

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  • ✪ Washington Arts Scene in the 1960s
  • ✪ Walter Isaacson, President and CEO, The Aspen Institute


Good evening, everyone. My name is Melissa Ho, and I'm the Museum's Curator of 20th Century Art. Thank you all for joining us for what I know will be a very lively and illuminating discussion of the Washington Art Scene in the 1960's. The occasion for this conversation is, of course, the exhibition Gene Davis: Hot Beat, on view now on the third floor. SAAM is very lucky to be the repository of Davis' work, and we remain grateful to Gene Davis and Flo Davis for their generosity to the museum. Our Chief Curator, Virginia Mecklenburg, and our Emeritus Deputy Chief Curator Joann Moser selected the works in this stunning presentation of classic Davis striped paintings, which includes several monumentally scaled canvases that have not been seen in decades. I want to specially acknowledge here, the Museum's Painting Conservator, Amber Kerr whose phenomenal work insured that Davis' paintings looked their very best for this presentation. The commentaries on the works that you read in the galleries were written by consultanting curator, Jean Lawlor Cohen who is also tonight's moderator and a long time chronicler of Gene Davis' art, and the Washington art scene more broadly. With Sidney Lawrence and Elizabeth Tebow, Jean co-authored the book, Washington Art Matters: Art Life in the Capital 1940-1990, which is an indispensable resource for anyone interested in the cultural history of our city. Thank you Jean for convening this distinguished group of Washington insiders to share their memories and reflections tonight. Lastly, I'd like to thank those that made this exhibition possible. The Joanne and Richard Brodie Exhibitions Endowment, the Gene Davis Memorial Fund, the James F. Dicke Family Endowment, the Tania and Tom Evans Curatorial Endowment, and YARES ART, of New York, Palm Springs, Santa Fe. Without further ado, I will hand things over to Jean Cohen who will introduce tonight's panelists. - applause - The image that would be good to have up there is the tree of art. All of you have a sheet of that, however, and that sheet is important to us, because in 1967, the Washingtonian Magazine in an article by Cornealia Noland, who is the ex-wife of Kenneth Noland, they commissioned this piece. I can't read the artist's name but it was to, in a way, parody of the famous 1947 Ad Reinhardt tree of modern art. It was to say that, we need to get a hold of all this information, the sources. When you look at it more closely, you are going to see names that will come up throughout this discussion, because everybody, even then, was trying to get a sense of the big picture. That's what we would like to do tonight. We have tried to talk about it ourselves and see what we could trace through this decade. At one point, Paul said, "The 60's didn't even start in the 60, they started in '64 and they went to '74." A lot happened. What we think of as traditionally the 60's stars is not the total story. What this does show is the venues, the branches to different things and styles. Before we start, before I identify these people, I just want to be sure that all of you were with us in the 60's. So the question is, were you alive in the 60's? Raise your hand. Did you look at art in the 60's? Do you remember the 60's? - laughter - There are people that should stand up, not just raise a hand. We don't have light on you, but maybe you can be seen in the Q&A part. Did you make art in the 60's? Stand up. Yeah, ok. - applause - Did you show that art in the 60's? - applause - Who here wrote about art in the 60's? Actually maybe published, had some words. I think there are some critics here, aren't there? Who sold something in the 60's? Ok, the panelists here. We all have a different entry point and perspective on this decade. Ben Forgey, the far left, was at the Star first (1964-81), then went to the Washington Post. I think his style would be confronting the art directly. It's like walking, his pieces would be like walking with him through a show in a gallery or museum. He is good at looking back, because he did the afterward for our book, which Melissa mentioned. He did this fine postscript which we had said, you don't have to do but 500 words Ben but it came out to 5,000, I think. That's crucial to looking at where we are now in the history. Then, Paul Richard, of course, who was at the Washington Post from 1967- 2001. 2009? Ok, that's wrong in some records. See that's what happens if you don't have anything to write. He said his experience of the 60's was different from ours because he was single. He was partying in the artists social circles. He was also meeting museum people that he thought were fun, and studios and parties. His reviews are different, I think, I've always felt were different because he listened to the artists intention, and then he put his personal spin on it with some poetic language. Jack Rasmussen is now, of course, Director of the Katzen Center, but he has been here doing good things for some time. He in 1965, there he is on the lower left, he was a Senate page. He was with Senator Magnuson. What was it, Washington State? Senior Senator from the state of Washington. Senior Senator, okay. You were not in the art world at this point. I'm much younger than the rest of the panelists, but I came out here in the summers, in high school. I knew Washington a bit, but primarily I lived in California. In California, thought, you had heard of DC art, you were aware of what was happening here? After high school, I went to college and I studied art. First I was interested in politics, of course, then I became a little bit disillusioned and realized that politics was just a corrupt art form. I went to college and studied art. We, the artists, at Whitman College in Walla Walla Washington, we knew about three artists. We knew Sam Gilliam, Joe Shannon, and Gene Davis. How did that happen to be? I don't know. Three quite different artists, too. Right. So what we have got is an outline with 100's of names and events and thoughts, and there's no way it's going to have a logical order here, unless I can keep redirecting it. If this were a seance, there are certain spirits from the past that would come and inform us, but one that's knocking very loudly and we have to go on and get it out of the way is Clement Greenberg. I know Paul has some, we all have some things to say about this, but Clement Greenberg as you all know, had an impact here. The reason he came here was not just the art, but he had a child here. He was divorced and his child lived here. That brought him physically here. What do we have to say, how do we deal with Greenberg? Let me start by telling you the first time I met him. A week before I started writing about art for the Post, it had never occurred to me that I would ever do such a thing. When it did happen, I was invited to have dinner with Mr. Greenberg at the home of Anne Truitt and Jim Truitt. Jim was a friend of Ben Bradlee and was working at the Post at that time. I sat at a table with Greenberg. You must understand, this was 1967. This was the year of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. As my wife said, the Beatles changed her life. I was not completely unaffected by them either. I made the mistake in the course of this evening saying, "Isn't it great that in every high school in America there are kids in the basement picking up a base guitar and a guitar and a drum set writing songs and doing their harmony. What would it be like in America if that happened to painting? If painting just became such an enthusiasm?" Greenberg interrupted me and said, "Richard, if you are going to try to write about art, the first thing you must do is overcome your Jewish social consciousness." He was, in many ways, a horrible man. He was a dictator, and intellectual dictator. A kind of Lennon of the art world. He was a man who played favorites without shame. Gene Davis refused to kowtow and was not the kind of guy that flattered people in superior positions. Though initially permitted into the inner sanctum was soon rejected. As far as Greenberg was concerned, Washington had two painters who mattered and that was Louis and Noland. The fact that the best Davis striped painting is a lot better than the worst Louis painting never occurred to him. He had a kind of a grip on intellectual conceptions about art in Washington that is now impossible to imagine, because no one has had that kind of power since. Color field painting, he was like the Pope of color field painting. He determined the dogma. I asked Ben if he would come up with an art critical summery of what the Greenberg line was. Can we just have it as the capsule so we know what the baseline is. Greenberg was a brilliant writer and critic who evolved into, as Paul suggested, I think here in Washington, he sewed a lot of discontent by being an exclusionary. He did so by analyzing art history and basically if I can sum it up in a way, saying that if you have subject matter in your art that art was kind of a mistake up until the modern period and that it was a lie to have subject matter in your painting. This was excluding a whole lot, and as Paul suggested - The history of art - well Titian among others, let's just say. This was an issue one had to grapple with as a critic in DC in the 60's. It was the prime issue you had to grapple with because this was the formalist interpretation had wide effect, nationwide, I mean it was very influencial, but in Washington it had this super impact. As Paul suggested one of the interesting things about this color school when you got to know the practitioners, was that there was a tremendous amount of bitterness, resentment, confusion, among the sort of left outs by the Greenberg dogma. That was one thing one dealt with, the other was just the intellectual. It was hard not to be a formalist. I studied art history in college and everybody was a formalist in a way. There is nothing wrong with that. Titian, just to mention another one, you look at the formal values, you look at color, composition, placement. All of these things, that's what makes him a great painter, but also interpretation, subject matter. It's much deeper than that. If you grow up with that, if you love Mondrian, and Malevich, but that's not the end of art. Greenberg evolved into a dead end, actually, I though. He has been repudiated since. Or just withered. I want to say one thing about Greenberg. I thought that as a critic, he was brilliant, as you said, especially early on. I think, in some way, he did not tell the truth. The argument that a line could be drawn and the two or three painters above the line counted and everybody else could be dismissed from a historical, sort of metaphysical thing is not true. He also told, I thought, untruths about history. The most important one for Washington was the myth that Washington color field painting had begun when a young woman in New York Mrs. Frankenthaler, who happened at the time to have a great deal more money than Clement. Her father had been a supreme court justice in the state of New York. She was, at the time, Clem's girlfriend. Through Clem, showed her painting, now at the National Gallery, Mountains and Sea to Leon Berkowitz and Louis and Noland. Like Paul on the road to Damascus, they were all blasted by the sign of the stained canvas, and it showed them the path to the future. This story, of course, places Clem Greenberg at the very center of it. What he never talked about, and what must be remembered here is that Washington had a history before him that shows up in the kind of paintings we see upstairs. One is the willful plan, just the geometry of the city, the experience of the grid, the experience of the circles, the experience of the avenues zooming into it. The other was the Phillips Collection where there was no historical narrative being told. All the paintings were hung by Duncan Philips in accordance with their color. The third is just the sunlight of Washington. If you look of paintings from New York at the time, you never see colors like what you see upstairs. You see the silvers and the greys and the blacks. You see it in Jasper Johns, you see it in Jackson Pollock, you see it in Willem de Kooning. So there was a burst here that felt planted in the earth of Washington. Anne Truitt called it Persian light because of the low skyline. What I think is the true pedigree of Washington color painting comes from Black Mountain where Frankenthaler spent some time and where Noland studied, where their teacher was, Josef Albers who taught at the Bauhaus. He did geometrical, rigorous, euclidean "content-less paintings" where each separate panel was filled in in accordance with a geometrical predetermined scheme, one color at a time. It came, Mondrian, Bauhaus, Albers, Noland. If Helen Frankenthaler had never been born those paintings upstairs couldn't be made as beautiful as they are today. At the same time, color field painting was, Washington had a spirit to it, things happened here, but it was part of a wider environment. There were color field painters elsewhere. At the same time, it was one of those simultaneous discoveries. Let me pick up on one thing you said about DC and the light and I know you mentioned Anne Truitt and Parisian light. I agree with you about the influence, the kind of living in the city with its remarkable plan. It has a lasting influence on you and it couldn't help but influence creative spirits who were living in this environment. I know it certainly affected me, after living here for some time. In my travels, I would see other cities and I would think, "No we have to straighten out this boulevard, cut down this tree." The actual view had a lasting effect on one if you live in it day to day. I agreed a lot with that. I also think the light here is quite extraordinary. If the urban geographers and planners talk about the topographic bowl of Washington, the geography of Washington is very interesting. The lowlands, what is now the center of the city is really surrounded by a ring of hills. In the center is the broad of this, the broad Potomac river, and there is an incredible effect on cloudy or semi-cloudy days, after a rain in particular, from the river and the bowl and the light, it's quite magical. I think that in a way, the color painters I think the magna and acrylic paint that they were using by penetrating the, by being absorbed by the canvas itself, had a quality of luminescence, that in effect reflects this light. It is, in many ways, a spiritual kind of connection with the technique of this, and the geography and topography of the city. It's hard now when you go upstairs, and these are called classic paintings, to remember how thrilling it was, and how new to look into color field paintings. It started in Washington, I think, some credit must be given to the Rothko room, at the Phillips. Ben was talking about the moisture in the atmosphere and this peculiar quality of the air and light in Washington. Somehow when you looked at a color field painting it was like looking into kind of open space. Peering into an empyrean beauty that you hadn't seen before. You didn't look at one bit of the painting, you looked at the whole thing at the whole time. Color field paintings, whether it was a Larry Poons or a John McGlothlen or Stella from New York, all shared this all at once-ness. I think there was a really weird parallel there which was going on in the broader society. First of all the hippies of the 60's the dope, the experiment, the arrival of the pill, the youth culture, and remember, two years after the Beatles did Sgt. Pepper and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Apollo 11 is landing on the moon. There was a sense of reaching for a kind of a space never before achieved that was, it didn't have faces in it, it didn't have landscape in a traditional way in it, it was out there, it was new, it was achievable by almost an act of faith, it was full of hope. When I think about the 60's that's the mood I remember the most. On the practical level, you had people buying raw, cotton duck. There were boat sales in Annapolis and Baltimore, and that allowed some of this great scale to be generated. It wasn't just that they were staining with new paints, but they were thinking big scale. The idea of seeing things all at once, the heraldic, really we could get our faces up here now and go to the first Gene Davis stripes. This one is not even in the show, I don't know where this came from. This can just stay there. What's the title? Anthrocite Minuet, the title is correct. Gene had said, the way to understand his paintings was to enter through the door of a single color. I think, from what we all have talked together, I think you enter the 60's through the door of Gene Davis. Because he was here, and he bounced off of everybody, and he taught. He is a good index to what was going on. I can tell you as a student on the west coast, we were very interested in Gene Davis because we wanted to know what the code was because these couldn't simply be stripes. So we were trying to, you know, red stands for 'R' and orange stands for 'O' or maybe it's the width of the stripes. There has to be something going on here. I told this story to E.A. Carmean and he gave me this great little story. Let me just read this really quickly. Sometime in the later 70's we hung this spectacular black and white Gene Davis in the National Galleries East Building titled, Satin's Flag. This was an arrow in certain schools. Academies of art history were given to finding obscure meanings and all kinds of western art from the Renaissance forward. One afternoon sooner after while talking with my staff, Elisa Rathbone and the late Trinket Clark, the absolutely joyful Trinket announced that in an instant of recognition and inspiration, she'd made a copy of the Gene Davis Satin's Flag and was taking it to the Georgetown social safeway there to it's new barcode reader. Her hopes were that in running it through the reader it might register as something like Campbell's tomato soup, or Tide detergent. Using this reading, she planned to write an art bulletin parody of hidden themes in Gene Davis. Depending on the read, again say Campbell's tomato soup, her parody would then invest art history style, discuss precedence in pictures of soup eaters, thus linking Van Gogh's Potatoes Eaters to Gene Davis, showing his hidden connections to Andy Warhol's soup cans. Unfortunately, the painting didn't scan. A good story. Back to this uniqueness of the city. I think there were spiritual things and practical things. The schools, that were here have to be given credit for the influences they had. Just before we get to that, without Gene coming from this exhibition, not to say the paintings are monotonous, because they are not if you understand them and look at them. It is not monotonous, but it is all a variation on a single, formal theme, or approximately, there are a couple of horizontal stripes in there. But Gene in a way it's a wonderful exhibition, but it's ironic in a certain sense to be standing here talking about the 60's and Gene as an entry to it. He was, but in a kind of insidious way. Gene was much more, he was a confident person and a confident artists, but he wasn't an insecure person at all. As John Kelly suggested in yesterday's wonderful article in the Post, he had a sense of humor. We are going to get to one of the events later towards the end of the sale of copies of Gene Davis, but we will explore that I'm sure. I just wanted to say that Gene was much more. He was a teacher, he loved to talk about art, he was open to a lot of different ideas, he was extremely confident in himself, but at the same time was open to other things. This conversation will be a lot about one way I interpret the 60's which was in a way, the Washington color school was over in in 1965, when that show went up, labeling it as the Washington color school. From that time on, the story of the decade in the art world here and then many other social aspects and political aspects, is dynamism and change. In terms of the 60's lasting beyond the 60's that's very true. A lot of things that came to fruition here in DC started in the 60's, it was a germinating time. We will see that as we discuss institutions, and everything else. Gene was, in a way, a part of that change. He even did the earliest video art. He did videos, which were destroyed, but before anybody was thinking of it as an art medium. Joseph Cornell, long before. Video, Joesph Cornell? Well, movies. Ron Downing in the 60's here really was a pioneer. Maybe that too started in the 60's but really came to fruition in the 70's. Yes, he went to New York from here. I was young in the 60's, it's hard to remember what it was like. That may not be the reason you don't remember. I remember Gene Davis as someone that was just lit up by young people. He'd started out as a journalist. He worked during the FDR administration covering the White House. He used to play poker with the president. Then he got out of the daily newspaper business and went to work for the American automobile association putting out a magazine. It wasn't until the mid-60's that he was secure enough in his art business and selling enough art that he took a job teaching at the Corcoran. His art, I think, brightened. I think '64 was his, a great year for Davis. I think he just loved being around young people. There is a kind of playfulness in his selection of color. Greenberg and Michael Freed and the thinkers, E.A. and the thinkers who were writing such thick and serious commentary in Art Forum of color field paintings, were not playing games, they were dead serious. Gene was very playful. When you asked him how he picked colors, he always dodged the question. I remember that when he died, I wrote an obituary, and the last sentence, the kicker of this story was that he told me as a kind of canned response, he told it to me more than once. That as Emerson had once said, "On the lintel of my doorway, I inscribe the one word, whim." There is something in the Davis' where the colors that he selects are completely unpredictable. If you look for a code, you aren't going to find it. Oh, I don't know. The whim is what separates him from the whole Albers tradition. Just because the CIA never cracked that code, doesn't mean that it wasn't there. Back to the schools, I just want to get them in, because things were happening here. Early 60's, Kenneth Noland was at Catholic University and they were showing only religious art until Ken Noland began to show people like Gene. He gave him his first solo, and he showed Louis. 1962 is also the year Louis died. Louis is pretty much out of the picture as of those early moments, and Noland left that year. That was a real breaking point. At Howard, you had master teachers that were there from the 40's. May Lou Jones influencing people that now are practicing. Alma Thomas went to AU and they had this wonderful old history. She was a classmate of Alice Denney's Yeah, Alice. We are going to talk more about Alice. The Corcoran, of course, had an artist faculty that was wonderful and through the 60's picked up people like Bill Christenberry, and Newman, Paul Reed taught there. I don't want to neglect that, or the point that you made Paul, early to us that the museums mattered, because we had not just high quality art here, that anybody could see, but it was all free. That set high standards for the amateur, for the students for anyone who went through the museum system. Let me just say, it was more than just going to the museum. From the days that Duncan Phillips started an art school on the third floor of their house on 21st street so that our people could get his kind of French impressionists summarizing depiction of what was in front of them. That was transplanted whole to AU where now it's the center of showing this kind of art. The people that taught at the Corcoran meant that the, I'm thinking of Ed McGowin, I'm thinking of Gilliam, I'm thinking of Davis, would hang out with kids all the time and getting some of that energy that was happening in youth culture at the time from the kids. When these people weren't teaching in schools, and there weren't that many jobs what jobs were available for artists were often in the museums. Willem de Looper had been, for years, at the Philipps You mentioned Sydney Laurence, he was working at the Hirshhorn. I remember meeting Mark Leithauser who is now the head of design at the National Gallery and the Deputy Director there and a man of high esteem and probity in Washington, when he was a hippy artists. There was a sense that there were jobs for artists in the museums. The artists got to know the staff in the museums, the curators. The openings in Washington at the museums, the Corcoran primarily, were the most important social events where painters, who spent a lot of their time alone in front of an easel or in a studio, and curators from different museums, and collectors, and all the kids from the Corcoran school mixed together in these elaborately fun parties. Berkowitz, of course, we forgot him. He was gone at the high moments of the color school. He was in Europe. When he came back he said, "I'm not in the color school, I'm interested in light." He taught at the Corcoran for some years and he was beloved. There is an image, that I've always liked, which showed all of his students who invaded a black tie opening and sat beneath the big Tony Smith smoke. Berkowitz might have said he wasn't part of the color school, but he never gave an interview that didn't have the visit to New York to see Frankenthaler, as the lead. That's not true. Well not to me it isn't. No, Leon didn't claim that as part of his curriculum, but to give him credit, he was the real mastermind of the Washington Workshop Center for the Arts in the 50's. He brought a lot of these people together. His own evolution as an artists in a way didn't depend on the color school. I think he was - he was a parallel - glad to ride in the draft of the color school, later on He often talked about bringing Noland and Louis together at the Washington Workshop. Anyway, he did with me. I don't know, I think there is a difference between what Leon did and the color school itself. When he got to his mature and better paintings they had their own spirit. By the way, that's one thing when you talked, you mentioned Michael Freed and Clement Greenberg and the way that writing read. One thing they excluded was the soul of color paintings. To react, emotionally to what's in those paintings. It isn't just technique, it isn't just form. There is something there to the best of them. There is a spirituality to Leon's that is different say from the elegance and the - dispassionate? Well, I don't know, dispassionate exactly from Morris Louis, say the Unfurles, but it is a different kind of emotional and spiritual expression. Let me just say one thing about the schools. In those days, you could go in the basement of the Corcoran and they still had plaster casts of Hercules and Venus. They were on the staircase? They were on the staircase, but in the school itself. For almost 80 years the Corcoran had been teaching students how to draw the way students were always taught how to draw. You start with a plaster cast, and you work from live models. This, for the first time, really the kids that came to these schools were given abstract paintings as a goal right from the get go. That happened with Noland at AU. It happened when Davis was teaching at the Corcoran. I would see painters, particularly of Michael Clark, one of my favorite painters at that time who came and could draw really well, and very beautifully, and how he discovered, a lot of people discovered abstraction first, at that time, and then returned later in the their careers to more traditional forms of depiction. I think Michael Clark is a good example. Gene admired his very realistic facade paintings Then he eventually became our pop master. In 1969, or late 68, there was an exhibition, I remember it very well, of Michael Clark - at the Corcoran - of Michael Clark, Ken Wade, Robert "Bob" Newman. They were all coming out of the Corcoran school and they were all abstract paintings, or variations on a theme. Michael's I remember very well, it was shaped canvases that plays in a grid. We have a picture of one of those. Is Michael here? An isometric perspective with 45 degree angles. Michael changed it's part of the evolution that's going on here. That was an interesting show especially, because they were all young, they were just out of the Corcoran they got a wonderful show taking the three largest galleries. Those glorious series of galleries on the second floor of the Corcoran, in the front. Four students, just graduates get to fill those spaces with abstract canvases. Each and every one of them in the next few years evolved into something quite a bit more interesting than that. Can we talk about some people? I think you felt that some of the key elements are these moving forces, people who were not artists, but were generating excitement. We have got a list here: Alice Denney, Walter Hopps, Sue Green, James Haritus, Vincent Melzac. Let me just put into word here. How are we going to talk about these people? Let me just put in a word for Walter Hopps. Walter Hopps was the antidote to Clem Greenberg. Walter Hopps had a mind of the same unbelievably high quality, but he had a catholicity of taste and an openness of mind that was the opposite of what you call Clem's exclusionary thing. When the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, when Walter took it over, the first show he did, he filled it with Gene Davis striped canvases. It took three floors, or at least two big floors. The second was Edward Kienholz. The third was the protractor paintings of Frank Stella, another form of color field, one color at a time, geometrical painting. He had Billy Al Bengston thrown in there, and then the Hairy Who out of Chicago. Walter believed there were many mansions in the house of art, not just this color field abstraction. He opened the possibilities so that they included folk art, street art, hippy art, amateur art and the kind of dominent intellectual position of Clem Greenberg and Art Forum and Michael Freed, and color theory, and formalism, was, I think, just broken apart by what Hopps, and not only Hopps, showed us. I think if you think of those things, you get a good sense of what was happening at the time. All those people, whether it was Kienholz or Billy Al Bengston had another kind of reaching out there. There was a lot of dope involved. These people were as out there in both sense of the word. The formalism, the rigorous academic stuff you get makes you forget that. Mary Meyer and Howard Mehring and Noland were going up to Philadelphia to sit with a Reichian psychoanalyst in an orgone box and absorb orgone and the sexual energy. They were getting centered. You could not talk with Tom Downing without it getting very quickly to astrology Jonathan Meter, who was trained in silk screen printing in the workshop that Walter started at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art made his best known picture of unicorns. There were outrageous ways of new unfamiliar thinking that were flowing around the corners of the art world at this time. Also, remember sculpture was almost invisible for some years there. With Ed McGowin, we suddenly said, "Ok, we can have sculptures from vacuum formed plastics." Installation art, he did. There were sculptors in DC. But they were invisible. Even Anne Truitt, we didn't ever see a work by her in the 60's. She was as much a painter as she is a sculptor. There were sculptors at AU. William Calfee was showing a lot at this time. There was an art world in addition to the color school. I'll just mention it, since this seems an opportune time to mention it. The focus on the color school, the critical focus and the money focus, the publicity, everything, left a lot in its wake. It's important to get through that. There was a lot of realist painting, I think that there is always a lot of realist painting. It's the predominant mode of painting in every city, at all times, it seems to me. I would bet on that. Name the people, name who that would be. Well, we saw what's on - Patricia - yeah, Let's see, Bill Woodward was here. He was born in Washington, and unlike many of the artists that we are talking about, he was born in DC, and worked here through the 60's and started showing here. He had some association with American University. American University, at the beginning, you had Robert Gates. Those are 40's 50's people, though. Well, but they are still painting. That's the point. I think you were absolutely right when you said it came out of the Philips. Literally and figuratively it came out of the Philips. The art department was actually housed at the Philips during World War Two, and then they came back and Lyle Watkins started this program which owed a lot to post impressionism, the post impressionists gesture, and abstract expressionism. That was a very different kind of work than what was going on at the Corcoran, which a few years earlier they were painting from plaster casts. Then all of a sudden, they had a hot young faculty wereas AU was getting older at that time. The kind of faculties go back and forth depending on how many people have tenure. Let me just say one thing about the sculpture, painting thing. Painting, sculpture always had second place in Washington. The National Gallery, and we are talking about the 60's this was long ago, the National Gallery might look like it's always been there. I'm older than the National Gallery. There are a lot of people in this room that are older than the National Gallery. It had a few sculptures in the hall, but it was a gallery of pictures. It did not have models of the Parthenon, it did not have suits of armor, it did not have Greek vases. It was a place where you went to see paintings. The Philips had a sculpture in the back little courtyard and it had a nice Alexander Calder bird made out of a coffee tin. It too was a place where if you looked for art, you saw a two dimensional painting. In Washington, sculpture belonged to the city, and to the government. I think you could say the greatest piece of art in Washington might well be the Lincoln in the Lincoln memorial. If you look at the statues of Washington, they belonged in the squares, and they were of civil war generals, and they had a public ceremonial governmental tone to them. Painting was given a privileged position here which I don't think it's ever lost. I think that one of the things that did change in Washington, in a big way, and one of the form givers and movers and moving spirits of the 60's that would be high on my list is a sculptor who helped redefine sculptor, Rockne Krebs. If you think about Rockne as a force for change in the art world, basically his whole life was devoted to redefining sculpture as an environmental, as a truly enveloping, environmental experience. A visual experience and physical experience. He used early laser technology. Plexiglass, as well. The Washington Gallery of Modern Art is an interesting story, but it changed Washington a lot. In preparation for this, I went over a list of shows that just, it's an amazing story, and a failure in a way. The way in '62 when it opened, it went through a couple of phases. Alice was involved, Alice Denney was involved, the first director was Adelyn Breeskin who was a classic kind of museum director. A show that I associate with her is a wonderful exhibition of Vincent Van Gogh which was quite a thing to bring to Washington for this new institution. Right from the get-go they were showing and bringing really really fine artists. You couldn't see these people in Washington, Franz Kline. Picasso? Picasso, but I'm talking about pop artists. Rauschenberg was there, the whole crew of pop artists. There was a whole show of that, and that was before Walter. When Walter came he did introduce these wonderful things. Just to emphasis, that institution as an institution is a very interesting study in Washington dynamics. It went through a few directors, you can kind of trace different shows to different ones. Hopps was the last director, the institution was absorbed for lack of money, basically by the Corcoran and then disappeared, basically after a while. It had lasting effects, but it had dramatic impact on DC as an awareness of contemporary art, and a place to actually see it. Let me just tell you one little Walter story about this. About how he broke how he expanded and remained acceptable in different kinds of art. When he was hired to do the American Pavilion at the Sao Paulo Biennale, he sent Barnett Newman. Barnett Newman is also behind those stripes upstairs As Albers is. He told Gene, though, that he was doing something fresh. I heard him say it. I heard Barnett Newman tell Gene not to worry about it. He was doing something fresh. I remember once at the fag end of an art party, standing in someone's kitchen with Walter and a few other people drinking cheap white wine out of plastic glasses. I said, "Walter, you were the first guy to show Duchamp, and you showed, your Paris gallery showed Warhol out there, and you've given us all these things. What are the shows that you would love to see that you never had a chance to do?" He said, he was thinking of a show called, Seven Enormously Popular American Painters. This was a show that included Norman Rockwell, Rockwell Kent, N.C. Wyeth, Saul Steinberg, and Walt Disney. These were all footnotes to the main act of the show, which was a two person confrontation of Andy Warhol and John James Audubon. Okay. Abstraction was not the only thing we were talking about in those days. At the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, there was also a woman named Sue Green, or Eleanor Green. She went from there to do, I think, freelance curating, but she curated a show at the Corcoran it was called, Scale as Content, in 1967, and it got the cover of Time magazine. The Tony Smith was on the cover. Everybody was just thrilled, it was like kissing, the blessing was here. It was called The Art Boom, was the headline. The work that was on the corner out there was Barnett Newman's Broken Obelisk, which you all know is the upside-down point. She tried to get anybody to buy it, to give it to the Corcoran and people did not, they felt it was a rude remark about Nixon. It was too close to the White House, and it was saying that the Washington monument, the world is upside down here. Menil has it now, forever. She was always kind of a frustrated person in her last years. I used to talk to her and she was mourning the state of things. She did have an impact. Melzac, of course, was the collector who supported some of these people, especially Mehring, and bought lots of their works and gave them to the Washington Gallery of Modern Art. A lot of his works are now in this collection. He was in the famous Fisticuffs with Jean Barrow at the Corcoran. There were key events, if you wanted to have a timeline. We have not created here, but the Washington color painters showed 1965, the Now Festival that Alice produced in 1966 was crucial. That was really New York people coming down and showing us what was happening, Warhol and others. '67 the Washington Gallery Collection was sold to Oklahoma, what was the name of it, the Art Center of Oklahoma. This place opened in 1968 and was then the NCFA. In '69, was the great giveaway. We did want to get to the giveaway. If you saw the John Kelly piece this last week, you saw Ed McGowin's take on that event, which was kind of a send off of the color school. Gene was very much agreeable to go along with that. Can I just say that sometimes we think of these as opposites, but they were blurred and blended in many ways. One of the things Walter brought when he came here was the whole idea of conceptual art and the importance of Duchamp. Gene Davis followed a lot of that. Duchamp in the early years of the 20th century had made a famous piece he sold to Walter Arensberg called, 50 cc of Paris Air. You were talking about the air of Washington Gene Davis went in front of the White House during the Vietnam War and captured the air. The least successful of Davis' works, he did a thing with a few fingerprints, 10 fingerprints, one which wasn't his, or, I think, the kind of trivial little micro-paintings that are upstairs were really conceptual gests in a Duchampian way. Even the most rigorous and loyal of formalists painters, of whom I think Gene is one, were tempted every now and then by this playful, conceptual, jokey kind of activity. The kids did a lot of it. Yuri Schwebler shaved all the hair off his body, Ed McGowin changed his name legally every month for a year. And made a work with each artist, each artist made a different work. It took 26 months or something like that, but he did legally go through with it. This kind of activity it had an energy then, I wish you had been there. There really was an energy around art, an excitement, a belief that we were on the brink of a new future. Unspeakably wonderful things were about to happen. We have't talked about P Street as a phenomenon. No, I just want to say, today if you want anything equivalent, go the the kitchen. If you pick up the Post now, there aren't a lot of art criticism, but there sure are a lot of food reviews. The energy that young people have with cocktails I agree with that, to paraphrase Frank Sinatra in the 60's and early 70's at least, there was this excitement around. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere in DC, DC, DC. That was really the spirit, a kind of nose thumbing optimism and ambition. It was rare that we finally had a gallery street, we had a row that generated excitement, and that was the P Street phenomenon. On that street were galleries we just should name: Hom, how do you prounce that? Hom, Jim Hom. Max Protetch was there, Henri, Diane Brown, Pyramid was Ramon Osuna he had Laurel Nesbitt, he showed Nesbitt plus Warhol and Cornell. Gallery Marc opened at the end of the decade, Marc Moyens, and Henri, Jefferson place, those too. Jefferson place was just off P Street. But it moved to P Street. Right. The Washington Gallery of Modern Art was in effect on P Street. Yeah, that was the reason for P Street, it created that. The fact that it opened in 1962 gave dealers an idea that we could have a concentration and that gradually happened when Henri moved in '67, my colleague at the Star, Frank Getlin, made a big, very funny to-do about it. He said that she should come across in a boat from old town. Henri crossing the Potomac. She was in that beautiful Victorian corner building, remember she painted it purple. Remember that? P Street was, for a while, and it stayed in that Dupont circle area, but we called it the P Street strip. One of our complaints, at least mine, was there was no really great artist bar in DC. The Benbow was a good bar, but you couldn't really call it, you didn't own it. P Street was, in a way, the gathering place for, you could go on a weekday afternoon, you could see everybody you needed to see, or you would. On a Saturday it was like a gathering of the art world and you could step out and go to the Benbow, or one of the restaurants and when you went to the Corcoran openings, you saw the same people. Exactly. We all saw all the shows. Because if you went down to see a show at Jefferson place, all you did was cross the street and there was Henri or, you know, Protetch. Those, as you said, no bars, Herb White had not done his good artist bar work in Washington. The P Street strip was the social sort of, mixing place. I think it's important if you think of cities that have some particular energy. Famous cities, Cedar Barn in New York, and with fist fights and black turtle neck sweaters, and no smiling allowed, and Jeton. When you think of, Els Quatre Gats in Barcelona where the young Picasso was able to go everyday and meet the Avant-Garde kids back from Paris. Paris, of course, had its own famous cafes back to the days of Toulouse LauTrec and Beaumont. The strip was not a, there were galleries where art was sold, but you never felt the main business there was commerce. Anyway, they didn't sell that much. Maybe it wasn't? I think if you all feel we have come to a point here, we'd be open to comments or questions from the audience for a little while. There are mics on each side, I think. You have to go to a microphone, on each side. Identify yourself, if you wish. Do you see the mic? First of all, I want to say thank you very much. It's been wonderful hearing and seeing you again. I have one comment to make about Gene Davis. My name is William Woodward, I used to be a young man here. We had something at the American University called the Art Student's Executive Committee. We used to go to New York to pick up new talent and bring it to Washington to show it at the Watkins Gallery on the campus of American University. We picked a painter named Gene Davis, gave him his very first show, at the Watkins Gallery, and he said to me, and others, he said, "I just started painting." We asked, "What made you want to be an artist?" Because you used to be, it was rather late in life when he became one. He said, "I loved Bonnard at the Philips Collection and Bonnard's paintings, with his exquisite color, made me want to become a painter." He was not doing stripes in those days, he was using his fingers as Bonnard did many times to apply these wonderful jewel box effects of color. I think one other thing we should do is really congratulate Alice Denney, who sponsored the Now Festival, and that skating rink. Rauschenberg came down, it was a wonderful bohemian spirit that sadly, has sadly disappeared. Thank you for giving me a chance to say something. Thank you. We all here second that for Alice, thank you for doing that. When you talk about movers and shakers, Alice was a shaker of the Washington art world. Mr. Rasmussen who stays with us today is I would think a Denney creature. Definitely a Denney creatures, yes. She gave me a job when nobody else would. Thank you Alice. Thank you. Someone else? One of the painters that I didn't mention when talking about realism and representational art in DC, which really was one of the big stories or feelings of the 70's. An amazing flowering representation art. Just an amazing thing happened in the 70's and most of these people came early in the 70's or late in the 60's, but one of the big events in the 60's of my recollection of it was a show of Joe Shannon's that Walter put together at the Corcoran Gallery of Joe's paintings. It's often said, and it's true, Washington does have a lot of political art and that's a whole separate discussion, but Joe's painting were socially involved, incredibly forceful, attacking, and yet sensitive then very traditional paintings in a lot of ways. They were like an announcement that something is going to happen here. Joe was a major figure, I think in that. We have one of his paintings in the loop. Should we just run that image loop and make comments as it goes? It goes pretty fast. Okay, can we have that run? It's as representative as we could get it with a number of really good artists. It starts with the color painters, it starts with the basic six, and then goes on. Is there someone in the tech booth? Why was there so little socially or politically engaged art in the 60's at a time when there was so much going on in this country? In Washington, unlike many in other cities, there was an institution that sort of sucked the political air out of the room. If you were involved in painting, you wanted to get as far away. The one exception to this is a very interesting story in and of itself. Mitchell Jameson, who went to was a World War Two, was involved in the Army's effort to document with artists the campaigns in Europe during World War Two, perhaps Asia, too. Anyway, Mitchell then goes back in another, a similar deal, he goes to Vietnam with the Army, with freedom to move around Vietnam. He devoted basically the rest of his life to this series of paintings and drawings about Vietnam. A remarkable exception to the rule, here. Okay, the loop is going. There are micros. There are twelve of those upstairs that are actual canvases. These are plastic. The Downing is very similar to what was in the Whitney inaugural show. And a horizontal Downing. They studied with Noland. There's another one. That's the dials. Then Morris Louis, of course. These are the basic six of the '65 show. The Mehring, beautiful watery Monet-like and then the hard edge. You can see how he went between the soft and the hard. We can blame Clement Greenberg for that. He sent Mehring real instructions. Excuse me, I think that painting there was Dupont circle and the square of the city and the river around it in one single image. Supposedly at Catholic University they had some old Nolands and kids threw darts at them, but I don't think so. Then Paul Reed, of course. He was interested in color theory, and he planned his. These were very much planned in kind of an Albers interest. Paul Reed He was the last, he survived until two years ago, or til a year ago. Benjamin Abramowitz, parallel also into geometry. There's a Berkowitz with the light, the illumination. Clark, there's Clark's geometric phase. Of course, the famous drapes of Sam Gilliam of '68 and they filled the Corcoran atrium. Hilleary, he was the architect that did Henri's Gallery and then she gave him a show. Krebs with the lasers that were also out for the bicentennial. McGowin and his vacuum plastic. There is Mary Meyers, she was, of course, the victim of a murder and lover of Noland and Kennedy. V.V. Rankine, who showed at Betty Parson's. Alma Thomas, whose work is in the White House dinning room for the next few days. There it is. Anne Truitt, she was the mother of minimalism, said, Greenberg. Ken Young is here tonight. Ken's here, where is he? Hello. Yeah, there you go. There's a Joe Shannon, the narrative paintings, and that was one of the few we could show, I think. Can you stop and hold this, this one? This is Red Grooms, of course, was too young, and did this in '86, but what it depicts it's called, The Pouring, as if it was some sacramental right. It's Morris Louis doing a veil and people peaking to see what his technique was. He was very secretive about it. It's Gene at the top, obviously, the bald head. The other two are unidentified. I sent that to Downing's first wife and the Noland Foundation. Those are just made up faces at the bottom. Here's Clark. He is now Clark V. Fox. He is just having a series of shows. There is interest in him now. The Biggs Museum in Dover, Delaware this weekend, on Saturday be there or be square. Here is Delooper showing one of his works. He was the Philip's guard who became curator. There she is, the punk herself. There's Alice. And Downing. Now come portraits of people, Franz Bader and Mary Swift took that picture. Gilliam by Paul Feinberg. This was the same era of the drapes. Henri, very dramatic. There is Romon who had Pyramid Gallery and Walter. This is Jefferson Place reunion and it's not going to stay there long enough, but Nesta in in the middle and V.V. Kainen, Jacob Kainen was very important throughout all of this. Rockne. Morris Louis, of course, has been gone. Can I just say one last word? When I look back I was thinking and trying to remember back to the 60's and all the decades that followed and thinking, "where was I right, where was I wrong, what was most important to me in say that 50 years?" I think that we most not forget how fortunate we are in this city to have had in our presence, Paul Meld. I'm speaking not because he was a painter but what he showed us, what his institutions, that he set up showed us over the years we enjoyed Michael Clark, and Gene Davis and Joe Shannon, but the Titians, the Leonardos, the Vermeers the quality of the deep history of art there is almost nobody in American that had such offerings within walking distance which we had. The artists that we have been speaking tonight belong to a much larger community of picture makers. That community, even if the kitchen has taken over, was represented in this period starting in the 60s. In a way, it was nowhere else in America. I think we should all be grateful for it. Grateful for the patronage. We have people? Okay. Why is the color school not optical art? Well, it is. Why isn't it talked about as part of the color school? Op art would be a kind of a sub genre of color field painting. I think it's a distinction without much of a difference. Well, there were people also that were playing games, that wanted to do little perspectival games. What was the name of it? Vaccerelli and that Jewish guy that painted the paints of people. Agam. There were people from Latin America. There are plenty of Washington color field paintings that do nothing op art really at all. Over here. Hello, my name is Nehal. Apparently like Gene was, I'm a young journalists in town. I'm curious, from the names, again i'm not familiar with many of them, but from the names it seems like most of the influential major artists in Washington in the 60's were Caucasian or of European decent. I'm curious if there were any major artists or curators who were African American, East Asian, South Asian? Second, what role the international community, perhaps embassy's, played in the art scene in the 60's? Well, can I just say that you are quiet true, this was a southern segregated city. There was a lot happening at Howard. Maybe not in the 60's, but planted in the 60's and shortly thereafter. There is a terrific painter here in the room tonight, Silvia Slogman who is studying at this time at Howard. Lou Stovall studied there and Franklin White and Ken Young. Martin Puryear started here, he is an African American artist. Today, when feminism is also a form of inclusionary political energy one must not forget, we were talking about the P Street strip Adelyn Breeskin, Henri, Nesta Dorrance, Alice Denney. How many women - Sue Green - had power? Washington had a tradition very unusual in the art world of the 40's and 50's at Barnett Aden gallery which was founded in collaboration with Howard University. That was very pioneering and, that lasted into the 60's, too, yeah, and it set a tone here, so that Washington in the art world, although the wider community was still very segregated especially during the early 60's. That was a continuing fight. It was like living in a different time zone in the art world, but the art world itself had this tradition of integration. It was the art that counted. I think in Washington there was a great presence of African Americans and people of color. The demographics of Washington have changed a lot, but Ramon Osuna, for example, coming from Cuba was a very influential dealer. Downing from Chile started here. Well, he lived here for quite a while. Washington was a very unusual place, I think. When you think of people like Franklin White, or Martin Puryear or Sam Gilliam who were showing at that P Street strip the fact that these people had dark skin was was not what we talked about at the time, it was not an identity, politics kind of situation. It was their art that got them into Henri, or Jefferson Place or the Corcoran. But it's interesting that the evolution of Howard when we talk about no political art in Washington, or not a whole lot of it, Howard evolved in the early 60's to an extremely socially conscious and aggressive kind of political social art The africobra movement, Jeff Donaldson there. That was percolating in the 60's as well. I think if you were to see our book and flipped through, you would see a nice mix of colors and faces through the decades. Even in the 40's when Eleanor Roosevelt would go over to the Barnett Newman establishing that that was the avant garde thing to do. The international side of that, I think the most influential aspect of that in Washington that I recognized even at the time was Latin American exhibitions at, then called, the Pan American Union. It was rotating exhibitions from various South American and Latin American countries. Throughout the 60's and 70's and on into the 80's there was a very good exposure of Latin American art here. Over here? My name is Perry Frank, I just want to say this has been a wonderful, wonderful night. I have been working for a long time on documenting the public art in Washington meaning the outdoor murals that have really come throughout the city and actually throughout the urban scene all over the country. Actually, the first ones done in the city in the late 60's were at Howard University. You are talking about that there isn't as much energy now in the idea of the new and so forth. I do think that the public art in Washington now and throughout the country, but in Washington it has it's own ethos It is very exciting. I think one of the things that I picked up on was your discussion of Duchamp. I think that a lot of the street art that we have is conceptual art, drawing from art of the absurd. It varies in quality. Some of these murals are really terrific art, but they are very important art to many people in the city, to the neighborhoods. I just wondered if you guys had any comments on that? I have more questions than comments on it. I would ask you if you see in the Washington murals to what do you attribute it's variety, and if you see a consistent thematic input. They have varied. The street art phenomenon came a little later. The earliest ones, really to get attention, were the Latin murals in Adams Morgan. Can we cut off in that that is not about the 60's, is that ok? Oh, I'm sorry. I'll just stop right there. Because we have people waiting and we were supposed to have been through five minutes ago, if you don't mind. Can we go over here? Thank you anyway for that. I'm Annette Polin, and I first want to thank you all for this wonderful evening. I just want to mention before you leave, the Corcoran conference of 1972 on women in the arts, because there were a lot of really great women making art here and they weren't represented in any of the museums. Galleries disproportionately showed them. That conference, I think Mary Beth Adelson there were a group of - Rosemary Wright, there were a whole lot - a group of women who got women artists and curators and activists from all over the country to come here and create a real community. I think that women were one of the trends that we see emerging at the end of the 60's. Over here? Somebody? No that is the last question. Thank you so much. Okay, good. Thank you. - applause -



He was born on October 23, 1888, in Malone, Franklin County, New York. Later he lived in Plattsburgh.

He was a member of the New York State Senate from 1933 to 1949, sitting in the 156th, 157th, 158th, 159th, 160th, 161st, 162nd, 163rd, 164th, 165th, 166th and 167th New York State Legislatures; and was Temporary President from 1944 to 1949.

He was a delegate to the New York State Constitutional Convention of 1938. He was an alternate delegate to the 1940 Republican National Convention, and a delegate to the 1944 and 1948 Republican National Conventions.

Feinberg Law

In 1949, he sponsored the Feinberg Bill, an act to purge Communist and fellow traveler teachers from the State public-school system.[1] The bill required the Regents of the State School Board to draw up a list of all subversive organizations. Membership in such organizations was sufficient grounds for summary removal. Although the law focused on organisational membership, in its implementation it would delve into people's reading preferences, social activities, rallies attended, petitions signed, and beliefs on current political issues.[2] The regents were also empowered to dismiss school employees for the "utterance of any treasonable or seditious word...or the doing of any treasonable or seditious act..." regardless of their affiliations.[3] The Law was struck down in 1967 as unconstitutional in its violations of individual liberties.[4]

Later career

On March 30, 1949, Feinberg was appointed Chairman of the New York State Public Service Commission, and remained in office until 1958.

Legacy and death

Feinberg was instrumental in the founding of the State University of New York,[citation needed] and the Library at SUNY Plattsburgh is named after him.

He died on February 6, 1959, in Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, of kidney disease.

External links

  • [1] Political Graveyard
  • [2] The Feinberg Bill in TIME Magazine on April 11, 1949


  1. ^ The Feinberg Law. (1949). The New Republic, 121(24), 7.
  2. ^ Smolla, R. (2011). Academic Freedom and the Living Constitution. In The Constitution Goes to College (p. The Constitution Goes to College, Chapter 002). NYU Press.
  3. ^ Heins, Marjorie. “The Board of Education and the Feinberg Law.” Priests of Our Democracy: The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti-Communist Purge, NYU Press, 2013, pp. 69–86. JSTOR,
  4. ^ 'End of the Feinberg Law'. New York Times, January 26, 1967, Page 32, New York edition

New York State Senate
Preceded by
Henry E. H. Brereton
New York State Senate
33rd District

Succeeded by
Frederic H. Bontecou
Preceded by
G. Frank Wallace
New York State Senate
38th District

Succeeded by
Henry Neddo
Political offices
Preceded by
Joe R. Hanley
Temporary President of the New York State Senate
Succeeded by
Arthur H. Wicks
This page was last edited on 21 June 2019, at 09:04
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