Museums

Gertrude Stein: Author, Art Collector, Fascist

gertrude stein Gertrude Stein: Author, Art Collector, Fascist

(Courtesy Poets.org)

The New York Times‘ architecture critic, Michael Kimmelman, formerly the paper’s chief art critic, has a long piece in The New York Review of Books about “The Stein’s Collect” show at the Met. There are some interesting points about the Steins as something more like an “incubator” than simply collectors with a tasteful eye for young artists:

“[Curator Rebecca] Rabinow organizes the display to suggest a call and response, showing how radical Matisse’s Woman with a Hat must have looked amid tamer picture from the time by Bonnard, Manguin, and Picasso, which prompted Picasso and others to react; Picasso’s Boy Leading a Horse is linked with Matisse’s Boy with Butterfly Net, the latter a twist on the former.”

But most compelling (and disturbing) is the matter of Gertrude Stein’s politics. Mr. Kimmelman includes a quote from the author from a 1934 article in The New York Times Magazine: “Hitler should have received the Nobel Peace Prize…He is removing all elements of context and of struggle from Germany…By driving out the Jews and the democratic Left elements, he is driving out everything that conduces activity. That means peace.”

This is a topic that has been written about at length in Barbara Will’s book Unlikely Collaboration, which documents, in the words of Mr. Kimmelman, “her long known but too often overlooked affiliation” with the Nazi agent Bernard Fäy. Mr. Kimmelman takes this one step further to claim that Modernism itself made what seems like a very contradictory belief system somewhat of an inevitability:

What might be called the inherent narcissism of modernist abstraction, with its inward-turning focus on its own formal means and devices, its willful divorce from the sort of close social observation and proletarian politics that caused writers like Dreiser, Zola, and Sinclair Lewis to be tarred as anti-modernists, is not incompatible with the clean-sweep radicalism promised by fascism.

Hm… suddenly we don’t feel so bad about not finishing Three Lives in college.