Serge Guilbaut. How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art: Abstract Expressionism, Freedom and the Cold War. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.
In the thirty years since it was first published, Serge Guilbaut’s account of how Cold War ideology shaped the visual arts still stands as the best book in its field. French-born Guilbaut begins his tale in Paris and asks the question: how and why in less than a decade did the centre of the art world shift from the French capital to New York? His answer is eye-opening, revealing the figures and institutions who were quietly working to promote the American avant-garde in the early years of the Cold War. A look at the chapter breakdown succintly summarises Guilbaut’s conclusions:
1. New York, 1935–1941: The De-Marxization of the Intelligentsia
2. The Second World War and the Attempt to Establish an Independent American Art
3. The Creation of an American Avant-Garde, 1945–1947
4. Success: How New York Stole the Notion of Modernism from the Parisians, 1948
While the scholarly narrative means this might not be a page-turner and requires concentration, it is well worth the effort to gain a deeper understanding of Western modernism.
Installation view of the exhibition Road to Victory, 1942. Photograph by Samuel Gottscho. Courtesy Museum of Modern Art, New York