The story of Chick Austin is the story, in Virgil Thomson's words,
of "a whole cultural movement in one man." Becoming director of
Hartford's Wadsworth Atheneum at the age of twenty-six, Austin
immediately set about to introduce modern art to America and to
transform this conservative insurance capital into a cultural mecca
that would become the talk of the art world during the yeasty years
between the two world wars.
The first in the United States to mount a major Picasso
retrospective, Austin was soon acquiring works by Dali, Mondrian,
Miro, Balthus, Max Ernst, and Alexander Calder. In the museum's new
theater (which he designed), he staged the premiere of the
revolutionary Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson opera "Four Saints
in Three Acts" (with an all-black cast). At Lincoln Kirstein's
instigation, he brought Balanchine to America. And he embraced all
the new art forms, making film, photography, architecture, and
contemporary music part of the life of his museum. For his own
family he built a Palladian villa (now a recently restored national
historic landmark), filling it with the baroque and the Bauhaus and
inviting all the locals in to see how it felt to be modern.
Austin's instinct for quality proved infallible. Whether acquiring
a matchless Caravaggio or a startling Dali, he balanced the old
masters with the modern. Mounting provocative shows that linked the
past to the present, he created dramatic installations--and he
threw himself into everything, hanging fabrics, creating backdrops,
stitching up costumes. He loved to teach, to paint, to act, to give
lavish costume balls, and to dazzle audiences of all ages with his
performances as a magician, the Great Osram.
Brilliant at using his magician's sleight of hand, he could
manipulate his conservative trustees to get what he wanted--but
only up to a point. One more purchase of an incomprehensible
abstract canvas, one outrageous party too many, one more shocking
theatrical role, eventually led to a crisis. Never one to be idle
for long, Austin left Hartford and took on a new challenge--to make
an artistic triumph of the pink-and-white palace in Sarasota,
Florida, known as the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, which
housed the circus king's moldering but magnificent
Here is the colorful life of Chick Austin, and as we relish his
audacious career--the risks he took, the successes he enjoyed along
with the inevitable setbacks--we understand what a far-reaching
influence he had on the way Americans look at and think about art.
Not only a brilliant portrait of an extraordinary man, this
wonderfully American story gives us a fascinating behind-the-scenes
glimpse into the art world as it was then--and in many ways still
"From the Hardcover edition."
Review This Product
No reviews yet - be the first to create one!