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Magician of the Modern Chick Austin and the Transformation of the Arts in America

by Eugene R. Gaddis

  • ISBN: 9780394587776
  • ISBN10: 0394587774

Magician of the Modern Chick Austin and the Transformation of the Arts in America

by Eugene R. Gaddis

  • List Price: $35.00
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Publisher: Random House Inc
  • Publish date: 11/01/2000
  • ISBN: 9780394587776
  • ISBN10: 0394587774
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Description: Painter, costume and set designer, actor, magician, and great cook, Chick Austin, born at the turn of the century, was blessed with a multitude of talents. But it was his infallible taste and audacity that made him the most innovative museum director during those yeasty years in American between the two world wars.

The only child of a doting, ambitious mother and an aloof New England father, Chick always had the charm that could get him anywhere. But it wasn't until after a stint in the Sudan (on probation from Harvard) excavating royal tombs with a famous Egyptologist that he found his true calling when he was appointed Director of the staid Wadsworth Atheneum Museum in Hartford. Within 12 months he awakened the wary conservative New Englanders to Post-Impressionism and to Matisse, Derain, Braque, and Picasso, as well as to the sounds of Stravinsky, Satie, and Schoenberg. He championed modern architecture and created a home of the latest European decor, inviting the locals in to see "how it felt to be modern". At the same time he relished the Baroque and his first purchases were a gem of a Madonna by Fra Angelico and a masterful Tintoretto. His installations were always dramatic and instructive and he used his magician's sleight of hand to persuade dealers and private collectors to lend their treasures.

Virgil Thomson (who collaborated with Gertrude Stein on Four Saints In Three Acts, which premiered at the museum's theater that Chick had designed) dubbed Austin "a whole cultural movement in one man" and Alfred Barr of MoMA claimed that Chick did everything before anyone else. And he did: He mounted the world's first comprehensive Picasso exhibit; he established the firstsignificant film program in a museum; at Lincoln Kirstein's urging he brought Balanchine to this country (though Hartford proved too provincial for Balanchine to stay); he made the theater a part of the museum's offerings; and he was the first to introduce such artists as Balthus and Mondrian.

But every triumph was a battle hard fought and in time Chick Austin proved too flamboyant, too extravagant, too modern for Hardford's conservative trustees. Chick ended his career creating an extraordinary museum out of the Ringling Bros. Collection that had been moldering away in a pink and white palace on Sarasota Bay.

A fascinating biography that reads like a novel and that tells the whole inside story of modern art in America.

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