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Irving Sandler papers, circa 1914-2001, bulk 1950-2000

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Sandler (Irving) Papers

Biographical/Historical Note

Irving Sandler was born in New York City in 1925. He holds a B.A. from Temple University (1948) and an M.A. from University of Pennsylvania (1950), where he studied American history. His interests turned then to contemporary art, specifically the abstract expressionist painting current in the 1950s New York art world. He tried his hand at painting for a year or so, and became manager of a gallery on 10th Street, thereby meeting artists he admired. Soon feeling his vocation to be that of chronicler and critic rather than artist, in 1954 Sandler began taking copious notes of conversations with artists, or among artists, during informal gatherings at the Club, the Cedar Street Tavern, or in artists' studios. In 1956, he became the director of the Tanager Gallery, Program Chairman for the Artists' Club, and a reviewer for Art News and Art International, establishing two roles that he would fill for the rest of his career: supporter of emergent artist groups, and advocate critic. A third role, that of professor, emerged in the 1960s.

Sandler's approach to art criticism was, like Greenberg's and Rosenberg's, grounded in personal friendships with artists whose work he reviewed, but Sandler avoided the extreme partisanship and rancor for which those critics are known. Maintaining a personal ethic of openness to new styles or schools of art, and a methodology that considered art world consensus on the one hand and the artist's intention on the other, he flourished as a relevant commentator of contemporary art for five decades. In the 1970s, Sandler began writing books that synthesized his collection of interviews and reviews into broad surveys of contemporary art, including The Triumph of American Painting: A History of Abstract Expressionism (1970), The New York School: The Painters and Sculptors of the Fifties (1978), American Art of the 1960s (1988), and Art of the Postmodern Era: From the Late 1960s to the Early 1990s (1996). In addition, he wrote monographs on individual artists, such as Alex Katz and Mark Di Suvero.

After teaching at New York University throughout the 1960s, Sandler earned a Ph.D. in Art History in 1976; for the rest of his academic career he taught at SUNY Purchase, with occasional visiting professorships at other northeastern U.S. institutions. In 1972, he organized "Artist's Space," an alternative exhibition space for young artists. Laurie Anderson, Judy Pfaff, Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin, and Chuck Close are among those that got their start there. He served on the board of, or otherwise lent support to, many other artists' organizations. Eventually, he held influential positions in academic and curatorial organizations as well, such as the College Art Association and Independent Curators Incorporated, and in major foundations supporting the arts, such as the National Endowment for the Arts and the Sharpe Art Foundation. Having a special interest in public art, he served on the board of Public Art Fund, which generated public art projects such as "Sculpture in Environment," "City Walls" and "Prospect Mountain," and was involved in many other public art commissions around the country. Sandler died in New York City on June 2, 2018.

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