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Lawrence Alloway papers, 1891-2003, undated

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Alloway (Lawrence) papers

Biographical/Historical note

Lawrence Alloway, born in England in 1926 and largely self-educated, became a major 20th century critic of American art, known for his pluralism and inclusiveness. As a young man he was associated with the Independent Group in England, a circle of artists, critics and writers that included Reyner Banham, and that questioned conventional distinctions between high and low art. As a director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in London from 1954 to 1959, he introduced American Abstract Expressionism to post-war England. In 1961 Alloway settled in New York and remained there for the rest of his life, teaching at Bennington College (1961-1962) and SUNY Stony Brook (1968-1981), curating at the Guggenheim Museum(1962-1966), and always simultaneously working as an art critic, which he considered his true vocation.

Beginning as a book reviewer for the London Sunday Times (1944-1946), Alloway wrote for and edited various art journals, including Art News (1953-1957), Art International (1957-1961) and Artforum (1971-1976). His longest-running and most influential position was, however, that of art reviewer for the Nation (1968-1981). Toward the end of his life he served on the Editorial Board of Woman's Art Journal. He also wrote poetry throughout his life.

Notorious for having invented the term Pop Art, Alloway nonetheless treated a wide range of subjects, from William Hogarth to science fiction, including movies, design, public sculpture, earthworks, neo-realism, and feminism. Scorning the limiting assumptions of a traditional art history education, he anticipated the now current concept of visual culture as early as 1957 in his essay "The Long Front of Culture." He also analyzed the art world from a sociological viewpoint, both as a market and as a political context. Among his various books, at least two remain classics of art criticism: Topics in American Art since 1945 (1975) and Network:The Art World Described as a System (1972).

In 1955 Alloway married the figurative artist Sylvia Sleigh after having courted her for several years during her marriage to another man. Through Sleigh, Alloway became closely associated with women artists in New York during the 1970s heyday of feminism and became an advocate of parity for women within the art world, authoring the notable "Women's Art and the Failure of Art Criticism" (1979). He also reported on the museum worker strikes of the 1970s, resulting in another influential essay, "Museums and Unionization" (1975).

He died in 1990 of a neurological disease.

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