Scope and Content of Collection
Title: Irving Sandler papers
Date (inclusive): circa 1914-2001, bulk 1950-2000
45 Linear Feet
(90 boxes, 1 flat file folder)
The Getty Research Institute
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
Los Angeles 90049-1688
Papers of the American art critic
Irving Sandler, including five decades of notes, transcripts and audiotapes of interviews
with artists and art professionals, materials documenting art organizations and
associations, and correspondence regarding publications, lectures, and academic
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Language: Collection material is in
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
, 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
The New York School: The Painters and
Sculptors of the Fifties
American Art of the 1960s (1988),
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
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.
Open for use by qualified researchers.
Irving Sandler papers, 1914-2001, bulk 1950-2000, The Getty Research Institute, Los
Angeles, Accession no. 2000.M.43.
Collection acquired from Irving Sandler in 2000.
Annette Leddy and Kelly Nipper processed the collection. In 2012 Annette Leddy integrated
Alternate Form Available
The following audio and video cassettes have also been reformatted and are available as CD
and DVD use copies:
Videocassettes: V1, V3-V5, V7-V15 Audiocassettes: C111, C167, C278
Scope and Content of Collection
The Irving Sandler Papers comprehensively document the career of an American critic who
chronicled and commented upon the contemporary art scene for five decades. The foundation of
Sandler's biographical approach to art criticism is the informal interview or "conversation"
with the artist; the archive comprises all Sandler's notes, transcripts, and audiotapes of
these encounters. Although the core of the archive is the material about abstract
expressionist artists of the 1950s, artists and art movements of subsequent decades are
amply documented, with special attention to Alex Katz, Phillip Pearlstein, and Al Held.
Sandler also took copious notes on panel discussions; such notes appear in several series,
and form the basis of the Art Professional series which, like the Artists series, spans five
decades. Notes on panel discussions are also central to the Organizations and Associations
series, and in particular to the documentation of the Artists' Club, of which Sandler was
Program Director for seven years. Here the concerns of 1950s New York artists emerge in the
Club's chosen topics for lecture and debate. Many interviews and panels from Series I.
through V. were also recorded and appear in Series XIV. Audiotapes and Videotapes.
The Organizations and Associations series reflects, along with Sandler's role as critic,
his active support for emergent artists. The Artists' Space files chronicle the difficulty
of establishing a physical space, and also deal with management issues and controversies
plaguing early exhibitions. The same series details Sandler's involvement in academic and
curatorial organizations, for which he served on the directing board, as he did for numerous
foundations and commissions, documented in Series IV.
Sandler's career as a professor, independent curator, and reviewer is documented in Series
V. through IX. Correspondence is professional, with editors regarding reviewing assignments,
with curators regarding exhibitions, and with university administrators regarding promotion.
Sandler's longstanding column for
The New York Post appears in Series VI.
Writings and in Series XIII. Printed Matter. Also in the archive is a thick file of
handwritten notes for his 1950s artists' interview series on The Casper Citron Radio Show.
Printed Matter contains an interesting assortment of announcements and brochures for
exhibitions Sandler presumably attended over five decades.
The papers are organized in fourteen series:
Series I. Artists, 1914-2001
Series II. Art
Series III. Organizations and Associations, 1937-1995
Foundations and Commissions, 1964-2001
Series V. Exhibitions and Panels,
Series VI. Notes and Writings, ca. 1958-2000
Series VII. Research,
Series VIII. Correspondence, 1956-2000
Series IX. Personal,
Series X. Writings by Others, 1948-1994, n.d.
Series XI. Photographs,
Series XII. Serials, 1950-1995
Series XIII. Printed Matter, 1940-2000
Series XIV. Audio
and Video Tapes, 1958-2000.
Subjects - Names
De Kooning, Willem
Subjects - Corporate Bodies
Artists' Club (New York, N.Y.)
Artists Space (Gallery)
Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation
National Endowment for the Arts
Subjects - Topics
New York school of art
Art critics -- United States
Art -- American -- 20th century
Artists -- United States -- Biography
Genres and Forms of Material
The following books were consulted in the writing of this finding aid. McDarrah,
The Artist's World in Pictures. New York: E.P. Dutton and Company,
American Art of the 1960s. New
York: Harper & Row, 1988.
Art of the
Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1998.