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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms
  • Bibliography

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Irving Sandler papers
    Date (inclusive): circa 1914-2001, bulk 1950-2000
    Number: 2000.M.43
    Creator/Collector: Sandler, Irving
    Physical Description: 45 Linear Feet (90 boxes, 1 flat file folder)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles 90049-1688
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/askref
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: 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 appointments.
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    Language: Collection material is in English

    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.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Irving Sandler papers, 1914-2001, bulk 1950-2000, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 2000.M.43.

    Acquisition Information

    Collection acquired from Irving Sandler in 2000.

    Processing History

    Annette Leddy and Kelly Nipper processed the collection. In 2012 Annette Leddy integrated additional material.

    Alternate Form Available

    Digitized versions of reel-to-reel audio tapes R1-R34 are available online. Connect to digitized audio recordings.   Access is available only to on-site readers and Getty staff.
    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.

    Arrangement note

    The papers are organized in fourteen series: Series I. Artists, 1914-2001 Series II. Art Professionals, 1925-2000 Series III. Organizations and Associations, 1937-1995 Series IV. Foundations and Commissions, 1964-2001 Series V. Exhibitions and Panels, 1965-2000 Series VI. Notes and Writings, ca. 1958-2000 Series VII. Research, 1949-2000 Series VIII. Correspondence, 1956-2000 Series IX. Personal, 1959-2000 Series X. Writings by Others, 1948-1994, n.d. Series XI. Photographs, 1909-2001 Series XII. Serials, 1950-1995 Series XIII. Printed Matter, 1940-2000 Series XIV. Audio and Video Tapes, 1958-2000.

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Held, Alex
    Jenkins, Paul
    Guston, Philip
    De Kooning, Willem
    Sandler, Irving
    Lewitin, Landes
    Katz, Alex
    McNeil, George
    Motherwell, Robert
    Mitchell, Joan
    Pearlstein, Philip
    Sander, Ludwig
    Resnick, Milton

    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
    Abstract expressionism
    Art critics -- United States
    Art -- American -- 20th century
    Artists -- United States -- Biography

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Photographs, Original
    Photographic prints


    Katz, Alex
    Held, Alex
    Pearlstein, Philip
    Sandler, Irving


    The following books were consulted in the writing of this finding aid. McDarrah, Fred. The Artist's World in Pictures. New York: E.P. Dutton and Company, 1961. Sandler, Irving. American Art of the 1960s. New York: Harper & Row, 1988. Sandler, Irving. Art of the Postmodern Era. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1998.