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Rosenberg (Harold) Papers
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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

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Harold Rosenberg papers
    Date (inclusive): 1923-1984
    Number: 980048
    Creator/Collector: Rosenberg, Harold
    Physical Description: 30 Linear Feet (64 boxes, 8 flat file folders)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles, California 90049-1688
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/askref
    Abstract: American art critic who developed the concept of "action painting" to describe the work of New York School painters such as De Kooning and Pollock. In 1967 Rosenberg became the regular art reviewer for The New Yorker. The papers offer a comprehensive view of his professional life from the early 1930s until his death in 1978, with the greatest portion of material from the 1960s and 1970s.
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    Language: Collection material is in Undetermined

    Biographical/Historical Note

    Harold Rosenberg was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1906. Like many of his generation of New York intellectuals, he was educated in the 1920s at City College, where debate about Marxism and its relationship to the arts flourished. The issues that concerned Rosenberg, and peers such as Irving Howe, Irving Kristol, Dwight MacDonald, Norman Podhoretz, and William Phillips, would generate influential journals such as Partisan Review, Dissent, and Commentary along with numerous other, often short-lived little magazines. It was in the little magazines that Rosenberg for many years found his readership. While working for the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s and for the Office of War Information in the 1940s and for the Advertising Council of America until 1973, he persistently published in these journals a prodigious number of poems, book reviews, art reviews, and theoretical essays. A selection of the essays were published as a book, The Tradition of the New, in 1959, when Rosenberg was fifty-three. The book reached a wider audience than the individual pieces had, and from that point on Rosenberg was in demand as a speaker, writer, and professor. In 1963 he gave the Gauss seminars at Princeton, and from 1966 until his death in 1978 he taught at University of Chicago as a member of the Committee on Social Thought. In 1962, he began publishing art reviews in The New Yorker, becoming, in 1967, their regular reviewer. These reviews, along with pieces he wrote for other prominent journals, were collected in the form of several books, including The Anxious Object (1964), Artworks and Packages (1969), The De-Definition of Art (1972), and Art On the Edge (1971). He also wrote books on individual artists he admired, such as William De Kooning, Saul Steinberg, and Barnett Newman.
    Rosenberg's particular fusion of Marxist theory and modernism employed existentialism. In the late '40s and early '50s, he published in Les Temps Modernes and other French publications with the help of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Simone de Beauvoir. Rosenberg's theoretical interests and critical observation of artists such as DeKooning and Pollock crystallized in his signature piece, "The American Action Painters," published in Art News in 1952. He argued that for these artists painting was a spontaneous event in the search for individual identity, and the resultant work on canvas was but a record of that search and not an object created for the purpose of aesthetic pleasure. This argument was ever afterward associated with Rosenberg, and he continued to revise and adapt it for the rest of his career as an art reviewer.
    A brilliant polemicist who loved debate and discussion, Rosenberg had many enduring friendships among the intellectual elite of his day. The mutual animosity he and Clement Greenberg felt for each other, is also, however, an integral part of Rosenberg's personal history and the history of the New York School, whose work these critics so assiduously championed. From their early rivalry over a staff position at Partisan Review, to later mutual attacks in public and in print, Rosenberg and Greenberg, equally influential, came to represent two opposing approaches to the art of their day, even if, from the vantage point of the present day, they held many assumptions and judgements in common.
    Rosenberg was married for more than forty years to the late May Natalie Tabak, a fiction writer who, like Rosenberg, published in The New Yorker. They had a daughter, Patia Rosenberg, who survives them.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Harold Rosenberg papers, 1923-1984, Getty Research Institute, Research Library, Accession no. 980048.

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired in 1998.

    Processing History

    Papers were processed in 1998-1999.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Harold Rosenberg Papers present a comprehensive view of Rosenberg's professional life from the early 1930s until his death in 1978, with the greatest portion of material from the 1960s and '70s. Correspondence offers a history of the issues and debates that concerned New York intellectuals who published and edited influential journals such as Dissent, Commentary, Partisan Review, and Art News. The manuscripts show the range of topics Rosenberg's thoughtful writings encompassed in the little magazines that embraced him for three decades, writings on politics, literature, art, art education, and philosophy. They also show the maturation of his style as a reviewer for The New Yorker. Interviews and teaching files give a glimpse of Rosenberg as a dynamic and spontaneous speaker, a dimension of him that the audiotape also preserves. The relatively small amount of personal material, such as family correspondence, journals and photographs, evoke the climate of his personal life, while clippings and printed matter chronicle the social and intellectual era in which Rosenberg lived and worked.

    Arrangement note

    The papers are arranged in seven series: Series I. Correspondence, 1932-1984 Series II. Manuscripts, 1929-1978 Series III. Clippings, serials and printed matter, 1925-1981 Series IV. Personal, 1923-1978 Series V. Manuscripts by others, 1953-1978 Series VI. Photographs and Artwork, 1942-1977 Series VII. Audiotape, undated

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Steinberg, Saul
    Rothko, Mark
    Newman, Barnett
    Pollock, Jackson
    Dostoyevsky, Fyodor
    Gorky, Arshile
    De Kooning, Willem

    Subjects - Corporate Bodies

    United States. Works Progress Administration
    United States. Office of War Information
    New York School of Art

    Subjects - Topics

    World War, 1939-1945 -- Art and the war
    Abstract expressionism

    Subjects - Titles

    Location (New York, N.Y. : Longview Foundation, Inc., 1963) New Yorker (New York, N.Y. : 1925) Commentary (New York, N.Y. : 1945) Nation (New York, N.Y. : 1865) Partisan review (New York, N.Y. : 1936) Dissent (New York, N.Y. : 1954)

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Photographic prints
    Photographs, Original


    Tabak, May Natalie
    Shapey, Ralph
    Rosenberg, Harold
    Reinhardt, Ad
    Merleau-Ponty, Maurice
    Motherwell, Robert
    Hess, Thomas B.
    Howe , Irving
    Kaprow, Allan
    Kristol, Irving
    Phillips, William
    Podhoretz, Norman
    Raeburn, Ben
    Beauvoir, Simone de
    Barthelme, Donald
    Guston, Philip
    Burke, Kenneth
    Bellow, Saul