A small number of women played a dominant role in the emergence
and acceptance of modern art in America. Gertrude Vanderbilt
Whitney, with the indispensible assistance of Juliana Force,
established the Whitney Museum. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, Lillie
Bliss, and Mary Quinn Sullivan launched the Museum of Modern Art.
Hilla Rebay was the first director of the Guggenheim Museum and
commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design a building on Fifth Avenue
to house it. Katherine Drier and Peggy Guggenheim were enormously
important collectors and sponsors of artists.
To this list we must add Katharine Kuh, who opened the first
gallery of modern art in Chicago, became the first curator of modern
art at the Art Institute of Chicago, and later was the art critic
for the Saturday Review. Born in 1904, Ms. Kuh lived a long life and
knew a huge number of artists, collectors, dealers, and museum
Shortly before she died in 1994, Kuh began to write her memoirs.
The book was not completed at her death but, happily, Avis Berman,
herself an accomplished author, took the unfinished product and
turned it into a complete volume: My Love Affair with Modern Art.
The book can be divided into three parts. The first is a long
preface by Berman that provides biographical information about Kuh
and her accomplishments. This is an important step - the reader will
soon discover that Kuh almost never provides personal details about
her own life. Berman's complete but sensitive summary enhances the
rest of the book. For instance, Kuh writes that she had great
difficulty climbing stairs, but she doesn't tell why. Berman fills
in the gap, explaining that Kuh had suffered from polio.
The second part is a series of reminiscences by Kuh about her
career as an art dealer and curator, and a collection of musings
about the art world. This is not the strongest part of the book
because these chapters seem to lack an obvious structure or
direction. The chapters do make clear, however, that Kuh was
opinionated, deeply knowledgeable, and feisty.
The remaining 16 chapters are a collection of unrelated essays
about individual artists that she knew well. So we get her take on
such diverse figures as Mies van der Rohe, Stuart Davis, Constantin
Brancusi, Fernand Leger, Clyfford Still, and Edward Hopper. Many of
her subjects are famous. Others - like Mark Tobey and Alfred Jensen -
are important but not as well known. All but two essays are devoted
to practicing artists. The exceptions are legendary art historian
Bernard Berenson and Vincent Willem van Gogh, nephew of the artist
and the motivating force behind the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. …