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New School Art Center records

 Collection
Identifier: NS-03-05-02

Summary

The New School Art Center was established in the fall of 1960 with a donation from the Albert J. List Foundation, and remained in operation until around 1977. Directed throughout its existence by Paul Mocsanyi, the Center's programs reflected the New School's founding commitment to engage provocative subjects, using art to explore contemporary political and social issues. Mocsanyi's files also document the founding of the Collectors Institute, a membership organization for private collectors established in 1973. Materials include exhibition catalogs, artist files, press coverage, posters, fliers and other publicity, administrative correspondence, and photographs, as well as the files of Paul Mocsanyi.

Dates

  • 1956 - 1975

Creator

Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research use. Please contact archivist@newschool.edu for appointment.

Use Restrictions

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the New School Archives and Special Collections. Please contact: archivist@newschool.edu.

Biographical note

Paul Mocsanyi (originally Mocsányi Pál), who initiated and directed the New School Art Center for more than a decade, was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1900 to a grain merchant family. He attended various universities in Budapest, Vienna and Paris studying art and music, without pursuing a degree. German and Hungarian were his native languages and he spoke fluent English and French.

In 1928, the financial crisis drove the company Mocsanyi had inherited from his father into bankruptcy. He went on to serve, from 1933-1939, as a Budapest correspondent for the French News Agency, Agence Havas. Much later, in an employment application to the Central Intelligence Agency, Mocsanyi reported that he had fled Hungary in 1938 after the government accused him of "disseminating information harmful for the Hungarian economy." He continued working for Havas from Paris as head of their radio listening post (1939-1940). During this time he also worked as a news analyst for the French Foreign Office.

In 1935, Mocsanyi married the Vienna-born Edith Wachtel, a renowned pianist. The couple moved to the United States in 1941, a year after the Nazi defeat of Paris. Soon after arriving in New York, Mocsanyi started working for the United Press, and stayed with the agency for sixteen years, first as the head of their radio listening post, later as head of the library and art critic for the foreign desk. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1946.

Mocsanyi taught music and art history at the New School from 1958, and was appointed director of the newly founded Art Center in October 1960. In the first year of the Center he organized two major exhibitions, The Creative Process, which later travelled North America, and Mechanism and Organism, which was favorably received by the professional art community. Also in the Center's first year, Mocsanyi invited such figures as art historian Ernst H. Gombrich and art critic Clement Greenberg to speak at the Art Center. Mocsanyi resigned his post in January 1962 over conflicts about the terms of his employment. He was rehired, however, on his own terms, in August 1962 following the recommendation of the Art Center Committee, chaired by philanthropist and art collector Vera List. Mocsanyi ran the Center until he was pressed to resign in 1975, although he stayed on as curator of exhibitions for two years after his resignation.

According to documents in this collection, Mocsanyi was a member of the Purchase Committee of the List Art Purchase Fund from its beginnings in the 1950s, which later grew into the university’s Art Collection. Mocsanyi devoted more time to the Art Collection after retiring from the Center, and remained involved with the school into the 1980s.

Mocsanyi wrote monographs of Karl Knaths and Alfred Van Loen, in 1957 and 1960, as well as numerous exhibition catalogs. He published more than six hundred art reviews.

Paul Mocsanyi died in 1993 in New York, eleven years after his wife. Mocsanyi was born into a class of society that vanished in Hungary with the Soviet occupation, and his life story can be viewed as a reflection of the political and social upheavals that transformed Europe over the course of the first half of the twentieth century.

Historical note

The New School Art Center was established in the fall of 1960 with a significant gift by the Albert J. List Foundation, and remained in operation until the mid-1970s. The Center's original mission statement describes its ambitious project:

[The Art Center represents] a continuing effort by the New School for Social Research to manifest its interest in art as a major endeavor of man and society. The Art Center embraces no particular movement or group, but serves as a forum for all noteworthy expression by artists of this and other nations. It attempts to make its own unique contribution to the cultural life of New York City, rather than to duplicate efforts of the many excellent art institutions in this community.

Directed throughout its existence by Paul Mocsanyi (MO-chan-yee), the center's programs were geared toward students, professional artists and critics, and "an enlightened public." Mocsanyi mounted several exhibitions per year, organizing public programs that brought in outside experts to explore and expand upon exhibition themes. Striving to embody the New School's founding commitment to openly engage with progressive, provocative subjects, exhibitions often revolved around contemporary political and social issues.

In the 1960s, Art Center exhibitions were usually presented in Wollman Hall on the fifth floor of 66 West 12th Street. Sculpture exhibitions were sometimes held in the New School courtyard. Despite support from New School president John Everett, the Art Center was never able to secure Wollman, nor any other location in the building, as a permanent space dedicated exclusively to exhibition. In 1969, the Art Center held its inaugural exhibition in the university's new Graduate Faculty Center at 65 Fifth Avenue. The catalog for the 1969 exhibition announces a "new dimension" to the Art Center: the permanent display of contemporary artwork "throughout the New School." Indeed, Mocsanyi's role at the New School appears to be evolving during this period. Early on, his primary activity was centered around exhibitions and public programming. In the latter half of the 1960s, he expanded the center's focus to address the theoretical and practical concerns of public and private art collectors. In 1967, the center launched a lecture series that ran for several years, Collectors on Collecting. At least two exhibitions from this period also feature work from private collections, including the posters of Vera and Albert List's and Nelson A. Rockefeller's collection.

The Art Center's programming in the late 1960s and early 1970s demonstrates its commitment to exploring the historical and contemporary relationship of art and artists to social and political protest in the United States and Europe. Exhibitions such as the Hiroshima Panels confronted the outcome of the American bombing of Japan during World War II; and a number of exhibitions employed art as a vehicle for expressing outrage about the expanding Vietnam War.

In 1973, with the help of the Art Center Committee, in particular Vera List and Alice Kaplan, the New School established the Collectors Institute, with Mocsanyi as director. The Institute was a membership organization "established exclusively for the purpose of conducting the nation's first educational program meeting the intellectual and practical needs of the private art collector." While its educational goals were sincere, the funds raised by the institute were initially expressly intended to support the New School Art Center. The original List Foundation gift was dwindling, and there was no commitment to replace this funding by the New School administration.

In a 1975 letter, President Everett informed Mocsanyi, then 75 years old, that he must retire as head of the Art Center beginning in 1976. In the same letter, Everett indicated that Mocsanyi would continue to lead the Collectors Institute and to act as curator of the New School Art Collection. Mocsanyi's files reveal his active role in cultivating donors, acquiring donated work, and deaccessing artwork from the collection in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In his letter terminating Mocsanyi's role as director of the Art Center, Everett assured Mocsanyi that his retirement would not mean the demise of the Art Center. Indeed, Mocsanyi evidently retained a hand in the center's operations into 1977, when he collaborated with outside curators to bring a branch of a three-pronged exhibition, Berlin Now , to the New School. But records in this collection related to the New School Art Center exhibitions end here. By July 1977, the New Museum, a fledgling operation devoted to the exhibition of contemporary art, was invited to use the Art Center offices at 65 Fifth Avenue until they could find a more permanent home, and no documentation has been found to indicate that the center relocated or mounted any exhibitions after 1977.

In 1977, promotional materials indicate that the name of the Collectors Institute changed from the Collectors Institute of the New School Art Center, to the Collectors Institute of the New School. The institute continued on at least through the spring of 1978, and Mocsanyi remained curator of the Art Collection until 1985. According to documents in this collection, by 1976 the New School owned 135 artworks, a number that included the murals created by Jose Clemente Orozco, Thomas Hart Benton, Camilo Egas, and the mosaic created by Gonzalo Fonseca, as well as sixty-one works on extended loan. The New School Art Collection file documents a flurry of donations of art in the early 1980s, as well as efforts led by Mocsanyi to auction and sell off work from the collection. The Art Collection file also documents the development of policy for the collection, including defining the duties of curator and characterizing the nature and driving principles behind expanding the collection.

A number of forces may have contributed to the discontinuation of the New School Art Center. The center was wholly funded for more than a decade by Vera and Albert A. List, and it may be that it was no longer financially feasible to continue. It is also possible that, as Mocsanyi's interests focused more on cultivating and maintaining the New School Art Collection, his energies were diverted from the exhibitions program. It is further possible that the merger of Parsons School of Design with the New School in 1970 may have played a role, as Parsons had an exhibitions program of its own.

Two indexes that cross-reference New School Art Center exhibitions with participating artists will be found here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1ayRUvD6w_A56ZpKLHrM96VjhRIBGSAcQyObLuyl7PUc/edit?usp=sharing and https://docs.google.com/document/d/1QW1vnC8S6ZGqljMuJzxs42hiiGiSrpApKP7ceHtQ5EE/edit?usp=sharing.

Extent

5.1 Cubic Feet (12 boxes, 2 folders)

Language of Materials

English

Hungarian

German

French

Scope and Contents

The materials in this collection document the breadth of exhibition and public programming activity of the New School Art Center throughout most of its existence, including the development of the Collectors Institute in the 1970s. The records of Paul Mocsanyi, the center's sole director, represent the evolution of the Art Center from a focus on exhibitions and public programming to a concentration on collecting art and the development of the New School Art Collection.

The Artist files series includes biographical and professional dossiers on artists who participated in exhibitions throughout the early years of the Art Center, with curriculum vitae, correspondence with the center, exhibition announcements, and biographical narratives and artist statements.

The Exhibitions series includes promotional materials, and administrative notes and correspondence, related to the Art Center's exhibitions and public programming activities, as well as catalogs produced for the exhibitions, which often include an introduction by Paul Mocsanyi.

Photographs of Artwork includes prints that may have been compiled for reference and/or for use in promoting exhibitions.

The Records of Paul Mocsanyi series documents his activity as director of the New School Art Center, and his work as a writer and lecturer on art history and criticism at the New School and elsewhere. The series includes correspondence, including documentation of Mocsanyi's efforts to negotiate a secure position as director of the Art Center; reports and other communications with New School administrators and others, including members of the Art Center Committee; and notes, writings and correspondence from Mocsanyi's professional life as an art historian and critic outside of the New School. Personal files include correspondence in German and Hungarian with family in Hungary. A few files include biographical records and documentation related to Mocsanyi's professional struggles, pursuits and aspirations, and his career as an art critic prior to his engagement at the New School.

Arrangement

Arranged alphabetically in 4 series. I. Artist files II. Exhibitions III. Photographs of artwork IV. Records of Paul Mocsanyi

Other Finding Aids

For selected item-level description and images from the the New School Art Center records, see The New School Archives Digital Collections at http://digitalarchives.library.newschool.edu/index.php/Detail/collections/NS030502.

The New School Art Center audio recordings of public programs collection (NS.07.02.02) documents a series of public events sponsored by the Art Center. See http://digitalarchives.library.newschool.edu/index.php/Detail/collections/NS070202.

Custodial History

While the originating offices for many of the materials here have not been definitively identified, it is likely that some of the files with promotional materials were kept by the New School Publicity Office, while others may have been maintained by the New School Art Center. Paul Mocsanyi's records were most likely transferred from the Art Center office to the office of the New School Art Collection, as Mocsanyi, after retiring as director of the Art Center, stayed on to serve as curator for the New School Art Collection.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

All material in this collection, with the exception of the Records of Paul Mocsanyi series, was transferred to the archives from Raymond Fogelman Library in January 2009. Mocsanyi's records were transferred directly from the New School Art Collection in 2014.

Related Materials

See the New School mural commission documentation (NS.03.05.01) collection for detailed information about the New School murals. The New School Art Collection records (2016.NS.16) document the art collection in the decade following those documented in this collection. Original work from the exhibition, My God! We're Losing a Great Country, will be found in the Parsons School of Design academic departments, programs and schools collection (PC.02.01.01).

Processing Information

The New School Art Center records were originally arranged by Connie Hekker and a finding aid compiled by Carolyn Vega. The collection was reprocessed by New School Archives staff in 2009, revised further in 2012, and finalized in 2016.
Title
Guide to the New School Art Center records
Status
Completed
Author
Agnes Szanyi and New School Archives and Special Collections Staff
Date
August 15, 2016
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin

Revision Statements

  • December 8, 2017: New School Archives staff added links to exhibition and artist indexes.