Thursday, January 14, 2010

Nixon : Art Critic

Among the interesting items that are not really surprising in the news today: former US President Richard Nixon hated modern art. explains:
Papers and recordings released from the National Archives yesterday reveal much about the 37th president and his aides, including his broad disdain for the media, which he calls "the hostile working press" in a 30-page memo to his chief of staff, H. R. "Bob" Haldeman.

In another memo to Haldeman, he writes that "..those who are on the modern art and music kick are 95 percent against us anyway. I refer to the recent addicts of Leonard Bernstein and the whole New York crowd. When I compare the monstrosity of Lincoln Center with the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, I realize how decadent the modern art and architecture have become."

Other than sounding rather anachronistic for the leader of the free world, Nixon reveals the not infrequent bias against "modern" objects by those who feel rejected by their creators or champions (transference, anyone?). Of course Nixon couched this rejection in terms of political views, but had the Bernsteins of the world embraced his policies, I'm sure he would have been more open to acquiring a taste for "modern" art.

Here's the complete document (pdf file) in which Nixon, the culture critic, lets loose. I've retyped a few choice bits here [assume all typos are mine]:

January 26, 1970

Memorandum for
Bob Haldeman
From the President

In talking to several people in Philadelphia I heard concern expressed with regard to the Nancy Hanks-Garment operation on the ground that their thrust was to support those activities in the cultural field where were "novel" and broke new ground rather than to put any significant emphasis on the more traditional activities.

This is completely contrary to my views. I do not want to take it up directly with Garment and Hanks, but I want you to.

[...] We, of course, cannot tell the Ambassadors what king of art they personally can have, but I found in travelling around the world that many of our Ambassadors were displaying the modern art due to the fact that they were compelled to because some committee which once was headed up by Mrs. Kefauver and were they were loaned some of these little uglies from the Museum of Modern Art in New York. At least, I want a quiet check made -- not one that is going to hit the newspapers and stir up the troops -- but I simply want it understood that this Administration is going to turn away from the policy of forcing our embassies aborad or those who receive assistance from the United States at home to move int he director of off-beat art, music and literature.
And he wonders why "those who are on the modern art and music kick are 95 percent against us anyway."

Labels: art appreciation, politics


Blogger lookinaroundbob said...

Scratching our heads over Dick for 60 years or so.... amazing

1/14/2010 10:02:00 AM  
Blogger Brent said...

What was astonishing is that someone with so little charisma and personableness could manage to get elected president at all - almost by sheer force of will, really - is astonishing. m His tenacity is admirable, though the rest isn't.

But if you have studied his presidency, characterizing "modern art and music kick" as an enemy would not have been a shock or surprise to anyone. The released documents so far show a President who felt enemies were all around him, trying to hold him back or stop him. Classic paranoia.

1/14/2010 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Authoritarian types are opposed to most everything contemporary - the exercise of discernment be damned. I suppose because things of the past, which have accumulated a weight of authority, make for heftier clubs to wield against one's enemies. Which shows a complete lack of refinement when it comes to history, too.

Deliberate stupidity makes bullying easier.

1/14/2010 10:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was Nixon referring to the same kind of modern art that the CIA was beginning to collect in the early sixties? (see Taryn Simon's photograph:

1/14/2010 04:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd be willing to bet that no president likes the cutting edge of of their time. It simply does not enter their field of reference and thus is left uncommented upon. Nixon, as demonstrated by his willingness to engage China, knew who was and was unafraid to act on that. Others simply refrain from speaking up in order to curry favor with taste makers. This is a familiar form of cowardice.

1/14/2010 11:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find Nixon to be one of the more fascinating public figures. Nixon was very definitely a racist, but he believed that Asians were actually superior to White Europeans (and also feeling those of African descent inferior), and this was partly behind his overtures to China. (The other reason was to counterbalance the Soviets).

Nixon was not above being a hypocrite, though, so he could have knowingly funded the CIA to buy modern art, and denounce it as well if his agenda called for it.

1/15/2010 10:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It says on Wiki that not only did Johnson sign the NEH and NEA into Law but Nixon dramatically expanded funding for both..

Is that true?

1/16/2010 10:15:00 AM  
Anonymous kellyann said...


I grew up in Los Angeles, now living in the bay area. I love that art in order to survive the business climate is entrepreneurial & risk taking. Gallery owners crossing over their talent & expertise in the business of art, can surely offer innovation in the museum world. The converging of the gallery business owners & academics can be humbling, both have something to offer one another. I find it interesting the attitudes in the art world. Art needs a business sense, especially the artists creating the art. Art can change the world and add to the economy, if only all in the art world committed to innovation...people, profit, planet. best to you,

Lastly, I am not surprised of this happening in L.A. Talent, creativity, innovation & profit speak volumes for movers & shakers. It's not just pedigree that makes change, risk taking is alive & well in L.A.

1/21/2010 07:23:00 PM  
Blogger Sean Capone said...

This is kind of amazing, especially in view of the pressure placed on the Obamas in their choice of art, compelling them to withdraw the work by Alma Thomas, then following the Obama/NEA tempest-in-a-teapot 'scandal' stirred up by the neocons.

1/21/2010 08:34:00 PM  

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