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Canadian born, MacAgy was international in his influence. From a privileged student at the Barnes Foundation through innovative years at the San Francisco Museum of Art, as Director at the California School of Fine Arts from 1945-50, when he was the catalyst for the advent of American abstraction, as curator at MOMA, as the spirit behind the modern art movement in Dallas, as the introducer and interpreter of European and Russian art to America, as the head of the National Endowment for the Arts, and as the installer of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, MacAgy taught the public and helped to shape our culture. MacAgy changed museums from mausoleums to happenings. He was on the cutting edge of modern art movements from American abstract expressionism to conceptualism and fought as an independent educator against the forces using art for political ends. His friends were the great artists of his day, including those as diverse as Clyfford Still and Marcel Duchamp. Only his first wife Jermayne rivaled him as an installer of art. "Douglas MacAgy will be remembered as someone bigger than the institution he so often invigorated. For he was one of those whose sensibilities were more for the artist than for the director."-R. Grove, 1973. "MacAgy has a place in history,"- George Rickey. "I consider him to be one of the great moving influences in art during the 20th century."- Elizabeth Blake, 1989. This book is awarded each year in San Francisco to the winner of the Douglas MacAgy Award for the greatest contribution to the arts.
In this concise biography of an often forgotten art crusader, Beasley remembers the progressive modern art curatorship of Douglas MacAgy (1913–1973), whose career extended through the Cold War era and helped transform museums “from mausoleums to happenings.” Born in Winnipeg, Canada, MacAgy conducted his life’s work across a number of different museums, galleries, and organizations, from the Cleveland Museum of Art to Unesco. At the San Francisco Museum of Art (now San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) in 1941, MacAgy introduced programs “that related community interests to modern art,” curating smart and accessible circus- and jazz-themed exhibitions, which, Beasley writes, had “an outstanding influence on the exhibiting of art in American museums.” In 1945, MacAgy took over the California School of Fine Arts, where he hired a relatively little-known painter, Clyfford Still, who came to have a lasting influence on the school and who benefitted greatly from MacAgy’s support. Later, while serving as director of the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts in the midst of the McCarthy era, MacAgy resisted narrow thinking by exhibiting avant-garde artwork and was accused of being a communist. The political narrative that Beasley wishes to spin often undermines his ability as a biographer, but his book is a workmanlike introduction to a figure whose example has enduring relevance for curatorship today. B&w illus. (BookLife)