The Mellow Pad, 1945-51, by Stuart Davis, co-founder of the American Artists Congress in 1936, image: whitney.org
This edition of Better Read features a speech delivered by Michigan Republican congressman George Donderos on the House floor on Tuesday August 16, 1949 titled, “Modern Art Shackled To Communism.” I came across quotes and excerpts from this speech while researching the American Artists Congress, the group that brought Picasso’s Guernica to the United States for a fundraising tour in 1938.
Dondero made several fiery speeches against modern art during this, the McCarthy era, repeatedly accusing modernism and all its subsidiary “isms” of being a vile foreign-led Communist plot to destroy American art and values.
Near as I can tell, this is the first time Dondero’s complete speech has been available outside the Congressional Record, which turns out to be a lot harder to get ahold of than I expected. I am currently preparing a compilation of all Dondero’s art-related speeches, and the responses they engendered from the accused, the threatened, and even, surprisingly, the nominally allied. Because even I have a hard time listening to a robot for 26 minutes, the complete text of Dondero’s speech is included after the jump.
Download Better_Read_013_Dondero_Communist_Shackles_20170417.mp3 [26:49, 39mb, mp3 via dropbox greg.org]
“Modern Art Shackled to Communism”
Mr. George A. Dondero: Mr. Speaker, quite a few individuals in art, who are sincere in purpose, honest in intent, but with only a superficial knowledge of the complicated influences that surge in the art world of today, have written me–or otherwise expressed their opinions–that so-called modern or contemporary art cannot be Communist because art in Russia today is realistic and objective.
The left-wing art magazines advance the same unsound premises of reasoning, asserting in editorial spasms that modern art is real American art. They plead for tolerance, but in turn tolerate nothing except their own subversive “isms.”
The human art, termites, disciples of multiple “isms” that compose so-called modern art, boring industriously to destroy the high standards and priceless traditions of academic art, find comfort and satisfaction in the wide dissemination of this spurious reasoning and wickedly false declaration, and its casual acceptance by the unwary.
This glib disavowal of any relationship between communism and so-called modern art is so pat and so spontaneous a reply by advocates of the “isms” in art, from deep, Red Stalinist to pale pink publicist, as to identify it readily to the observant as the same old party-line practice. It is the party line of the left-wingers, who are now in the big money, and who want above all to remain in the big money, voiced to confuse the legitimate artist, to disarm the arousing academician, and to fool the public.
As I have previously stated, art is considered a weapon of communism, and the Communist doctrinaire names the artist as a soldier of the revolution. It is a weapon in the hands of a soldier in the revolution against our form of government, and against any government or system other than communism.
From 1914 to 1920, art was used as a weapon of the Russian Revolution to destroy the Czarist Government, but when this destruction was accomplished, art ceased to be a weapon and became a medium of propaganda, picturing and extolling the imaginary wonders, benefits, and happiness of existence under the socialized state.
Let me trace for you a main artery from the black heart of the isms of the Russian Revolution to the very heart of art in America.
In 1914, Kandinsky, a Russian-born Expressionist and nonobjective painter, who found it safer to liv in Germany, returned to Russia, and 3 years later came the revolution. He is the man who preached that art must abandon the logical and adopt the illogical. He dominated a group of black knights of the isms, who murdered the art of the Russian academies. They were Cubists, Futurists, Expressionists, Constructionists, Suprematists, Abstractionists, and the rest of the same ilk. Kandinsky was a friend of Trotsky, and after the revolution founded the Moscow Institute of Art Culture. He was Communist leader in Red art–the commissar of the isms.
Kandinsky remained in Russia until 1921, when the art of the isms began to feel the iron grip of the new art control, the art for the sake of propaganda, the art of social realism. Kandinsky went back to Germany.
The Communist art that has infiltrated our cultural front is not the Communist art in Russia today–one is the weapon of destruction , and the other is the medium of controlled propaganda. Communist art outside Russia is to destroy the enemy, and we are the enemy of communism. Communist art in Russia is to delude the Russian workers.
The art of the isms, the weapon of the Russian Revolution, is the art which has been transplanted to America, and today, having infiltrated and saturated many of our art centers, threatens to overawe, override and overpower the fine art of our tradition and inheritance. So-called modern or contemporary art in our own beloved country contains all the isms of depravity, decadence, and destruction.
What are these isms that are the very foundation of so-called modern art? They are the same old lot of the Russian Revolution, some with transparent disguises, and others added from time to time as new convulsions find a new designation. I call the role of infamy without claim that my list is all-inclusive: daw daw ism, futurism, constructionism, suprematism, cubism, expressionism, surrealism, and abstractionism. All these isms are of foreign origin, and truly should have no place in American art. While not all are media of social or political pro test, all are instruments and weapons of destruction. To trace the origin, development and history of all these isms is a task too lengthy for the time available to me here, and also beyond the scope of my intention. But I do tag them specifically, as well as generally, as instruments of destruction.
Cubism aims to destroy by designed disorder.
Futurism aims to destroy by the machine myth.
Dadaism aims to destroy by ridicule.
Expressionism aims to destroy by aping the primitive and insane.
Abstractionism aims to destroy by the creation of brainstorms.
Surrealism aims to destroy by denial of reason.
Let me touch briefly on some of the isms: The four leaders of the Cubist group were Picasso, Braque, Leger, and Duchamp, but what these reds are today is another matter. The artists of the isms change their designations as often and as readily as the Communist front organizations. Picasso, who is also daw daw ist, an abstractionist, or a surrealist, as unstable fancy dictates, is the hero of all the crackpots in so-called modern art. The left-wing critics call him the “gage” by which American modernists may measure their own radical worth, and a dozen years ago it was arranged that he address his disciples in the Red American Artists Congress by international telephone hook-up. But no matter what others call Picasso, he has said of himself: “I am a Communist and my painting is Communist painting.”
Concerning the other three, Braque, Leger, and Duchamp, there is variation only in degree of unbalance. Leger and Duchamp are now in the United States to aid in the destruction of our standards and traditions. The former has been a contributor to the Communist cause in America; the latter is now fancied by the neurotics as a surrealist.
The founding of surrealism is attributed to one Andre Breton. Samuel Putnam, former Red art critic for the Communist publication New Masses, says: “The surrealists are avowed Communists.”
In his book, The Politics of the Unpolitical, Herbert Read, English author advocate of surrealism says surrealism, “is actually Communist, though generally anti-Stalinist. They are performing a very important revolutionary function. The particular method they adopt is to so mingle fact and fancy that the normal concept of reality no longer has existence.”
There is a book titled Out of This Century, written by one Peggy Guggenheim, formerly owner of Modern Art Galleries in London and New York, and financial sponsor of Herbert Read. This book is vile, and its further sale has been stopped. In its pages are many truths, carelessly revealed, concerning persons now notorious in modern art. Max Ernst, a surrealist, was formerly married to the author.
According to the printed statement of Peggy Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art in New York arranged the flight passage of Max Ernst to the United States, and paid a deposit to hold a reservation for him at Lisbon. This is the same Max Ernst who directed the 1920 Dadaist exhibition in Cologne, where the only entrance was through a public urinal. The approach was but a non-prophylactic dose of the main exhibit. Baar geld, the artist leader of the Dadaists in Cologne, was also leader of the Communist Party in the same district.
Yves Tanguy, a French surrealist, now transplanted to the United States, was a signer of the revolutionary manifesto of the surrealists, and a beneficiary of the largess of the same Peggy Guggenheim.
Matta–Echaurren–a Chilean and an intimate of Max Ernst, has now sunk his taproot deep into America’s rich soil. According to the same Peggy Guggenheim, Matta was at one time under scrutiny by our own FBI.
Another Surrrealist leader in this same disreputable group is Aragon–the Frenchman. He is a well-known Red, in fact, along with Maxim Gorky and Whitaker Chambers, self-confessed Communist, he as been an editor of the publication International Literature, organ of the Soviet International Union of Revolutionary Writers–Citations concerning Aragon, the voluble Peggy Guggenheim says:
One day Rigid Edgewell invited me for dinner and asked me if I would render a great service to the Communist Party. They wanted to borrow my flat for Aragon and a whole convention of Communist writers who were coming to London.
I do not know why Aragon has not been brought to the United States. But if Aragon has been overlooked, such is not the case with Kurt Seligman, the Swiss surrealist, who has been brought over to help pollute American art. He is another intimate of Max Ernst and of Marcel Duchamp, and it is in Seligman’s residence that surrealists have gathered in New York City. He has been named as one of three artist judges by the Hallmark Christmas Card Co., of Kansas City, to determine the winner in their $30,000 contest now in progress. This man, must I remind you, is a leader of surrealism, which holds our cultural heritage of religion is an obstacle to be overcome.
A second of the three artist judges is Yasuo Kuniyoshi, presumably a Buddhist, but unquestionably a Red Fronter. These two are a majority of the three artist judges who are going to select the pictures that will be on the Christmas cards of a Christian people for the greatest of all religious holidays.
Others of this surrealist group are Miro of Spain, Masson of France, and Henry Moore of England, the last named being invariably lauded by New York City Communists, The New Masses and International Literature–Communist publications.
Salvador Dali, another Spanish surrealist, is now in the United States. He is reported to carry with him at all times a picture of Lenin.
English surrealists are Barbara Hepworth and Stanley Hayter, the latter now resident in the United States and a member of the American contingent on the Panel of Visual Art at UNESCO.
Add to this group of subversives the following American satellites, and the number swells to a rabble: Motherwell, Pollock, Baziotes, David Hare, and Marc Chagall. The last named is lauded by Communist publications and is a sponsor of the School of Jewish Studies, cited by Attorney General Tom Clark, “as an adjunct in New York City of the Communist Party.” At this school Chagall is associated with some of the old gang, including Minna Harkavy, Louis Lozowick, William Gropper, Phillip Evergood, Raphael Soyer, and Lena Gurr.
Abstractivism, or non-objectivity, in so-called modern art was spawned as a simon pure, Russian Communist product. Sidney Janis says, “It was in Russia that this latter absolute form of expression came into being, and the creators were Kandinsky and Malevich.”
That you may see clearly the definite, positive, link between the Communist art of the isms and the so-called modern art in America, let me state that Kandinsky was elected vice president in 1923 of the Société Anonyme which was established in New York in 1920 by Katherine Dreier, as an international association for the promotion of the study in America of the progressive in art. Nor was the election of Kandinsky a passing fancy or a light gesture. This Communist of the Russian Revolution, ex-teacher of the Moscow Museum of Pictorial Culture and ex-founder of the Russian Academy of Artistic Sciences, served as vice president of this New York organization for many years.
The Société Anonyme, according to the American Art Annual, was first organized as Museum of Modern Art. Katherine Dreier, its president, is an aging but active left-winger, born in Brooklyn, pal of Kandinsky in Germany, a sponsor of Henry Wallace, and an author of several books published by the Société Anonyme among them one on Burliuk, that Communist patron and teacher of Mayakovsky, the revolutionary poet of Russia, and one on Kandinsky, the commissar of the isms.
The Société Anonyme has published many other books, including one on Archipenko, the cubist sculptor, Russian-born, Communist-fronter, and one by Louis Lozowick titled, “Modern Russian Art.” Lozowick was secretary of the John Reed Club, and an editor of International Literature, that organ of communism printed in English in Russia. Lozowick’s record of Communist activity is as long as your arm, and he has been delivering a series of lectures titled, “Marxian History of Art,” as part of his contribution to the battle to destroy our high standards of culture.
It makes little difference where one studies the record, whether of surrealism, dadaism,
abstractionism, cubism, expressionism, or futurism. The evidence of evil design is everywhere, only the role call of the art contortionists is different. The question is, what have we, the plain American people, done to deserve this sore affliction that has been visited upon us so direly; who has brought down this curse upon us; who has let into our homeland this horde of germ-carrying art vermin?
Last year, in 1948, the Museum of Modern Art brought Herbert Read here from England to address the sixth annual conference of the committee on art education, a committee of 1,000 American art educators and teachers, offering their bared breasts for the free injections of the evil virus of the isms, anti-Christian, anti-sanity, anti-morality, and anti-American. This is the same Read who lauds surrealism and abstractionism, both Communist, and avowed instruments to destroy our traditional culture. Read has boasted, quote:
We in England have announced our adherence to this movement. What I wish to stress now is that surrealism is an application of the same logical method (dialectical materialism) to the realm of art. By the dialectical method we can explain the development of art in the past and justify a revolutionary art at the present time. unquote.
What is the relationship between Read’s benefactor, this Museum of Modern Art, stated to have been organized in 1929, and the Museum of Modern Art, organized in 1920, alia the Société Anonyme, which bestowed honor and made obeisance to Kandinsky, the commissar of the isms, in 1923?
Daniel C. Rich in his article in the Atlantic Monthly has this to say:
The Museum of Modern Art, opening in 1929, included all types of twentieth century expression and crystallized a number of earlier efforts, of which the Société Anonyme, founded in 1920 by K.S. Dreier and the artists Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, was probably the most notable.
There you have the record. The Museum of Modern Art, founded in 1920, officered in 1923, and for years thereafter, by Kandinsky, Russian commissar of isms, becomes crystallized in 1929 as the present Museum of Modern Art. As an enduring link between the two, Alfred H. Barr Jr, member of the board of directors of the Société Anonyme, is the director of the present Museum of Modern Art.
The Museum of Modern Art has published a pamphlet by this Herbert Read titled, “Culture and Education in World Order.” By so doing it would seem to give approval to Read’s expressed conviction, that, “our vested interests of great antiquity and power,” as represented by our kindergartens, schools, academies, colleges, universities, institutes, and laboratories, “must be left to die a natural death.”
The Museum of Modern Art has published and distributed a booklet on Ben Shahn, that proponent of social protest in art, whom we have tagged as a Communist-fronter and member of the John Reed Club, in a previous address. Shahn would seem to be one of the pets of the Museum of Modern Art. Does the Museum approve, as well, of the company he keeps? Ben Shahn, Diego Rivera, Jose Clement Orozco, and David A. Siqueiros are among the most outstanding proponents of social protest in art in North America. The three last named are Mexican Communists, but all have been active in the United States. As I have previously stated, Shahn aided Rivera in painting the murals at Rockefeller Center, which were removed as Communist, and unacceptable. Orozco and Siqueiros were delegates to the American Artists Congress–cited as Communist-created and controlled–and Shahn was a signer of the call for that same congress. Orozco and Siqueiros red papers before the Congress meeting at the New School for Social Research in February of 1936.
On the 24th day of May 1940, a band of 25 Mexican Communist guerrillas, disguised as policemen and led by the famous Mexican painter David Alfaro Siqueiros, surprised the police assigned to guard Trotsky’s house and tied them up. Two squads of gunmen, armed with machine guns, riddled Trotsky’s bedroom with cross-fire. The gang of murderers kidnapped Trotsky’s personal guard, the American Robert Sheldon Harte and killed him.
Where does “art with a social protest” cross the borderline, if any exists, and become art with a political murder?
How did we ever let this horde of art distortionists, these international art thugs, descend upon us? Daniel Catton Rich, director of fine arts, Art Institute of Chicago, explains:
The arrival of a boatload of famous European modernists, just before the war, also vastly stimulated the nonrepresentational…the present group of refugees met and influenced American painters…Other modernists…had already landed in American universities and art schools, where they set to work busily teaching the precepts of advanced European expression.
In the world of so-called Modern Art this Daniel Catton Rich pulls a heavy oar. He is director of fine arts, Art Institute of Chicago, and a pupil of Paul J. Sachs, head of the Fogg Museum of Harvard University. Rich sits as chairman on the panel of visual art of UNESCO along with three specimens from the Museum of Modern Art, and Ben Shahn, Sam Lewishon, and William Zorach, which last three have an aggregate of 21 references against them in the reports of the Committee on Un-American Activities.
The maestro of this Rich, Paul. J. Sachs, head of the Fogg Museum at Harvard, is an honorary trustee of the Museum of Modern Art at 11 West 53rd Street, New York City.
Thomas Craven, foremost art critic in the United States, refers to the Fogg Museum as, “the rendezvous of an effeminate and provincial tribe.” Under the administration of Paul J. Sachs it has accepted, nurtured, and exalted the whole school of so-called modern and contemporary art, but more catastrophic than that, the Fogg Museum has trained many of its effeminate elect to be directors of museums throughout our land. These individuals have gone forth predisposed to promote the art of the isms, and they to a large degree have been responsible for the acquisition at inflated fictitious prices of so-called masterworks of this hog-scrapple of art that the public does not like, does not understand, and does not want to buy. They blanket our museums from Maine to California–and on to Hawaii. Not only do they persist in jamming this art trash down the throats of the public, but they have effectively aided in excluding the works of our real American artists from exhibitions and competitions, by loading the juries against the academic artists–in innumerable instances the committees on invitations are so fixed that the traditional artist is no longer invited to send his paintings. Most of the finest artists that our Nation numbers no longer exhibit at all.
We are now face to face with the intolerable situation, where public schools, colleges, and universities, art and technical schools, invaded by a horde of foreign art manglers, are selling to our young men and women a subversive doctrine of “isms,” Communist-inspired and Communist-connected, which have one common, boasted goal–the destruction of our cultural tradition and priceless heritage. Many of our museum repositories of art treasures are now under the guidance of judgments that have been warped, and eyes that are blinded, seeing not the inevitable destruction that awaits if this Marxist trail is not abandoned.
All, or nearly all, of these cultural centers have an upper level of conservatism, substance, extreme respectability and unchallenged Americanism, but these tolerant complacents cover a very active lower stratum of pink busybodies, who squander institutional funds in an orgy of spending to hasten the destruction of the art of our great inheritance.
In my previous addresses on this subject, I have used the word infiltration in describing the present Red element in American art. This is an understatement. Communist art, aided and abetted by misguided Americans, is stabbing our glorious American art in the back with murderous intent.
Among the artists themselves I see two distinct divisions in Communist influence. There are some very able artists who paint excellently in our established and revered tradition, but who are radical, or Communist, or Communist in sympathy in their ideology. When these individuals are presented for consideration as members of our highest art organizations, many members say, in effect, “I will not vote against a good artist because of his politics.” This is evidence of very shallow thinking. In the first place, communism or any near approach to it is not politics. Communism, regardless of the limitations of our present laws, is treason. Why should our highest art organizations have any different standard of membership than our bar associations? The fact that a man knows law is only a bare essential requirement of admission to a bar association. A candidate must pass the strict requirements of the character committee, and it seems to me clearly indicated that in these troubled times, no man shall be admitted to an organization of honor unless he be a man of honor, of good character, and of unshaken allegiance to his Government.
These Marxists of talent, who paint in the academic tradition, are the door openers for the polyglot rabble of subversives who detest and scorn all academic traditions and culture.
In an earlier address, I made reference to the exercise of supervision by our great newspapers of their art departments and art critics. Of course, this simple statement, made with kindly intent, was immediately seized upon and distorted by the neurotic left-wingers in art, as a threat to constitutional guaranties of freedom. Communists and their satellites, when hurt, always, “trouble deaf heaven with their bootless cries” about rights under a republic, which they plot to destroy. You can hear them now in the Communist trials in New York City, and you could have heard them in these Halls making identical outcries not long ago. I repeat and now emphasize, that when art becomes a weapon to destroy, when art becomes art with a social or political protest, when art is the art of the isms, it ceases to be free, and having entered the ideological and political field, it is properly subject to the restrictions we have always placed upon politics and political writers in our great and untrammeled press. It has always been the management or ownership which freely determines the political policy of a newspaper, and not the reporter. The place for a Red critic is with a Red publication, and not disguised by the respectability of the company he or she would keep. A Marxist, a champion of the subversive isms in art, has no proper place in the brotherhood of our great Republican and Democratic newspapers.
From every section of this Republic I have received letters from artists, thanking me for the truths I have spoken to them. Among the hundreds are communications from persons whose names are the most distinguished in real American art. Generally, they have implored me to help them in the battle that finds them now so sorely tried. To them I say, that the things I have revealed here are the truths they have told me, and I stand ever ready to help defend the heritage of the land that has given us all so much; but, ultimately, whether we triumph for American ideals of culture depends upon their willingness to protect what providence and freedom has given them. In their readiness to smite an organized, subversive minority, no matter how deeply entrenched, depends their future and America’s welfare.
From a speech given in the United states House of Representatives, 16 August 1949.
Published in Congressional Record, First Session, 81st Congress, Volume 95, pages 11,584 through 11,587.