Forgotten Stories from the Art World
Among renowned art dealer Samuel M. Kootz’s many forays into the art world (the first to show Picasso’s works after World War II and the Abstract Expressionists painters as a school as well as author of seminal works Modern American Painters and New Frontiers in American Painting) was the formation of the short-lived “Bombshell Artists Group”.
The Bombshell Artists Group was the outgrowth of a prolonged controversy that appeared in the Sunday arts columns of The New York Times during August and September of 1941. Mr. Kootz had written a letter (published in The New York Times on August 10, 1941) where he contended that in a ten-year search of a variety of art galleries, he had failed to encounter a single new, fresh idea — in his words, “not one bright hope . . . not one attempt to experiment, to realize a new method of painting.”
Surprisingly, most artists who responded to Mr. Kootz’s letter agreed with him, but insisted he had not looked in the “right places” for “vital American art”. Edward Alden Jewell (The New York Times arts column editor) in a further article devoted to what he described as the “bombshell forum” (Mr. Jewell continuingly referred to Kootz’s letter as the famous “bombshell” or “shattering bomb” of August 10) proposed, “Have those undiscovered boys and girls, who are not just going through the motions and who have invented a new way, organize and show all of us what they have created.”
The advice was taken. On December 7th a “bomb” (of a different sort than what befell Pearl Harbor) was dropped in The New York Times.
“A Bombshell has been created.
“It is explosive. It has been formed to make noise . . .
“The Bombshell invites the work of established men which is ordinarily not shown because, spiced a bit differently, it affronts prepared palates and lazy digestions.”
And in early March of 1942, the Bombshell Artists Group exhibited for the first time at the Riverside Museum (310 Riverside Drive at 103rd Street).
Fifty-five of the sixty members were listed in the catalog. The Group’s members had been vetted by submitting three works that had to be approved by a general vote. Then a council of fifteen was also chosen based upon the same criteria. The catalog itself described the group as providing an outlet for those artists and their work, by reason of current tastes, gallery conditions and insufficient sponsorship, have been unfairly neglected.
At the opening, Henry Beckett (New York Post, March 2, 1942) reported that the Bombshell Artists Group’s secretary, Arthur Silz, guessed that their exhibit wouldn’t be stormed by the public the way the Rembrandt exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum had been and he thought it was a shame. Mr. Silz continued “The Bombshell show is more important for the public to see because it consists of hundreds of paintings never exhibited before, all by living artists eager to eat from time to time, whereas Rembrandt stopped eating long ago, and the world knows his work well and its value in the history of art is fixed.” Silz went on, “How would it be if we passed out circulars in front of the Metropolitan to explain the importance of our show and if we charted a bus to carry people from there to our show?”
The exhibition committee chairmen, Joseph Manfredi and Fred Buchholz were skeptical and replied “When people come out [of the Metropolitan] they usually don’t want to look at another picture for a week.”
By 1944, the Bombshell Artists Group was renamed the League of Present Day Artists.