John Bernard Myers papers, [circa 1940s]-1987, (bulk 1970-1987)

A Finding Aid to the John Bernard Myers Papers, circa 1940s-1987, bulk 1970-1987, in the Archives of American Art, by Catherine S. Gaines

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Biographical Information

During his youth in Buffalo, New York, John Bernard Myers developed life-long interests in poetry, puppets, and painting. As a teenager, he wrote poetry and established his own marionette theater. He first learned about modern art and became especially interested in Surrealism through reading European magazines and exhibition catalogs in the library of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Through helping to edit Upstate, an avant garde literary magazine, he met many like-minded friends. Myers was deemed unqualified for military service due to ruptured eardrums, so instead went to work in an airplane factory. But his membership in the Young Communist League and participation in efforts led by a Socialist Workers party colleague to upgrade job assignments and pay for qualified minorities created problems and Myers soon departed. His final two years in Buffalo were spent working in a bookstore.

In 1944, Myers sent issues of Upstate to Parker Tyler, editor of View, whom he had met a few years earlier through mutual friends involved with the Communist party. A few months later Tyler offered him the position of managing editor of View, a magazine devoted to the Neo-Romantics and Surrealists in exile. Myers moved to New York City and remained with the magazine until it ceased publication in 1947. A large portion of his time at View was spent selling advertising space. Since this involved calling on gallery owners each month, he came to know many dealers, had the opportunity to study the exhibitions and meet many of the artists. During this period he began attending art history courses taught by Meyer Schapiro at the New School. His responsibilities at View also included assisting with editing and layout, and he became well-acquainted with Marcel Duchamp and André Breton when special issues devoted to them were published. His association with the magazine resulted in many invitations; Myers enthusiastically attended parties practically every night of the week, enlarging his already impressive circle of friends and acquaintance in the art and literary worlds.

Puppets were another of Myers' special interests. After View ceased publication in1947, he edited poetry and art publications, but to earn his living he resumed puppeteering. Around 1948 Myers met Tibor de Nagy, a cultured Hungarian immigrant with a background in banking and finance, who, for immigration purposes, needed a business that bore his name. The Tibor de Nagy Marionette Company gave performances at schools in and around New York City and staged elaborate productions for both children and adults at fine hotels. After several years of physically exhausting work with the marionette company and falling profits, the two decided to try another business venture.

Over the years, several of Myers' friends and acquaintances had suggested he open an art gallery. Myers was interested and had many appropriate contacts, but lacked sufficient capital and had no business experience. An old friend, Dwight Ripley, offered to back a gallery and in 1951 the Tibor de Nagy Gallery opened at 219 East 53rd Street with John Bernard Myers as the gallery director. Tibor de Nagy was the gallery's business manager, and at the same time pursued a full-time career in banking. Following the good advice of his friends Jackson Pollock,Lee Krasner, and Clement Greenberg, Myers decided to seek out and promote the artists of his own generation. Artists affiliated with the Tibor de Nagy Gallery included Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Goodnough, Red Grooms, Grace Hartigan, Alfred Leslie, Barnett Newman, Kenneth Noland, Fairfield Porter, and Larry Rivers.

Myers and de Nagy remained partners in the Tibor de Nagy Gallery for 19 years. In 1970 Myers left in to open a gallery which he ran for about five years under his own name. After retiring from the gallery, he was a private dealer and lecturer; he also served as a consultant to the Kouros Gallery. He continued to organize exhibitions including a Joseph Cornell exhibiton at A.C.A. Gallery in 1977, and "Tracking the Marvelous" at the Grey Gallery, New York University in 1981.

For more than thirty years after View ceased publication, a number of art and poetry publications benefitted from Myers' editorial skills. Among them were Prospero Pamphlets, a series of chapbooks produced between 1946 and 1948, featuring contemporary poets Wallace Stevens, Charles Henri Ford, Parker Tyler, and Paul Goodman. Brunidor Editions, a portfolio of graphics by Yves Tanguy, Joan Miró, Kurt Seligmann, Max Ernst, Wilfredo Lam, Matta, and William Stanley Hayter was issued in 1948. From 1953 until 1956, Tibor de Nagy Gallery published Semi-Colon, a poets' newsletter edited by Myers. Gallery Editions, a series of pamphlets paired the work of a poet and painter, among them: John Ashbury and Jane Freilicher, Frank O'Hara and Larry Rivers, Kenneth Koch and Nell Blaine, and Barbara Guest and Robert Goodnough. Myers devoted a great deal of time to Parenthése, a magazine of words and pictures, that was published between 1975 and 1979. In addition, he compiled and edited Poets of the New York School, an anthology with photographs by Francesco Scuvullo published by the University of Pennsylvania Art Department in 1968.

For much of his life, John Bernard Myers kept a diary recording daily activities and his reactions to an reflections on his experiences. His autobiography, Tracking the Marvelous: A Life in the New York Art World, published in 1984, quotes extensively from diaries written as early as 1939. He wrote many book reviews, exhibition reviews, and articles about art and art criticism that were published in Art in America, Arts, Artforum, Art and Literature, Art International, Art News, Art/World, Craft Horizons, and Smithsonian. Knowing What I Like, a selection of his own essays and articles that Myers compiled and edited in 1983, remains unpublished. He also wrote poetry and song lyrics.

John Bernard Myers died July 26, 1987.

    Date
    Event
    1919 or 1920
    Born, Buffalo, New York
    circa 1939
    Began puppeteering and eventually established his own puppet theater
    circa 1942-1944
    Assisted with editing Upstate, an avant garde literary magazine
    1942
    Rejected from military service due to ear problems; employed in airplane factory, and later at Ulbrich's Bookstore in Buffalo
    1944-1947
    Managing Editor, View, a magazine devoted to the Neo-Romantic and Surrealist artists in exile
    1946-1948
    Editor, Prospero Pamphlets, a series of chapbooks featuring Wallace Stevens, Charles Henri Ford, Parker Tyler, and Paul Goodman
    1948
    Editor, Brunidor Editions, portfolios of graphics featuring Yves Tanguy, Joan Miró, Kurt Seligmann, Max Ernst, Wilfredo Lam, Matta, and William Stanley Hayter; started a professional marionette company with Tibor de Nagy as business manager
    1951
    Tibor de Nagy Gallery opens at 219 East 53rd Street, backed by Dwight Ripley, with Myers as gallery director and de Nagy its business manager
    1953
    Tibor de Nagy Gallery moves to 24 East 67th St.
    1953-1956
    Editor, Semi-Colon, a poets' newsletter emphasizing brief prose and verse
    1954-1970
    Producer and Artistic Advisor, The Artists' Theater; during this time 36 plays by poets, with appropriate décors and music by modern painters and composers
    1959-1970
    Editor, Gallery Editions, a series of poetry pamphlets pairing poets and painters (Frank O'Hara and Larry rivers, Kenneth Koch and Nell Blaine, Barbara Guest and Robert Goodnough)
    1968-1968
    Producer, Southampton Artists' Theatre Festival, Long Island University
    1970
    Leaves Tibor de Nagy Gallery and opens John Bernard Myers Gallery at 50 West 57th Street
    1974
    Closes his gallery and in retirement becomes a private dealer
    1975-1979
    Editor, Parenthése, a little magazine of words and pictures
    1981
    Editor, Parenthése Signatures, each deluxe limited edition portfolios paired an artist and poet
    1981
    Tracking the Marvelous, exhibition at Grey Gallery, New York University
    1984
    Publication of Tracking the Marvelous: A Life in the New York Art World
    1985-1987
    Consultant to Kouros Gallery, New York
    1987
    Dies July 26, Danbury, Conn.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The John Bernard Myers papers, which measure 2.0 linear feet, date from circa 1940s to 1987, bulk 1970-1987, and document his work as a writer, editor, and gallery director.

Personal and professional correspondence consist mainly of incoming letters from colleagues, friends, and admirers. Among the correspondence is business and fan mail concerning Tracking the Marvelous and Parenthése, letters from writer and English professor Guy Davenport, and invitations to speak and teach. Also included are letters to The New York Times and Art In America complaining about critic John Canaday's behavior and comments during a visit to the Tibor de Nagy Gallery.

Myers' published and unpublished writings are the collection's most significant series. These consist of manuscripts for his autobiography, Tracking the Marvelous, published in 1984 ; Forward and Backward: A Chronicle, circa 1976, about Mark Rothko's suicide and the subsequent lawsuit brought by his daughter against Marlborough Galleries (a revised version was published later as part three of Myers' autobiography); and Knowing What I Like, 1985, an unpublished collection of his own essays and criticism compiled and edited by Myers. Among his other writings are articles, essays, and reviews. Also included are his diariess dated 1969 and 1974-1983. Entries record daily activities and reactions to his experiences, news of friends, and reflections on his life and relationships. Excerpts from much earlier diaries (not part of the John Bernard Myers Papers) are quoted extensively in Tracking the Marvelous.

Printed Matter consists of writings by Myers - Tracking the Marvelous: A Life in the New York Art World; a selection of articles, essays, and criticism published mainly in art periodicals; and exhibition catalogs. Also included are a few articles about Myers and issues of publications he edited. Other printed matter consists of clippings on art subjects, exhibition catalogs, and miscellaneous publications.

Miscellaneous items are artwork, biographical information, minutes and memoranda of the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and transcripts of interviews conducted by and with Myers. Also included are records of the Southampton Artists' Theatre Festival, produced by John Bernard Myers, consisting of director's notes and notes and music for "Gertrude Stein's 'First Reader.'"

Photographs are of Myers and unidentified friends, interior views of his home in Brewster, N.Y. and one of the back yard. Also included are many photographs of puppets.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection is arranged into 5 series:

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following terms:

Subjects:

  • Rothko, Mark, 1903-1970
  • Tibor de Nagy Gallery

Subjects-Topical:

  • Art critics -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Art criticism
  • Puppet making
  • Puppets

Types of Materials:

  • Works of art
  • Color slides
  • Color transparencies
  • Diaries
  • Photographs

Names:

  • Davenport, Guy
  • Cady, Arthur
  • Canaday, John, 1907-
  • Sturdevant, Alfred interviewer
  • Grooms, Red interviewee
  • Marisol, 1930- interviewee
  • Spivy-Anderson, C. Alexandra 1942- interviewee
  • Ingram Merrill Foundation
  • Southampton Artists' Theatre Festival

Provenance

The collection was a gift of the Estate of Ricky Dale Horton, 1990.

Separated and Related Materials

Other material relating to John Bernard Myers in the Archives of American Art includes an interview with Myers conducted by Barbara Rose, circa 1969.

How the Collection was Processed

The collection was processed by Catherine S. Gaines in 2001.


How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

The collection is open for research. Use requires an appointment.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The John Bernard Myers papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.

How to Cite this Collection

John Bernard Myers papers, circa 1940s-1987, bulk 1970-1987. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Correspondence, 1960-1986, undated
(box 1, 6 folders)

Correspondence consists mainly of incoming letters that are both personal and professional in nature. Letters are from friends, admirers, and publishers. Among the general correspondence are fan letters, and invitations to lecture and teach. The file concerning John Canaday includes letters to the editors of The New York Times and Art In America complaining about the critic's unprofessional behavior and comments he made while visiting the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, a letter of apology from Canaday, and letters to friends and supporters alerting them to the upcoming publication of Myers' letter to The New York Times. Letters from Guy Davenport - a close friend, English professor, writer, and contributor to Parenthése - are about both personal and professional matters. Tracking the Marvelous includes letters from Myers' publisher and editor, along with contracts, fan letters, and his rebuttal to an unflattering review.

General correspondence is arranged chronologically. Other correspondence is organized alphabetically by name of correspondent or subject, and material within each folder is arranged chronologically.

Box
1 General Correspondence, 1973-1987, undated
1 Arts Magazine, 1953
1 Re: Canaday, John, 1960
1 Davenport, Guy, 1975-1977, undated
1 Parenthése, 1975-1976, undated
1 Tracking the Marvelous, 1983-1985, undated

Series 2: Writings, 1959-1987, undated
(boxes 1-2, 1.0 linear ft.)

Writings consist of drafts and final manuscripts of Myers's published and unpublished works. Included are books, articles and essays, miscellaneous writings, and diaries. His autobiography, Tracking the Marvelous: A Life in the New York Art World, was published by Random House in 1984. Correspondence with his publisher and fan letters are included with Series 1, and reviews are among the printed matter in Series 3. Forward and Backward: A Chronicle in Fragments and Episodes is about Mark Rothko's suicide and his daughter's subsequent lawsuit against Marlborough Galleries; this manuscript forms the basis for part three of Tracking the Marvelous. Knowing What I Like (unpublished) is a collection of Myers's essays and art criticism selected and edited by him. Among his miscellaneous writings are book and exhibition reviews, poems and song lyrics. Also included are notes, among them a notebook about puppets at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

For much of his life, Myers kept a diary and entries dated 1939-1956 are quoted extensively in Tracking the Marvelous. Eleven volumes, 1969 and 1974-1983, record his activities, reactions and reflections on his experiences, and news of literary and artist friends and acquaintances.

Writings by other authors include poems and an article, as well as submissions to Parenthèse.

The series is organized into five subseries:

2.1: Books, circa 1976-1985

Box
1 Forward and Backward: A Chronicle in Fragments and Episodes, circa 1976
(2 folders)
1 Knowing What I Like, Draft Table of Contents and Introduction, circa 1984-1985
1 Knowing What I Like, 1985
(2 folders)
1 Tracking the Marvelous, circa 1980-1983
(4 folders)
1 Tracking the Marvelous, Additional Text to be Inserted, circa 1983

2.2: Articles and Essays, 1985, 1989, undated

Box
1 "Animals In Art," undated
1 "Are You Ready?" undated
1 "Art Criticized by Other Artists," undated
1 "Collecting the Unknown," undated
1 "Contemplation," undated
1 "Cornell's 'Erreur d'Ame,'" undated
1 "Imaginary Interview with Lee Krasner," undated
1 "In Regards to the Selection of Verse or, Every Painter Should Have His Poet," undated
1 "Inner Truth," 1985
1 "New York Letter," undated
1 "New York Painting Since Surrealism," undated
1 "Newport Beach Museum," undated
1 "Norman Bluhm," undated
1 "Outdoors and indoors," undated
1 "Pennies from Heaven," undated
1 "A Phase of Portuguese Architecture," undated
1 "Reflections-A Memory-The Perils of Nostalgia," undated
1 "The Truth Behind the Story of the Princess and the Pea," undated
1 "William James," undated
1 "Wm. Tzvetan Todorov: The Conquest of America," undated
1 "Words and Pictures, Pictures and Words: Some Notes on Alexander Page and William Carlos Williams," undated
1 "The Unknowable, the Unworldly, the Unspeakable," undated
1 Untitled, undated

2.3: Miscellaneous Writings, 1975-1987, undated

Box
1 Book Reviews, 1975-1983
1 Exhibition Reviews, 1986
1 Notebook, "Detroit, about Detroit Institute of Arts Puppet Collection and Staff (1 vol.), undated
1 Notes, undated
1 Poems, 1987, undated
1 "Triumphant Chant for R. H.," music by Ned Rorem, words by John Bernard Myers, undated

2.4: Diaries, 1969-1983, undated

Box
1 Vol. 1: July 4, 1969; Sept. Aug. 22, 1974-June 25, 1976
1 Vol. 2: Dec. 14, 1972-Nov. 15, 1973
1 Vol. 3: Nov. 15, 1973-Aug. 14, 1974
1 Vol. 4: Interim, A Spring Holiday, April 10-23, 1974
1 Vol. 5: Diary, Oct. 1, 1977-Sept. 4, 1978
Box
2 Vol. 6: Diary, Sept. 7, 1978-Dec. 18, 1979
2 Vol. 7: Lisbon Diary, Dec. 29, 1979-Jan. 16, 1980
2 Vol. 8: Diary Jan. 20, 1980 [cover incorrectly indicates Jan. 23]-March 29, 1981
2 Vol. 9: Diary, April 1, 1981-June 15, 1982
2 Vol. 10: June 22-Dec. 26, 1982 [cover incorrectly indicates June 1981-Dec. 1982]
2 Vol. 11: Diary, Jan. 2-July 13, 1983
2 Diary Entries (photocopies), undated

2.5: Writings By Other Authors, circa 1975-1979, undated

Box
2 Poems, 1985, undated
2 "Random Thoughts on the Gimmickists," by Tibor de Nagy, undated
2 Submissions to Parenthèse, circa 1975-1979

Series 3: Printed Matter, 1951-1987, undated
(box 2, 0.5 linear ft.)

Printed matter consists of a book, exhibition catalogs, articles, and book and exhibition reviews written by Myers and a few articles by Myers. Copies of Volumes I and II of Semi-Colon, a poets' newsletter edited by Myers and published by the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, 1953-circa 1956, and four issues of Parenthesé, a magazine of words and pictures, edited by Myers between 1975 and 1979 are included. Other printed matter consists of exhibition catalogs, clippings on art subjects, and miscellaneous items.

All folders are arranged chronologically.

Box
2 By JBM, Tracking the Marvelous: A Life in the New York Art World, 1984
2 By JBM, Exhibition Catalogs and Announcements, 1977-1987, undated
2 By JBM, Articles, 1964-1983, undated
2 By JBM, Book Reviews and Exhibition Reviews, 1970-1975, undated
2 About JBM, Articles, 1975-1984
2 Edited by JBM, Semi-Colon, 1953-circa 1956
2 Edited by JBM, Parenthése, 1975, 1979
2 Edited by JBM, Parenthése Proofs, 1977
2 Edited by JBM, Miscellaneous Printed Matter re: Sea Cliff Editions, 1985-1986
2 Exhibition Catalogs, Announcements, and Invitations, 1960-1986, undated
2 Clippings, Berman, Leonid, 1972-1974
2 Clippings, Hartigan, Grace, 1984
2 Clippings, Rothko, Mark, 1978-1983, undated
2 Clippings, Reviews of Tracking the Marvelous, 1983-1984
2 Miscellaneous Publications, Elegy by Chester Kallman, drawings by Rene Bouche, 1951
2 Miscellaneous Publications, Merrill, James, 1977-1982
2 Miscellaneous Publications, Various Subjects, 1964-1985, undated

Series 4: Miscellaneous, circa 1962-1987, undated
(0.25 linear ft.)

Miscellaneous items consist of a small number of items not properly part of the larger series. Among these documents are artwork and biographical information. Also included are minutes and memoranda of the Ingram Merrill Foundation (most likely established by the family of Myers' friend the poet James Merrill) which gave grants to artists and writers. Myers served as the foundation's secretary. There are transcripts of interviews Myers conducted with Alexandra Anderson, Marisol and Red Grooms, and a transcript of Myers interviewed by Alfred Sturdevant.

Records of the Southampton Artists' Theatre Festival (Herbert Machiz, director, and John Bernard Myers, producer), operated at Long Island University during the summers of 1968 and 1969, consist of notes and music. Its 1969 production "Gertrude Stein's 'First Reader'" was repeated at the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Music by Ann Sternberg includes "Sunshine," "Jenny," "How They Do, Do," "Baby Benjamin," "In a Garden," and "The Soldier."

Box
2 Artwork, Collages by Arthur Cady (illustrations for "Another Medici Child" by JBM), undated
2 Artwork, Original for Announcement: "Tibor de Nagy Presents Red Grooms, Featuring Extension Paintings . . .," circa 1962
2 Biographical Material, Résumé, circa 1980
2 Biographical Material, Memorials, 1987
2 Ingram Merrill Foundation, Minutes and Memoranda, 1983-1984
2 Interview Transcripts, John Bernard Myers Interviewed by Alfred Sturdevant, 1985
2 Interview Transcripts, Alexandra Anderson Interviewed by John Bernard Myers, undated
2 Interview Transcripts, "A Convervsation with Marisol and Red Grooms," interviewer unidentified, undated
2 Southampton Artists' Theatre Festival, Director's Notes on Second Season (1 vol.), 1969
2 Southampton Artists' Theatre Festival, Music and Notes for 1969 Production of "Gertrude Stein's 'First Reader,'" undated
2 Southampton Artists' Theatre Festival, Music for Other Productions, undated

Series 5: Photographs, circa 1940s-1985, undated
(box 2, 6 folders)

Photographs (including color slides and transparencies) are of John Bernard Myers, including two of him with puppets; unidentified friends; and the interior of his Brewster, N.Y. home and its backyard. Also, there are many photographs of puppets and one of a painting by Grace Hartigan.

Within each folder, photographs are arranged in rough chronological order.

Box
2 People, Myers, John Bernard, circa 1940s-1980s
2 People, Unidentified Groups, undated
2 Places, Interior of Myer's Home, Brewster, N.Y., 1978, undated
2 Places, Backyard of Myer's Home, Brewster, N.Y., undated
2 Miscellaneous Subjects, "St. George," painting by Grace Hartigan, 1985
2 Miscellaneous Subjects, Puppets, undated