American Women Tastemakers: Dorothy Canning Miller

By Barbara Aikens

July 20, 2011

Photograph of Dorothy Canning Miller
Dorothy Canning Miller, ca. 1938. Soichi Sunami, photographer. Dorothy C. Miller papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

From the mid-1930s through the 1970s, Dorothy Canning Miller was one of the most influential women in the New York contemporary art scene and a radical champion of new American work. Miller is best remembered as the first curator Alfred H. Barr hired in 1934 for the newly opened Museum of Modern Art; she worked there until 1965.

Perhaps less known, however, is Miller’s successful second career as an advisor to private, corporate, and municipal collectors—well documented in her papers at the Archives of American Art.

Miller guided Nelson Rockefeller and other members of the Rockefeller family in building large collections of contemporary American art and American folk art. She was also a member of the first art committee of the Chase Manhattan Bank—now the JP Morgan Chase Art Collection—one of this country’s oldest and largest corporate collections of modern and contemporary art.

 

Alexander Calder letter to Dorothy Miller, 1971 Jan. 6.
Calder writes to Miller providing instructions on the installation of his “stabile” at the World Trade Center, with an illustration of the plates at the base of the work. Alexander Calder letter to Dorothy Miller, 1971 Jan. 6. Dorothy C. Miller papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Alexander Calder standing by stabile
This is one of several stabiles by Calder that Miller considered for installation at the World Trade Center. Alexander Calder standing by stabile The 100 yard dash, not before 1969. Perls Galleries, photographer. Dorothy C. Miller papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

In the early 1970s, she consulted with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANJY) and was primarily responsible for selecting the initial artwork and sculpture installed in the World Trade Center, including Alexander Calder’s stabile “Bent Propeller” which was sadly destroyed on 9-11, along with a rare tapestry by Joan Miró and numerous other contemporary paintings and sculpture.

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Barbara Aikens is the Chief of Collections Processing at the Archives of American Art.

Comments

Dorothy Canning Miller is one of my admired women of all times. Its great to know that she is also an advisor to private, corporate, and municipal collectors.

Dorothy Millers work in the growth ans preservation of modern art is priceless. Art is history and we must preserve history for our future.

Art and history are part of who we are, we can not forget where we came to know our identity .....

Art its a magic, give us dream and peace

Wow, it's amazing to know facts like these about Dorothy. She is one woman who has always been admired for her works.

It's great to recognize ourselves when we recognize the art and culture in our midst.

Dorothy is a great artist and a very humble woman.. I like her so much..

Miller's greatest contribution was her series of exhibitions called the "Americans" held at MoMA from 1942 to 1963. Spanning several generations, these exhibitions introduced artists who were not well known to a skeptical and doubting public. The reviews of her exhibitions were almost uniformly negative and yet most of the artists she showed went on to important and influential careers.
Her work as an art advisor evolved into a full time profession after she retired from MoMA in 1969.

a very good article, so my inspiration in my life