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Alan R. Solomon papers, 1907-1970, bulk 1944-1970

Biographical Note

New York art historian, museum director, art consultant, educator, writer, and curator, Alan R. Solomon (1920-1970), organized over two hundred exhibitions in the course of his career. He was known for his skill in exhibition design, and for bringing the perception and understanding of an art historian to the field of contemporary art.
Solomon was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, and educated at Harvard College and Harvard Graduate School. In 1953, during his 1952-1962 tenure with the Cornell University department of art history, he established the Andrew Dickson White Museum of art. Solomon served as the museum's first director until 1961, whilst simultaneously pursuing his doctorate, which he received from Harvard University in 1962.
In 1962 Solomon was hired by the Jewish Museum in New York, New York, and immediately began to take the institution in a more contemporary direction, mounting Robert Rauschenberg's first retrospective in 1963, and a major Jasper Johns retrospective in 1964. Also, in 1963, Solomon was appointed the United States Commissioner for the 1964 Venice Biennale. He was determined to show "the major new indigenous tendencies, the peculiarly America spirt of the art" in works by two consecutive generations of artists, including Jasper Johns, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, and Robert Rauschenberg. With this in mind, and given the inadequacy of the existing space to house the installation he envisaged, Solomon secured a verbal agreement from Biennale officials to approve additional space for the American exhibition in an annex at the former American Consulate. The agreement was never formalized, however, and a series of administrative problems and controversies over the eligibility of the American submissions threatened to undermine Solomon's efforts. Nevertheless, Robert Rauschenberg became the first American to take the Grand Prize for foreign artist, and the attention garnered by the American exhibition monopolized press coverage of the Biennale. In response, Solomon stated publicly that "it is acknowledged on every hand that New York has replaced Paris as the world art capital."
Solomon subsequently left the Jewish Museum, having engendered resistance to leading the museum in a more experimental direction, away from the traditional Jewish educational aspects of its mission. In the mid-sixties he worked as a consultant and writer for a National Educational Television series entitled "U. S. A. Artists," which drew on artist interviews, many conducted by Solomon. He also wrote the text for Ugo Mulas's classic photographic study, New York: The New Art Scene (1967: Holt Rinehart and Winston).
In 1966 Solomon was hired by the United States Information Agency to organize the United States contribution to the Canadian World Exhibition in Montreal, known as Expo '67. His stunning American Painting Now installation placed large scale paintings by twenty-three artists, including Jim Dine, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Barnett Newman, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, and James Rosenquist, inside Buckminster Fuller's twenty-story Biosphere of Montreal.
Other important exhibitions organized by Solomon included Andy Warhol (1966) at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, which was only the second of two exhibitions dedicated to the artist; Dine-Oldenburg-Segal (1967) at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery; and Young Italians (1968) at the Institute of Contemporary Art.
Solomon was also interested in contemporary theater and organized the First New York Theater Rally with Steve Paxton in 1965, a series of performances which combined new dance and a revival of the Happenings of the early 1960s, in which Claes Oldenburg, Jim Dine and others were involved.
Following a six-week appointment as a senior lecturer at the University of California, Irvine, in spring 1968, Solomon became chairman of the University's art department and director of the art gallery. His last exhibition, Painting in New York, 1944-1969 (1969-1970), was held at the Pasadena Art Museum and closed in January 1970, just a few weeks before Solomon's sudden death at the age of forty-nine.