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Peter Howard Selz papers, 1929-2014, bulk 1950-2005

Peter Howard Selz papers, 1929-2014, bulk 1950-2005

Selz, Peter Howard, 1919-

Curator, Writer, Art historian

Collection Information

Size: 30.1 linear feet

Summary: The papers of art historian and writer Peter Howard Selz (1919- ) measure 30.1 linear feet and date from 1929 to 2014, with the bulk of the materials from 1950 to 2005. The papers document Selz's long career via correspondence, writings, professional files, project files, membership and association records, artists' research files, exhibition files, personal business records, printed materials, and nine scrapbooks.

Correspondence is with colleagues, artists, museums, and galleries concerning a wide variety of topics, including exhibitions and publications. The bulk of the correspondence consists of alphabetical files (two linear feet) that includes correspondence with artists. Notable correspondents include Pol Bury, Alexander Calder, Gordon Onslow Ford, Alberto Giacometti, Morris Graves, Philip Guston, Dimitri Hadzi, Jacques Lipchitz, Georgia O'Keeffe, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, Jean Tinguely, and others. Eight additional files of chronological correspondence is with curators, arts organizations, and publishers. Additional correspondence is found in the professional files, project files, membership files, artists' research files, and exhibition files.

The bulk of the writings series is comprised of files related to Selz's books and includes typescript drafts and galleys, printed material, correspondence, and publishing contracts. Files are found for "Art in Our Times," "Art of Engagement," "Beyond the Mainstream," and "Theories of Modern Art." Other writings consist of drafts of articles, essays, notes, and lectures by Selz, along with a few writings by others. There is 1 sound disc and 1 floppy disc.

Professional files document curatorial and teaching positions at the Chicago Institute of Design, Pomona College, University of California, Berkeley, and the Museum of Modern Art. The series includes contracts, recommendations, syllabi, and correspondence.

Project files document Selz's professional work on specific art projects, panels, and symposiums. There is extensive documentation of Selz's work as project director of Christo's "Running Fence," as well as other environmental art work projects by Christo, the Berkeley Art Project, Disney Art Project, "Funk Art" symposium, and the "Art and Politics in the 20th Century" symposium. Project files contain a wide variety of materials, such as correspondence, printed material, financial records, reports, photographs, and other documents. There are 2 tape reels, 1 VHS, and 1 sound cassette.

Membership and association records document Selz's involvement with or membership in various art councils, trustee boards, such as the College Art Association, Art in Chicago Advisory Committee, Bay Area Rapid Transit (B.A.R.T.) Art Council, and the San Francisco Crafts and Folk Art Museum Advisory Board, among others. Materials include meeting minutes, bulletins, correspondence, and memoranda.

Artists' Research Files consist of a wide variety of research materials Selz compiled about artists for lectures, writings, projects, exhibitions, etc. Files vary and may include original and photocopied correspondence, photographic material, resumes, printed material, and writings. There are also 11 CDs and 1 sound cassette. Files are found for Bedri Baykam, Max Beckmann, Fletcher Benton, Ciel Bergman, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Bruce Conner, Jean Dubuffet, Lyonel Feininger, Leon Golub, Dimitri Hadzi, Rico Lebrun, Harold Paris, Irving Petlin, among many others.

Exhibition files include catalogs, reviews, clippings, writings, correspondence, and other material documenting exhibitions organized by Selz. Limited materials are found for the MOMA Art Nouveau exhibition. More extensive documentation is found for "Seven Decades of Modern Art, 1895-1965," "The Joint Show" (1967), "The American Presidency in Political Cartoons" (1976), "American Modern Art Between the Two World Wars" (1979), "German Realism in the Twenties: Artist As Social Critic" (1980), "Twelve Artists from the German Democratic Republic" (1989), a Richard Lindner Retrospective (1996), "Spaces of Nature" (1999), "Color and Fire: Defining Moments in Studio Ceramics, 1950-2000" (2000), and a Nathan Oliviera Retrospective (2002), among others. There are 4 CDs.

Personal business records are related to the Mark Rothko estate and Kate Rothko's legal case against Marlborough Gallery, Inc. Also included in this series are Peter Selz's school transcripts, bequests, royalty statements, house designs, and other material.

Printed materials include clippings, prints of articles written by Peter Selz, and photocopies of artwork images.

There are nine disbound scrapbooks dating from the 1940s up through 2012 containing clippings, exhibition announcements, and photographs of art events, Selz, and artists.

Biographical/Historical Note

Peter Howard Selz (1919-) is a pioneering historian of modern art, professor, and writer who taught at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1965-1988 and founded and directed the Berkeley Art Museum from 1965-1973. Born in Munich, Germany, Selz studied at the University of Chicago. He was curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, 1958-1965, and founding director of University Art Museum at the University of California, Berkeley, 1965-1973. He taught at the Chicago Institute of Design, 1953-1954, Pomona College, 1955-1958, and at Berkeley. Author of "German Expressionist Painting" (1957), "Art in a Turbulent Era" (1965), "Art in Our Times" (1981), "Harold Paris" (1972), "Ferdinand Hodler" (1972), "Sam Francis" (1975), and numerous exhibition catalogs, including "Funk" (1967), "German and Austrian Expressionism" (1978), and "Two Decades of American Painting, 1920-1940" (1979).


The Peter Howard Selz papers were donated to the Archives of American Art by Peter Selz in multiple installments from 1976 through 2014.

Related Materials


Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Frederick Hammersley Foundation.

A Finding Aid to the Peter Howard Selz papers, 1929-2014, bulk 1950-2005, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical/Historical note
Peter Howard Selz (1919-) is a pioneering historian of modern art, professor, and writer who taught at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1965-1988 and founded and directed the Berleley Art Museum from 1965-1973.
Selz was born in 1919 in Munich, Germany to Eugene Selz and Edith Drey Selz. In 1936, the family fled Nazi Germany and immigrated to the United States. Selz attended Columbia University from 1937 to 1938 and became a naturalized citizen in 1942. During World War II, Selz served in the U.S. Army in the Office of Strategic Services. He married writer Thalia Cheronis in 1948 but they later divorced in 1965; he married several times afterwards.
After the war, Selz attended and taught at the University of Chicago where he received a Ph. D. in German Expressionism. He spent a year in Paris, 1949-1950, at the Sorbonne and École du Louvre on a Fulbright grant. He received a second Fulbright grant in 1953 to study at the Royal Museums of Art and History in Belgium. From 1953-1955, Selz also taught at the Chicago Institute of Design.
In 1955 Peter Selz accepted a position to chair the art history department at Pomona College in Claremont and relocated to California for a few years. He also became director of the college’s art gallery.
In 1958 Selz moved to New York City to become curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art and was there through the transformative mid-1960s. While at MOMA, he organized several significant exhibitions of modern art, including the 1960 Jean Tinguely "Homage to New York," a sculpture that destroyed itself (and started a fire) in the sculpture garden of the museum;
New Images of Man
(1959), the
Art Nouveau
show (1960), and the
Art of Assemblage
(1961). He also launched important retrospectives, including the first Rodin retrospective in the United States and a comprehensive exhibition of Alberto Giacometti’s work in 1965.
In 1965, Peter Selz returned to California to become the founding director of the Berkeley Art Museum at the University of California, Berkeley, a position he held until 1973. He organized exhibitions of Funk, film, and ceramicists like Peter Voulkos and Robert Arneson. Peter Selz later became project director for Christo’s “Running Fence”, the 24.5-mile long fabric fence over the Marin County hills in 1976. He also served concurrently as a professor of art history at UC until retiring in 1988.
Peter Selz was a member of the College Art Association's board of directors for two terms, 1958-1964 and 1966-1971. Selz is a prolific writer, and the author or co-author of numerous books, exhibition catalogs, and articles. Notable books include
German Expressionist Painting
Art in a Turbulent Era
Art in Our Times
(1981), and
Sam Francis
In 1988 Peter Selz was named emeritus professor at University of California, Berkeley. In 1993 he was on the acquisitions committee of the Museums of Fine Arts, San Francisco. In 2012, Selz curated
The Painted Word
exhibition. He lives in California and continues to be active in the art world.
Arrangement note
This collection is arranged as 10 series. When possible the original order of Peter Selz was maintained. However, multiple accessions were merged and integrated.
Series 1: Correspondence, 1942-2013 (2.3 linear feet; Box 1-3)
Series 2: Writings, 1942-2011 (7.8 linear feet; Box 3-10, OV 32)
Series 3: Professional Files, 1949-2012 (1 linear feet; Box 11)
Series 4: Project Files, 1962-2008 (2.6 linear feet; Box 12-14, OV 33)
Series 5: Membership and Association Records, 1958-2013 (0.8 linear feet; Box 14-15)
Series 6: Artists' Research Files, 1955-2014 (7.9 linear feet; Box 15-22, OV 34-35)
Series 7: Exhibition Files, 1960-2012 (5 linear feet; Box 23-27)
Series 8: Personal Business Records, 1929-2011 (1.1 linear feet; Box 28-29, OV 36)
Series 9: Printed Material, 1957-2004 (0.3 linear feet; Box 29)
Series 10: Scrapbooks, 1947-2012 (1.3 linear feet, Box 29-31)
The Peter Howard Selz papers were donated to the Archives of American Art by Peter Selz in multiple installments from 1976 through 2014.
Processing Information note
Multiple accessions were merged and integrated and processed by Rihoko Ueno in 2014, with funding from the Frederick Hammersley Foundation.

Additional Forms Available

Portions of the collection are available on 35 mm microfilm reels 2343-2345 and 4383-4385 at Archives of American Art offices, and through interlibrary loan. Researchers should note that the microfilm is incomplete and does not represent the entire collection. The filmed order does not match the current arrangement of the papers as outlined in this finding aid.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Peter Howard Selz papers, 1929-2014, bulk 1950-2005. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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