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

Selz, Peter Howard, 1919-2019

Curator, Writer, Art historian

Collection Information

Size: 31.5 Linear feet 0.696 Gigabytes

Summary: The papers of art historian and writer Peter Howard Selz measure 31.5 linear feet and 0.696 GB and date from 1929 to 2018, 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 and digital materials, and 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 and digital 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. Also included are writings by others, including materials related to Paul Karlstrom's biography of Selz.
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 and digital material, and writings. There is also 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. Some of the materials are in digital format.
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, exhibition announcements and invitations, 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. This series also includes materials from the 2018 addition that may have previously been compiled in binders.

Biographical/Historical Note

Peter Howard Selz (1919-2019) was 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.


The Peter Howard Selz papers were donated to the Archives of American Art by Peter Selz in multiple installments from 1976 through 2014. Additional papers were donated in 2018 by Gabrielle Selz, Peter Selz's daughter.

Related Materials

Language Note

Collection is in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish. English; French; German; Italian; Spanish


Funding for the 2014 processing of this collection was provided by the Frederick Hammersley Foundation. Funding for the processing of the 2018 addition was provided by Gerald and Bente Buck.