12 American Painters and Sculptors

Rene d'Harnoncourt (right) at the press opening of "12 American Painters and Sculptors," Musee National d'Art Modern, Paris

Director of MoMA Rene d'Harnoncourt (right) at press opening of "12 American Painters and Sculptors" in Paris. To the left of d'Harnoncourt is a painting by Jackson Pollock and overhead is an Alexander Calder Mobile.

The first original exhibition produced by the International Program and Council was “12 American Painters and Sculptors.” Artists in the exhibition included Stuart Davis, John Kane, Jackson Pollock, Ben Shahn, and Alexander Calder. Such a lineup was only possible at that time through the efforts of a private organization. The exhibit received extensive press coverage and a range of reactions from astonishment to disgust. Furthermore, the exhibit was an assertion that modern American art was its own style, no longer an extension of European or Asian influences.

Art diplomacy advocates had a selection of truly American art to utilize Abstract Expressionism and other kinds of art represented in “12 American Painters and Sculptors” provided a national style of art that was not nationalistic. The first director of MoMA, Alfred Barr, stated: “The modern artists’ nonconformity and love of freedom cannot be tolerated within a monolithic tyranny and modern art is useless for the dictator’s propaganda.”

Installation view of "12 Modern American Painters and Sculptors," Musee National d'Art Modern, Paris.

Gallery view of "12 American Painters and Sculptors." The furthest room is where d'Harnoncourt is standing in the photograph of the press opening.

From MoMA to the State Department
12 American Painters and Sculptors