The papers of painter, political activist, and educator Leon Golub are dated 1930s-2009 and measure 16.5 linear feet. His career as a painter and educator – and, to a far lesser extent, his personal interests and activities – are documented by correspondence, interviews, writings by Golub and other authors, subject files, printed material, and audiovisual recordings. Also included are biographical materials, personal business records, and photographs of Leon Golub and wife Nancy Spero. Posthumously dated items are mostly condolence letters, obituaries, printed material, and inventories of his work.
Scope and Contents:
The papers of painter, political activist, and educator Leon Golub are dated 1930s-2009 and measure 16.5 linear feet. His career as a painter and educator – and, to a far lesser extent, his personal interests and activities – are documented by correspondence, interviews, writings, subject files, printed material, and audiovisual recordings. Also included are biographical materials, personal business records, and photographs of Leon Golub and his art work. Posthumously dated items are mostly condolence letters, obituaries, printed material, and inventories of his work.
Biographical materials consist largely of video documentaries about Leon Golub and his work, obituaries, and information about his 2004 memorial service and a larger memorial tribute held later. Also found are educational records, passports, curricula vitae.
Correspondence is mostly of a professional nature, focusing on exhibitions, projects, collectors, articles submitted for publication, Golub's work, speaking engagements, awards, gifts of artwork, studio visits, and travel arrangements. Correspondents include dealers, curators, art historians, critics, collectors, writers, and editors. Scattered throughout are a small number of letters concerning personal business and politics.
Interviews with Leon Golub and joint interviews with Leon Golub and Nancy Spero were conducted for a variety of purposes. They are preserved as transcripts, video, and sound recordings. Writings by Golub include manuscripts and notes for articles, catalog essays, and miscellaneous writings. Notes and texts for talks, lectures, and panel discussions, include some transcripts and recordings. Among the writings by other authors are a dissertation, a thesis, academic papers, notes, texts of speeches, and a recording of a lecture by an unidentified speaker.
Subject files reflect Golub's professional and personal activities, interests and relationships. Of note are many files of "Images (source material)" used for a variety of artwork and projects. Personal business records documenting Golub's artistic output include many inventories and lists, and a comprehensive register of work, information about consignments, loans, photo permissions, and gifts or donations. Also found are extensive mailing lists.
Printed material includes clippings, exhibition catalogs and announcements, and a variety of miscellaneous printed items. Most material is about/mentions Golub, and/or includes reproductions of his work. Scattered throughout are items concerning topics of interest to Golub, and articles written by him.
The majority of the photographic materials are color digital prints of Golub's artwork. There are photographs of Leon Golub and Nancy Spero, family members, and friends and colleagues at exhibition events. Also found are a few photographs of Golub's plexibox sculptures.
The collection is arranged in 8 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1930s-2006 (Boxes 1-2; 1.4 linear feet)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1955-2004 (Boxes 2-3; 0.9 linear foot)
Series 3: Interviews, 1967-2004 (Boxes 3-4; 0.8 linear foot)
Series 4: Writings, 1948-2003 (Boxes 4-5, 21; 1.1 linear foot)
Series 5: Subject Files, 1959-2005 (Boxes 5-11, OV 18; 6.2 linear feet)
Series 6: Personal Business Records, 1965-2009 (Boxes 11-12; 1.4 linear feet)
Series 7: Printed Material, circa 1950s-2009 (Boxes 12-16, 21, OV 19; 3.9 linear feet)
Series 8: Photographs, 1940s-2004 (Boxes 16-17, OV 20; 0.6 linear foot)
Biographical / Historical:
Leon Golub (1922-2004) was a painter in New York City known for figurative work with political content, an anti-war activist, and professor of art at Rutgers University.
Chicago native Leon Golub studied art history at the University of Chicago (BA 1942) before serving as a cartographer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Europe during World War II. Upon returning home, Golub became identified with Monster Roster, a group of Chicago artists who believed art must be grounded in real events in order to be relevant to the viewer and society, an idea he held throughout his life. At the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Golub pursued his interest in painting (BFA 1949, MFA 1950) and met fellow student Nancy Spero whom he married in 1951. After graduation he began teaching at local colleges, exhibited in Chicago and New York, and served as chair of "Exhibition Momentum" (1950). The couple and their two sons lived in Italy from 1956-1957. In 1959 they moved to Paris and, while there, a third son was born. Upon returning to New York City in 1964, Golub became actively involved with the Artists and Writers Protest Against the War in Vietnam, other anti-war groups, and civil liberties organizations. While his painting style changed with time, Golub continued to explore power, violence and conflict, often working in series with titles such as Combats, Napalm, Mercenaries, Interrogation, and Riot.
He first participated in a group show with other veterans at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1947, and soon was included in group and solo exhibitions throughout the United States and in Europe, including the Guggenheim Museum's influential national traveling exhibition "Younger American Painters" (1954-1956). Golub and Spero exhibited their work in tandem and collaborated on installations. He continued to participate in group shows including "Documenta IX" (2002). Golub's work is included in the permanent collections of museums throughout the world.
Golub began his teaching career soon after graduation, first at a junior college in Chicago. In the later 1950s he served briefly on the faculties of Illinois Institute of Technology School of Design and Indiana University; in the 1960s at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, and Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. He began a long tenure at Rutgers University, School of Visual Arts in 1970 and retired in 1991. In the early 1990s, both Golub and Spero were affiliated with Sommerakademie in Salzburg. Golub wrote and spoke on art, politics, and social issues; he also published many articles, statements, and book reviews, as well as contributing introductions and essays for exhibition catalogs.
Awards and honors included the Skowhegan Medal for Painting (1988), Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights Award (1989), Dickinson College Arts Award (1992), National Foundation of Jewish Culture Visual Arts Award (1995), and Hiroshima Art Prize shared with Nancy Spero (1996). Golub was awarded honorary doctorates of Fine Arts by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1982), Swarthmore College (1985), College of St. Rose (1995), Trinity College (1999), and Pratt Institute (2000). He was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2002).
Leon Golub died in New York City August 8, 2004 from complications following surgery.
Also among the holdings of the Archives of American Art are oral history interviews with Leon Golub conducted for the Archives of American Art by Bruce Hooten 1965 and Irving Sandler 1968 October 28-November 18. The Nancy Spero papers, 1940s-2009, bulk 1970-2009, include documentation of many of the couple's collaborative projects, joint exhibitions, their family, and shared interests.
The Leon Golub papers were donated by Leon Golub in 1978; the majority of the papers were given in 2013 by The Nancy Spero and Leon Golub Foundation for the Arts via their sons Stephen, Philip and Paul Golub. Material loaned for microfilming in 1969 is included with the 2013 donation.
Use of original materials requires an appointment. Use of archival audiovisual recordings with no duplicate access copy requires advance notice.
The Leon Golub papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.