The papers of art historian and writer Peter Howard Selz measure 31.5 linear feet 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 materials, and nine scrapbooks.
Scope and Contents:
The papers of art historian and writer Peter Howard Selz measure 31.5 linear feet 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 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 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. There is 1 sound disc, 1 CD, 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, 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.
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, Box 37)
Series 2: Writings, 1942- circa 2014 (8.3 linear feet; Box 3-10, OV 32, Box 37)
Series 3: Professional Files, 1949-2012 (1 linear feet; Box 11, Box 37)
Series 4: Project Files, 1962-2015 (2.8 linear feet; Box 12-14, OV 33, Box 37)
Series 5: Membership and Association Records, 1958-2014 (1.1 linear feet; Box 14-15, Box 37)
Series 6: Artists' Research Files, 1955-2014 (7.9 linear feet; Box 15-22, OV 34-35)
Series 7: Exhibition Files, 1959-2014 (5.2 linear feet; Box 23-27, Box 38)
Series 8: Personal Business Records, 1929-2014 (1.2 linear feet; Box 28-29, OV 36, Box 38)
Series 9: Printed Material, 1957-2014 (0.3 linear feet; Box 29, Box 38)
Series 10: Scrapbooks, 1947-2018 (1.4 linear feet, Box 29-31, Box 38)
Biographical / Historical:
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 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 (1957), Art in a Turbulent Era (1965), Art in Our Times (1981), and Sam Francis (1975).
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. Selz died in 2019 in Albany, California.
The Archives of American Art also holds oral history interviews of Peter Selz conducted by Paul J. Karlstrom on July 28, 1982, October 12, 1982, and November 3, 1999.
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.
Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Washington, D.C. Research Center. Use of archival audiovisual recordings with no duplicate copies requires advance notice.
The Peter Howard Selz 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.