An interview with Allan Sekula conducted 2011 August 20-2012 February 14, by Mary Panzer, for the Archives of American Art at Sekula's studio and home in Los Angeles, California and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, New York.
Sekula speaks of his career and some of the mediums he works in; language and contemporary art; Roland Barthes; his relation to contemporary art; west coast conceptualism; genre switches; realism; documentary photography; Belgium and the industrial revolution; Meunier; minor figures; art history and marginalism; Roberto Matta; World War I; Homer Folks; Fish Story; historic cinema; economic factors of art shows and publication; galleries and the art world; growing up and his family; his father and moving; Ohio; his brothers and sisters; San Pedro; demographics of students at school; sports at school; Vietnam; protests; cross country and swimming; California; fishing; college; U.C. system; declaring a major; John Altoon; Ed Kienholz; exposure to art; visiting museums; Marcuse's classes; Baldessari's classes; course work and student life; student demonstrations; working in a library and exposure to books; father losing his job; science and working as a chemical technician; politics; his uncle committing suicide; moving away from his father; the draft; John Birch; Students for a Democratic Society; his mother; politics of his parents; Aerospace Folk Tales, autodidacts and scholarship; San Diego and Mexico; obtaining a camera and starting to use it; art school; CalArts; UCSD; Meditations on a Triptych; David Salle; Fred Lonidier; Phel Steinmetz; MFA and art training; poets; story of Allen Ginsberg and one of Sekula's sculptures; production and the audience; A Photograph is Worth a Thousand Questions, photography and the burden of tradition; pictorialism; moving to New York; Artforum; October; New York music scene; Captain Beefheart; Bo Diddley; Little Richard; Steichen and aerial photography; origins of October; New Criterion; Art Critic's Grant; teaching at Ohio State; television; technological historians; New York subway and getting a ticket for using French money; RISD lectures; Long Beach; photography; collages; Metro Pictures; New Topographics; School as a Factory; moral choice and the viewer; work method and the audience; Social Criticism and Art Practice; east and west coasts; Ed Ruscha; documentary; film, Los Angeles; cinema and social history; Ohio State Department of Photography and Cinema; Los Angeles Plays Itself; Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador; Ohio State campus, anti-Semitism; Ronald Reagan and protest; influences and colleagues; intellectual genealogy; Michael Graves and Ohio State architecture; Bad Ohio; tenure; University Exposed; AIDS issue of October; The Body and the Archive; making film; Korean War; collectors and images. Sekula also recalls Eleanor Antin, Jeff Wall, Terry Fox, Lewis Hine, Walker Evans, Paul Saltman, Marcuse, Baldessari, Sacvan Bercovitch, Stanley Miller, Jef Raskin, Paul Brach, David Antin, Howard Fried, Peter Van Riper, Alison Knowles, Dick Higgins, Manny Farber, Ihab Hassan, Diane Wakoski, Jackson Mac Low, Martha Rosler, Lenny Neufeld, Joshua Neufeld, David Wing, Brian Connell, Max Kozloff, Ian Burn, Mel Ramsden, Carole Conde, Karl Beveridge, Barry Rosens, Tom Crow, John Copeland, Harry Lunn, Hilton Kramer, Grace Mayer, Carol Duncan, Eva Cockroft, Richard Pommer, Rosalind Krauss, Sally Stein, Paddy Chayefsky, John Hanhardt, Mel Ramsden, Sarah Charlesworth, Jospeh Kosuth, Baruch Kirschenbaum, Robert Heinecken, Brian O'Doherty, Howard Becker, Jay Ruby, Jerry Liebling, Anna Wilkie, Ronald Feldman, John Gibson, David Ross, Britt Salvesen, Larry Sultan, Mike Mandel, Roy Ascott, Ilene Segalove, Paul Schimmel, DeeDee Halleck, Noel Burch, Joan Braderman, Woody Hayes, Thom Andersen, John Quigley, Ron Green, Kasper Koenig, Dan Graham, Jonathan Green, Christa Wolf, Catherine Lord, Ben Lifson, and Annette Michelson.
Biographical / Historical:
Allan Sekula (1951-2013) was a photographer, filmmaker, and writer, based at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California. Mary Panzer (1955- ) is a historian from New York, New York.
This interview is part of the Archives of American Art Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and administrators.
The papers of painter, printmaker, and curator Jacob Kainen measure 33.3 linear feet and date from 1905 to 2009, with the bulk of the material from 1940-2001. The bulk of the collection consists of correspondence/subject files including personal correspondence to and from friends and family members and professional correspondence and records concerning Kainen's activities as an artist, curator, teacher, and art collector. The collection also contains biographical material, writings, diaries, calendars, inventories, interview transcripts, printed material, photographs, works of art by other artists, and nine scrapbooks.
Scope and Content Note:
The papers of painter, printmaker, and curator Jacob Kainen measure 33.3 linear feet and date from 1905 to 2009, with the bulk of the material from 1940-2001. The bulk of the collection consists of correspondence/subject files including personal correspondence to and from friends and family members and professional correspondence and records concerning Kainen's activities as an artist, curator, teacher, and art collector. The collection also contains biographical material, writings, diary and journal entries, calendars, inventories, interview and "dialog" transcripts, printed material, photographs, works of art by other artists, and nine scrapbooks.
Biographical materials include items concerning Kainen's career as a curator and artist, in addition to a useful bibliography, detailed biographical outline, and a copy of an FBI report compiled on him. Also included are five videocassette recordings of Kainen.
Alphabetical correspondence/subject files comprise the bulk of the collection and include both Jacob's and Ruth's correspondence with family, friends, colleagues, artists, art critics, curators, museums, arts organizations, galleries, and many others. There is a significant amount of correspondence with David Acton, the Addison Gallery of Art and Jock Reynolds, William Agee, Australian National Gallery, Baltimore Museum of Art, Avis Berman, the British Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Elizabeth Broun and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bryce Butler, Pheobe Cole, the Corcoran Gallery and School of Art, Richard Field, Ruth Fine, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Newton Frohlich, Gordon Gilkey and the Pacific Northwest College of Art, Arshile Gorky, Piri Halesz, Carol Harrison, Donald Holden, Wilhelmina Holladay, John Baptist Jackson, Jim Jordon, Lou Kantor, Harry Lunn Jr., Middendorf Gallery, National Gallery of Art, Peter Morse, Gerald Nordland, Francis O'Connor, Jerome Pollack, Richard Powell, Ann Purcell, Harry Rand, Martin Ries, Joseph Solman, Leo Steinberg, Prentiss Taylor, Victorino Tejera, Valerie Thornton, Joanne Weber, and numerous family members.
Writings are by and about Jacob Kainen. Kainen's writings include articles, lectures, exhibition catalog essays, notes, travel notebooks, short stories, poems, and written statements about his artistic motivations and justifications. There are writings about Kainen by Avis Berman, Ruth Cole Kainen, and others. The bulk of the numerous diary entries are from Ruth Cole Kainen's diaries, many of which concern Jacob and their family. There are also annotated and revised diary entries. There is one folder of diary entries and one folder of journal entries by Jacob Kainen and two dismantled journal-like notebooks. The papers include daily calendars and travel itineraries from 1972 through 2001.
The papers include transcripts of formal interviews and informal conversations with Jacob Kainen. Transcripts are of informal dinner, telephone, and general conversations between friends, colleagues, artists, and Ruth Cole Kainen. Included are conversations with Avis Berman, Walter Hopps, Harry Rand, Joshua Taylor, and several others. Many of these transcripts were also annnotated by Jacob and Ruth Kainen. Also found are numerous transcripts of more formal interviews with Kainen by art historians, art critics, and students.
There are inventories, appraisals, and lists of sold and not sold paintings, as well as color photographs of some of Kainen's works of art. Also found are inventories of the Kainens' art collection. Printed materials include Kainen's exhibition catalogs and announcements, clippings of articles by and about Jacob Kainen, and an exhibition guestbook.
Photographs are of Kainen with his family and friends, at exhibition openings, and working in his studios. Works of art by others includes handmade greeting cards, limited edition prints, and portfolios given to Jacob Kainen. Nine scrapbooks containing news clippings and exhibition publications document the entirety of Kainen's career as an artist.
The Jacob Kainen papers are arranged into 11 series.
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1938-2001 (Boxes 1, 32; 0.8 linear feet)
Series 2: Correspondence/Subject Files, 1936-2003 (Boxes 1-12, 32-33; 11.8 linear feet)
Series 3: Writings, circa 1920s-2002 (Boxes 12-13, 33; 1.6 linear feet)
Series 4: Diaries, circa 1952-2002 (Boxes 13-18, 33-38; 10.0 linear feet)
Series 5: Calendars, 1953-2008 (Boxes 18-20, 38; 1.7 linear feet)
Series 6: Transcripts, circa 1975-1994 (Boxes 20-21, 38; 1.4 linear feet)
Series 7: Inventories, 1927-2001 (Boxes 21-22; 1.0 linear feet)
Series 8: Printed Material, 1938-2003 (Box 22, 38, OV 31; 0.6 linear feet)
Series 9: Photographs, 1905-2000 (Boxes 22-25, 38, OV 31; 3.3 linear feet)
Series 10: Works of Art by Others, 1942-2000 (Boxes 25-26, OV 31; 1.2 linear foot)
Series 11: Scrapbooks, 1936-1998 (Boxes 27-30, 38; 1.3 linear feet)
Jacob Kainen (1909-2001) was a painter, printmaker, and curator who worked primarily in Washington, D.C.
Born on December 7, 1909 in Waterbury, Connecticut, Jacob Kainen moved with his family to New York City in 1918. Kainen studied at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn from 1927 until 1930, and at the Art Student's League. In the early 1930s, Kainen became involved in social causes and formed close friendships with the early abstractionists, including John Graham, Arshile Gorky, and Stuart Davis. He joined the Artists' Union and a contributor to its journal, Art Front, along with Stuart Davis and Harold Rosenberg. Jacob's participation in the Artists' Union was later investigated by the FBI.
From 1935 until 1942, Kainen worked for the Graphic Arts Division of the Works Progress Administration in New York City and began exhibiting with the New York School. It was during this period that he married Bertha Friedman. Jacob and Bertha had two sons together, Dan and Paul, and divorced in 1968.
In 1942, Kainen made a life-changing decision to leave New York City and move to Washington, D.C. to accept what he thought would be a temporary position as a scientific aide in the Division of Graphic Arts at the Smithsonian Institution. Kainen quickly became Assistant Curator and Curator in 1946. He served as Curator for twenty years, completely reshaping the department and building the graphic arts collection. His print exhibitions brought the work of S.W. Hayter, Josef Albers, Adja Yunkers, Louis Lozowick, Karl Schrag, José Guerrero, Louis Schanker, Werner Drewes, and Boris Margo to Washington audiences - graphic work that might not have been shown that early in the area.
1947 marked the opening of the Washington Workshop Center for the Arts, where Kainen served as a teacher and guide to several important artists, helping to make the workshop a magnet for new talent and instrumental in furthering the careers of several artists. Although Kainen taught Gene Davis and Alma Thomas and introduced Morris Louis to Leon Berkowitz, he never considered himself a member of the "Washington Color School."
In 1949, the Corcoran Gallery of Art held a retrospective of Kainen's prints and three years later Kenneth Noland organized Kainen's first painting retrospective at Catholic University. Kainen's paintings from the 1940s illustrated a shift away from social realism toward abstract expressionism. In 1956, Jacob Kainen received a grant from the American Philosophical society to conduct research in Europe for his monograph on the English woodcut artist, John Baptist Jackson. He traveled to Europe again in 1962 to study paintings and prints from the Mannerist Period.
From 1966 until 1970, Kainen worked as the Curator of prints and drawings at the National Collection of Fine Arts (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum). He married Ruth Cole in February of 1969. Kainen retired from the Smithsonian a year later to devote himself full-time to his art, but continued to serve as a special consultant to the Smithsonian American Art Museum for nineteen years. In 1971 and 1972, Kainen taught painting and the history of printmaking at the University of Maryland. A retrospective of Kainen's paintings was held in 1993 at the National Museum of American Art (SAAM).
Throughout his artistic career, Kainen experimented with different mediums and explored different styles, yet he identified himself as a painter. Jacob Kainen participated in at least twenty-five one man shows and several group exhibitions. His works are in collections across the United States and abroad, including the National Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the British Museum. He worked in his studio up until the time of his death on March 19, 2001 at his home in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
Found among the holdings of the Archives of American Art is an oral history interview of Jacob Kainen conducted by Avis Berman in 1982 for the Archives' "Mark Rothko and His Times" oral history project. Also found are microfilm copies of Bertha Kainen's correspondence with Avis Berman regarding Berman's essay about Jacob Kainen.
The Archives of American Art also holds microfilm of material lent for microfilming (reels 565, 2147-2149, and 2200) including correspondence, writings by Kainen, and papers relating to the Smithsonian Institution Loyalty Board's investigation of Jacob Kainen from 1942-1954. Most, but not all, of the loaned materials were included in later gifts. Loaned materials not donated at a later date remain with the lender and are not described in the container listing of this finding aid.
Jacob and Ruth Kainen first lent the Archives of American Art material for microfilming from 1973-1981, the bulk of which was included in the later gifts. Papers were then donated in multiple accretions between 1981-2007 by Jacob and Ruth Kainen, and in 2009 from the estate of Ruth Kainen via executor Teresa Covacevich Grana. Also in 2003, eight photographs of Jacob and Ruth Kainen were transferred from the National Portrait Gallery to the Archives of American Art.
Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Use of archival audiovisual recordings with no duplicate access copy requires advance notice.