The collection is open for research. Use requires an appointment.
John Bernard Myers papers, circa 1940s-1987, bulk 1970-1987. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Dore Ashton papers, 1849, circa 1928-2014. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Funding for the processing of a portion of this collection was provided the Smithsonian Institution Collections Care and Preservation Fund
The John Bernard Myers papers span the period circa 1940s to 1987, bulk 1970-1987. The collection measures 2.0 linear feet and documents Myers's work as a writer, editor, and gallery director, and includes correspondence, writings, printed material, and photographs.
Scope and Content Note:
The John Bernard Myers papers, which measure 2.0 linear feet, date from circa 1940s to 1987, bulk 1970-1987, and document his work as a writer, editor, and gallery director.
Personal and professional correspondence consist mainly of incoming letters from colleagues, friends, and admirers. Among the correspondence is business and fan mail concerning Tracking the Marvelous and Parenthése, letters from writer and English professor Guy Davenport, and invitations to speak and teach. Also included are letters to The New York Times and Art In America complaining about critic John Canaday's behavior and comments during a visit to the Tibor de Nagy Gallery.
Myers' published and unpublished writings are the collection's most significant series. These consist of manuscripts for his autobiography, Tracking the Marvelous, published in 1984 ; Forward and Backward: A Chronicle, circa 1976, about Mark Rothko's suicide and the subsequent lawsuit brought by his daughter against Marlborough Galleries (a revised version was published later as part three of Myers' autobiography); and Knowing What I Like, 1985, an unpublished collection of his own essays and criticism compiled and edited by Myers. Among his other writings are articles, essays, and reviews. Also included are his diariess dated 1969 and 1974-1983. Entries record daily activities and reactions to his experiences, news of friends, and reflections on his life and relationships. Excerpts from much earlier diaries (not part of the John Bernard Myers Papers) are quoted extensively in Tracking the Marvelous.
Printed Matter consists of writings by Myers - Tracking the Marvelous: A Life in the New York Art World; a selection of articles, essays, and criticism published mainly in art periodicals; and exhibition catalogs. Also included are a few articles about Myers and issues of publications he edited. Other printed matter consists of clippings on art subjects, exhibition catalogs, and miscellaneous publications.
Miscellaneous items are artwork, biographical information, minutes and memoranda of the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and transcripts of interviews conducted by and with Myers. Also included are records of the Southampton Artists' Theatre Festival, produced by John Bernard Myers, consisting of director's notes and notes and music for "Gertrude Stein's 'First Reader.'"
Photographs are of Myers and unidentified friends, interior views of his home in Brewster, N.Y. and one of the back yard. Also included are many photographs of puppets.
The collection is arranged into 5 series:
Series 1: Correspondence, 1960-1986, undated (box 1, 6 folders)
Series 2: Writings, 1959-1987, undated (boxes 1-2, 1.0 linear ft.)
Series 3: Printed Matter, 1951-1987, undated (box 2, 0.5 linear ft.)
Series 4: Miscellaneous, circa 1962-1987, undated (box 2, 0.25 linear ft.)
Series 5: Photographs, circa 1940s-1985, undated (box 2, 6 folders)
During his youth in Buffalo, New York, John Bernard Myers developed life-long interests in poetry, puppets, and painting. As a teenager, he wrote poetry and established his own marionette theater. He first learned about modern art and became especially interested in Surrealism through reading European magazines and exhibition catalogs in the library of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Through helping to edit Upstate, an avant garde literary magazine, he met many like-minded friends. Myers was deemed unqualified for military service due to ruptured eardrums, so instead went to work in an airplane factory. But his membership in the Young Communist League and participation in efforts led by a Socialist Workers party colleague to upgrade job assignments and pay for qualified minorities created problems and Myers soon departed. His final two years in Buffalo were spent working in a bookstore.
In 1944, Myers sent issues of Upstate to Parker Tyler, editor of View, whom he had met a few years earlier through mutual friends involved with the Communist party. A few months later Tyler offered him the position of managing editor of View, a magazine devoted to the Neo-Romantics and Surrealists in exile. Myers moved to New York City and remained with the magazine until it ceased publication in 1947. A large portion of his time at View was spent selling advertising space. Since this involved calling on gallery owners each month, he came to know many dealers, had the opportunity to study the exhibitions and meet many of the artists. During this period he began attending art history courses taught by Meyer Schapiro at the New School. His responsibilities at View also included assisting with editing and layout, and he became well-acquainted with Marcel Duchamp and André Breton when special issues devoted to them were published. His association with the magazine resulted in many invitations; Myers enthusiastically attended parties practically every night of the week, enlarging his already impressive circle of friends and acquaintance in the art and literary worlds.
Puppets were another of Myers' special interests. After View ceased publication in1947, he edited poetry and art publications, but to earn his living he resumed puppeteering. Around 1948 Myers met Tibor de Nagy, a cultured Hungarian immigrant with a background in banking and finance, who, for immigration purposes, needed a business that bore his name. The Tibor de Nagy Marionette Company gave performances at schools in and around New York City and staged elaborate productions for both children and adults at fine hotels. After several years of physically exhausting work with the marionette company and falling profits, the two decided to try another business venture.
Over the years, several of Myers' friends and acquaintances had suggested he open an art gallery. Myers was interested and had many appropriate contacts, but lacked sufficient capital and had no business experience. An old friend, Dwight Ripley, offered to back a gallery and in 1951 the Tibor de Nagy Gallery opened at 219 East 53rd Street with John Bernard Myers as the gallery director. Tibor de Nagy was the gallery's business manager, and at the same time pursued a full-time career in banking. Following the good advice of his friends Jackson Pollock,Lee Krasner, and Clement Greenberg, Myers decided to seek out and promote the artists of his own generation. Artists affiliated with the Tibor de Nagy Gallery included Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Goodnough, Red Grooms, Grace Hartigan, Alfred Leslie, Barnett Newman, Kenneth Noland, Fairfield Porter, and Larry Rivers.
Myers and de Nagy remained partners in the Tibor de Nagy Gallery for 19 years. In 1970 Myers left in to open a gallery which he ran for about five years under his own name. After retiring from the gallery, he was a private dealer and lecturer; he also served as a consultant to the Kouros Gallery. He continued to organize exhibitions including a Joseph Cornell exhibiton at A.C.A. Gallery in 1977, and "Tracking the Marvelous" at the Grey Gallery, New York University in 1981.
For more than thirty years after View ceased publication, a number of art and poetry publications benefitted from Myers' editorial skills. Among them were Prospero Pamphlets, a series of chapbooks produced between 1946 and 1948, featuring contemporary poets Wallace Stevens, Charles Henri Ford, Parker Tyler, and Paul Goodman. Brunidor Editions, a portfolio of graphics by Yves Tanguy, Joan Miró, Kurt Seligmann, Max Ernst, Wilfredo Lam, Matta, and William Stanley Hayter was issued in 1948. From 1953 until 1956, Tibor de Nagy Gallery published Semi-Colon, a poets' newsletter edited by Myers. Gallery Editions, a series of pamphlets paired the work of a poet and painter, among them: John Ashbury and Jane Freilicher, Frank O'Hara and Larry Rivers, Kenneth Koch and Nell Blaine, and Barbara Guest and Robert Goodnough. Myers devoted a great deal of time to Parenthése, a magazine of words and pictures, that was published between 1975 and 1979. In addition, he compiled and edited Poets of the New York School, an anthology with photographs by Francesco Scuvullo published by the University of Pennsylvania Art Department in 1968.
For much of his life, John Bernard Myers kept a diary recording daily activities and his reactions to an reflections on his experiences. His autobiography, Tracking the Marvelous: A Life in the New York Art World, published in 1984, quotes extensively from diaries written as early as 1939. He wrote many book reviews, exhibition reviews, and articles about art and art criticism that were published in Art in America, Arts, Artforum, Art and Literature, Art International, Art News, Art/World, Craft Horizons, and Smithsonian. Knowing What I Like, a selection of his own essays and articles that Myers compiled and edited in 1983, remains unpublished. He also wrote poetry and song lyrics.
John Bernard Myers died July 26, 1987.
1919 or 1920 -- Born, Buffalo, New York
circa 1939 -- Began puppeteering and eventually established his own puppet theater
circa 1942-1944 -- Assisted with editing Upstate, an avant garde literary magazine
1942 -- Rejected from military service due to ear problems; employed in airplane factory, and later at Ulbrich's Bookstore in Buffalo
1944-1947 -- Managing Editor, View, a magazine devoted to the Neo-Romantic and Surrealist artists in exile
1946-1948 -- Editor, Prospero Pamphlets, a series of chapbooks featuring Wallace Stevens, Charles Henri Ford, Parker Tyler, and Paul Goodman
1948 -- Editor, Brunidor Editions, portfolios of graphics featuring Yves Tanguy, Joan Miró, Kurt Seligmann, Max Ernst, Wilfredo Lam, Matta, and William Stanley Hayter; started a professional marionette company with Tibor de Nagy as business manager
1951 -- Tibor de Nagy Gallery opens at 219 East 53rd Street, backed by Dwight Ripley, with Myers as gallery director and de Nagy its business manager
1953 -- Tibor de Nagy Gallery moves to 24 East 67th St.
1953-1956 -- Editor, Semi-Colon, a poets' newsletter emphasizing brief prose and verse
1954-1970 -- Producer and Artistic Advisor, The Artists' Theater; during this time 36 plays by poets, with appropriate décors and music by modern painters and composers
1959-1970 -- Editor, Gallery Editions, a series of poetry pamphlets pairing poets and painters (Frank O'Hara and Larry rivers, Kenneth Koch and Nell Blaine, Barbara Guest and Robert Goodnough)
1968-1968 -- Producer, Southampton Artists' Theatre Festival, Long Island University
1970 -- Leaves Tibor de Nagy Gallery and opens John Bernard Myers Gallery at 50 West 57th Street
1974 -- Closes his gallery and in retirement becomes a private dealer
1975-1979 -- Editor, Parenthése, a little magazine of words and pictures
1981 -- Editor, Parenthése Signatures, each deluxe limited edition portfolios paired an artist and poet
1981 -- Tracking the Marvelous, exhibition at Grey Gallery, New York University
1984 -- Publication of Tracking the Marvelous: A Life in the New York Art World
1985-1987 -- Consultant to Kouros Gallery, New York
1987 -- Dies July 26, Danbury, Conn.
Other material relating to John Bernard Myers in the Archives of American Art includes an interview with Myers conducted by Barbara Rose, circa 1969.
The collection was a gift of the Estate of Ricky Dale Horton, 1990.
The collection is open for research. Use requires an appointment.
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