well can remember how pleased I was when the members of The Federation of Modern
Painters and Sculptors voted to make me a member of their society in 1953. I
was only a few years away from art school, and so it was an honor to become
a member of an organization consisting of seasoned veterans, some of them like
Vaclav Vytlacil, Morris Kantor and Lyonel Feininger, genuine pioneers in the
modern movement. If I mention Vytlacil, Kantor and Feininger, I should also
mention Ben Benn, who had exhibited in the avant-garde Forum Gallery group in
1916, Jean Xceron, a great painter although not very known, lIya Bolotowsky,
one of the earliest of the second generation of American painters to paint in
an abstract style and Edwin Dickinson, who had stuck to his own kind of expression
through thick and thin and had never retreated one inch in his interest in profoundly
unfashionable things such as linear per-spective.
I was happy to be a member of The Federation because everybody in it was so
staunchly independent: independent of the American Scene Painting of the 1930's,
independent of the in-trends of the 1950's, so independent indeed that to have
been an American Scene Painter in the 1950's would have been a mark of true
independence. To remain faithful to the National Academy of Design (as was Edwin
Dickinson) in this period was another sign of an attitude which I admired.
When I became a member we held meetings in Louise
Nevelson's house which was far east on the East Side at 323 East 30th Street.
It was a narrow Victorian house squeezed between other similar houses, all with
steep brownstone steps leading to the front doors. Louise lived and worked upstairs
in a blaze of light. Downstairs where we met was always rather dark as though
only 40 watt bulbs were ever in use. It was a long, tunnel-like room, with,
on one side, the staircase, and on the other side a wall covered with paintings
by Eilshemius. Their faintly dingy brilliance echoed the mood. If the room was
gloomy, the meetings were not. The members who attended them seemed resolved
to be independent not only of what was going on in the art world, but at each
other also. No resolution was ever carried wthout a struggle that I can remember.
George Constant was one of those who invariably spoke on every motion, and ques-tioned
every assumption with penetrating irony. Nobody held this against him. He was
one of the most popular members.
The people I remember at the meetings were Joseph Solman, Harold Baumbach, Theodore
Fried, lIya Bolotowsky, Rhys Caparn, Minna Harkavy, Polygnotos Vagis, Henry
Botkin, Paul Mommer, Theo Hios, Beulah Stevenson, Helena Simkho-vitch (who lived
across the street from the famous Tenth Street Studio
Buildings, which had not yet been torn
Elisabeth Model, Dorothy L. Feigin, Boris Margo, Edith Bry, Nathaniel Pousette-Dart.
Harold Weston was the President and a better one it would have been hard to
Since I had had experience in editing and book production, and was a regular
contributor to the magazine Art News (very different then from the present magazine)
I was soon drafted to write press releases and help Nathaniel Pousette-Dart
with the printing of notices for exhibitions and for other activities promoted
by The Federation. Nathaniel Pousette-Dart, father of Richard Pousette-Dart
was tall, thin, elderly, always dressed in dark blue, and youthful in outlook.
He claimed to be able to interpret character from handwriting. I was always
meeting him in the automats around town to correct proof over endless cups of
coffee. But I think it was not he but Henry Botkin who designed the catalogue
for the exhibition circulated by The American Federation of Arts in 1955-56.
I know I did the editing.
I made a small cash contribution to The Federation and so had the right to be
listed as a patron in the back of the book. For some freakish reason I wanted
to hide my identity under the name of Ignatz Mouse, one of my favorite comic
strip characters. When Harold Weston and Henry Botkin heard this, they hit the
ceiling. I agreed to a compromise. The Mr. I.M. listed among the patrons is
really Ignatz Mouse who is really me.
We had exhibitions almost every year at The Riverside Museum, at Associated
American Artists, six consecutive years at
Wildenstein's and others. At one of the exhibitions at The Riverside Museum,
all the members hung collages alongside their works. Each collage was supposed
to be autobiographical. It was an amusing stunt, but the only one I can remember
was the collage by Alice Trumbull Mason which used cash register tapes from
The Federation also held public debates at The Art Students League, and the
one I particularly remember had as its speakers, George L.K. Morris, Will Barnet,
Joseph Solman, and two who were not members of The Federation, Kurt Seligman
and Manny Farber. I am not clear in my memory about the subject of the debate.
Seligman made a prophesy that soon there would be a reaction against Abstract
Expressionism. One of his students at Brooklyn College had painted a Crucifixion
which had caused a great stir among the students who were all painting like
paintings in The Whitney Museum Annuals. Selig-man felt this was a sign of what
lay just around the corner. Manny Farber said something about bowel movements
and self-expression which fell like a stone on the audience. Today such a comparison
would not leave such a ripple.
THE FEDERATION OF MODERN PAINTERS AND SCULPTORS
Days of Yore
from the 35th Annual Exhibition Catalog, 1976
The exhibition traveled for two years throughout New York State
An art critic and writer as well as painter, Campbell taught and
painted for 40 years, most extensively with the Art Students League
in New York City. He also taught at Brooklyn College and Pratt
Institute and wrote articles for magazines including "Art
in America" and "Art News."