cover image Douglas MacAgy and the Foundations of Modern Art Curatorship

Douglas MacAgy and the Foundations of Modern Art Curatorship

David Beasley. Davus, $19.95 trade paper (168p) ISBN 978-0-915317-09-7

In this concise biography of an often forgotten art crusader, Beasley remembers the progressive modern art curatorship of Douglas MacAgy (1913–1973), whose career extended through the Cold War era and helped transform museums “from mausoleums to happenings.” Born in Winnipeg, Canada, MacAgy conducted his life’s work across a number of different museums, galleries, and organizations, from the Cleveland Museum of Art to Unesco. At the San Francisco Museum of Art (now San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) in 1941, MacAgy introduced programs “that related community interests to modern art,” curating smart and accessible circus- and jazz-themed exhibitions, which, Beasley writes, had “an outstanding influence on the exhibiting of art in American museums.” In 1945, MacAgy took over the California School of Fine Arts, where he hired a relatively little-known painter, Clyfford Still, who came to have a lasting influence on the school and who benefitted greatly from MacAgy’s support. Later, while serving as director of the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts in the midst of the McCarthy era, MacAgy resisted narrow thinking by exhibiting avant-garde artwork and was accused of being a communist. The political narrative that Beasley wishes to spin often undermines his ability as a biographer, but his book is a workmanlike introduction to a figure whose example has enduring relevance for curatorship today. B&w illus. (BookLife)