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Irving Sandler

Professor Emeritus of Art+Design (Art History)

For more than 50 years, the American art critic, art historian, and educator Irving Sandler has been a vital presence in the New York art world. Frank O’Hara called him, in a memorable poem, “the balayeur des artistes,” the sweeper-up after artists. He has been a friend or acquaintance of virtually every important American artist of the postwar period, and his art criticism and books constitute the first and most comprehensive critical and historical account of this extraordinary period. His personal chronicle is the living memory of the New York art world, from abstract expressionism to the present day.

His sweeping four-volume history of postwar American art was published across a span of 26 years: The Triumph of American Painting: A History of Abstract Expressionism (1970), The New York School: The Painters and Sculptors of the Fifties (1978), American Art of the 1960s (1988), and Art of the Postmodern Era: From the Late 1960s to the Early 1990s (1996). In 2009, he published Abstract Expressionism and the American Experience: a Reevaluation. Forty years of his essays were anthologized in From Avant-Garde to Pluralism: An On-The-Spot History (Hard Press Editions, 2006), and Sandler continues to produce insightful monographs and catalog essays.

His personal chronicle, A Sweeper-Up After Artists: A Memoir, was published by Thames & Hudson in 2003. “With candor, elegance, and humor, Sandler beautifully relives in this book what the art world has meant to him over the five decades that he has spent as an on-the-scene scribe” (ARTnews).

In Irving Sandler: Scene It All (Chronicle of Higher Education, July 10, 2011), Laurie Fendrich concludes, “Perhaps this modest essay could become a goad for the book that needs to be written on Irving Sandler, our art world’s Herodotus, Livy, and Thucydides all rolled into one.”

Irving Sandler’s papers, including five decades of notes, transcripts and audiotapes of interviews with artists and art professionals, materials documenting art organizations and associations, and correspondence regarding publications, lectures, and academic appointments, are in the Special Collections of the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, California.

In 2008, Irving Sandler received a Lifetime Achievement Award in Art Criticism from the International Art Critics Association.