Tuesday, November 15, 2011
SCMA History: Jere Abbott's Russian Diary
Alfred H. Barr (founding director of The Museum of Modern Art) and Jere Abbott (founding associate director of MoMA and director of the Smith College Museum of Art from 1932-1946) met as graduate students at Harvard University.
George Platt Lynes. American, 1907-1956. Jere Abbott . c. 1932. Gelatin silver print. Transfer from Smith College Archives. 1979:51
During the winter of 1927, Barr and Abbott traveled through Europe. Their primary destination was the Bauhaus, the modernist art and architecture school located in Dessau, Germany, but on a whim they decided to also visit the Soviet Union, easily obtaining visas in Berlin. Both Barr and Abbott kept diaries during their time in the Soviet Union, which lasted from January through March 1928.
Barr’s diary was published (with a preface by Abbott) in October (Winter 1987). SCMA owns both Jere Abbott’s diary from the trip as well as his guidebook.
Abbott’s text recalls mostly theater and musical performances (often with detailed notes on the sets and staging), although they also visited museums and purchased some art. On January 6, Abbott recalled: “Went in the afternoon with Roz[insky] to an exhibit of paintings by peasants and untutored workers in the First University. Arranged to buy possibly four later. One by a young Russian peasant boy of 16. Met him.” Exhibitions such as this were part of the Soviet attempt to support the development of a native proletarian-based art that eschewed dependence on formal training.
This drawing, donated to SCMA by Abbott in 1979, is presumed to be by the boy mentioned in his diary.
T. Menyof. Russian, c. 1911—?. Study of Three Boys . June 30, 1927. Gouache and pencil on tan wove paper. Gift of Jere Abbott. SC 1979:16