The final chapter on modern American art has not been written, and can't be until the role of patronage in the last 60 years is addressed. The market determines the success or failure of all products in our society. Art history of American Art since WWII seldom addresses the impact the market has played on the success or failure of contemporary artists. American art history talks of artists influencing other artists. The reality is all artists need to eat and successful artists always influence other artists. This essay "Provincialism" addresses the role of patronage during the pivotal years following World War II and the foundation that patronage played. Primarily this essay focuses on the effect the patronage of Nelson Rockefeller and Peggy Guggenheim had on the New York school in the late 40's and 50's and the patronage of other collectors. When we look at Michelangelo we look at Lorenzo DeMedici, when we look at Jackson Pollock and the New York School we must also look at Peggy Guggenheim and Nelson Rockefeller.

We know that the French word bourgeoisie means middle class. However according to Marx the Bourgeoisie was not the middle class as we know it but the equivalent of the rich owners of big industry, the idle Bourgeoisie, as he called it.  When I first read the communist manifesto I couldn't stop laughing for days...but then I was always seeing the Bourgeoisie as the middle class...this is a major, core point in the cold war... Marx's Bourgeoisie wasn't the American middle class but the landed gentry of Europe at a time when kings and the nobility still ruled...almost an alien concept for us. How could there be such a discrepancy? During the time of Marx, the 1840's, France and England still had a nobility. The Bourgeoisie that Marx refers to is the rich owners of industry right under the nobility, the idle Bourgeoisie as he called it.

We Americans were the first revolutionaries against "Imperialism." Not only did our founding fathers see to it that we wouldn't have a king but they also made sure we would not have a titled, noble class. Our revolution influenced the French revolution, which influenced Marx. There have always been rich and poor, but never before in history has a major civilization had as strong a middle class as the US. Self determination and hard work are the values that made this country great, not wealth and privilege. The middle class is the backbone of our country and it took the brunt of the idealogical assault of the cold war.

During the 1970's the role of corporate art buyers emerged on the seen as did the emergence of foundations and non-profits as key players in the scene. The buying patterns of these organizations were influenced heavily by the critical outlook of the preceding 30 years. Today has seen a new emergence of cultural muscle from these organizations pushing beyond the scope of 50 years ago. No longer can a few individuals control the direction and focus of patronage. However the patronage of Rockefeller and Guggenheim remain pivotal in building the American Art scene. Sooner or later their contributions and motives will be acknowledged and analyzed. The final chapter on American Art of the 20th century can not fully be written until those contributions are objectively analyzed. In 1938 the Rockefellers were one of the most influential families in the US. Through the young Nelson they had a disastrous experience with the patronage of the failed Diego Rivera fresco at Rockefeller Center. Rivera was an ardent Stalinist
(Trotsky died in his house under suspicious circumstances) and created a monument to his version of the future;
the Red Army conquering Christianity and Fascism. Rockefeller was willing to accept it if Rivera would remove
the portrait of Lenin. Rivera refused, Rockefeller paid the agreed on sum, closed the site down with armed guards and had the piece destroyed. It was a time when the left was strong in our country especially in New York.There were riots in the street because of it. I believe the patrician Rockefeller was very upset by the experience and the presence of the strong, towering, in your face Rivera. The rumblings of war were everywhere and no more major commissions were done until after the war but more importantly Rivera never did a major piece in the US again after that and it marked the end of figurative public art in the US. Figurative, narrative art that not only told a story but could inflame passions was too intense for Rockefeller. After the war The New York school (Abstract Expressionists) provided an excellent alternative, no upsetting, provocative content yet it was avante garde,
cutting edge, non-objective work, that pushed the very boundaries of art. The cold war intensified. Freedom in the
arts became a rallying cry and the visual arts through work like the New York school became the vehicle for demonstrating our support of freedom in the arts. The problem with this new, non-objective extreme aesthetics work was it alienated a large portion of the country rather than inspiring it as public art has always done in the past. After the death of Nelson Rockefeller the attack on middle class values instensified under the mantra of freedom in the arts to the point of flagrant obsurdity.

The Midwest is the heartland of our country, from here you can find answers that work. Granted not as flashy, nor as decadent as the cultural meccas. Common sense, reason, tolerance and moderation have never been flashy or for
that matter very saleable but they are necessary
to the well being of our society and are in very short supply today. Do you remember the phrase "Freedom in the Arts?" The cold war was the most ominous ever fought in history. The world literally could've been destroyed yet not one bullet was actually shot between the USSR and the US in battle. The war was an idealogical conflict fought through the media and "proxy" wars.In

The Cold War is over and it's time to rebuild & go back to basic American values. We need to support common sense, reason, and tolerance. Do you remember the old slogan "I may not agree with what you say but I'll fight to the death for your right to say it." I can't believe  anyone would say that today. Everyone is in it for themselves. However if we don't start building the spirit of community we won't have one.....


The midwest is the heartland of our country, from here you can find answers that work. Granted not as flashy, nor as decadent as the cultural meccas. Common sense, reason, tolerance and moderation have never been flashy or for that matter very saleable but they are necessary to the well being of our society and are in very short supply today.

For over 20 years I have tried to develop a body of work that forges a link between the traditions of the past and the experiments of modern art. Neither kitsch nor esoteric, didactic aestheticism. The progressive middleground as I call it. Henry Kahnweiler, Picasso's dealer said, "Never have real painters consciously decided to do something new-neither the impressionists nor the cubists. It was not their intention to "epater le bourgeois." The novelty of their achievements was in no sense deliberate. The painting of their elders did not satisfy them, and they were trying to provide what seemed to be missing."


After a half century of pushing the boundaries of art to the extremes it is now  time to rebuild.  For 20 years I have stubbornly tried to build a bridge between popular imagery and esoteric, high art. I have refused to repeat myself and produce "formula" art. My work although initially accessible is not superficial. There is a strong, consistent, conceptual foundation. The work should be seen in it's totality to truly be appreciated. So far I have recieved only modest recognition for my work. What I've been saying has been muffled by the myth, "the Shock of the New."

The arts are the soul of a nation and the visual arts in the name of "Freedom in the Arts" has pursued an attitude that insults the man in the street rather than leading him as they should.

Even as we become part of a global community we need to go back to our roots to build on the values that made the U.S. great. Common sense and reason are basic midwestern values, straight talk without a lot of B.S. Not exactly the kind of values associated with the art world.

The arts are the reflection of the soul of a nation and it's time to rebuild our soul and revitalize the nation.

Yes I'm provincial, and no place is harder on provincial artists than their own home. Minnesota needs to import the latest trends from New York in order to be "hip." The inference being that any real talent would move to New York. Consequently only artists that imitate New York trends are considered to be avante garde, yet even the best of these has hardly made a ripple in New York. The bottom line is Minnesota can never become a major art center until its own artists representing the values of the midwest make an impact on the international art scene.

The possibilities are amazing.

We can build huge, transclucent, cast polyester resin reliefs designed for the exteriors of modern buildings. Using everyday American imagery these reliefs will have the grandeur of ancient temples yet be as contemporary as the world wide web...glowing at night in the urban jungle.. nothing like this has ever been made.

Mike Vye

Please visit the EDITORIAL SERIES and the HOMAGE to KITSCH SERIES in the gallery section for fascinating quotes from both Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler Picasso's dealer and Clement Greenberg the most influential American critic of the 20th century.


Suggested reading:

My Galleries and Painters by Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (especially the AFTERWORD)

Kitsch and the Avante Garde by Clement Greenberg

Life with Picasso by Francoise Gilot (particularly her quotes from Picasso on the death of painting).

ART IN AMERICA's article on the ill fated Diego Rivera, Rockefeller Center fresco, a pivotal turning point in the patronage of Nelson Rockefeller.




“..your art, demonstrates to me that
the prospects for strong leadership in
the arts are not limited to New York...”
Frank Hodsoll, Chairman of the National
Endowment for the Arts 1986.