When FDR '04 recently opened the new museum in Washington, he said that it was a great American artistic achievement. Then he went on to theorize about art, and declared, among other things, that art is something that is "made, not owned."
Pssst! Don't spread it around, but the fact is that there isn't any made-in-America art in the National Gallery. Most of it is Italian. It was owned, not made, by Messrs. Melton, Kress, and Widener. These men scoured it from the galleries of Europe--the Communists sold Mr. Mellon a lot of the old Czarist collection in return for a big chunk of his aluminum fortune. This is how the National Gallery got its start, but it isn't the way art is made.
American museums--nine out of ten them--being cut on this stripe, it is easy to see why a tough, wiry Missouri artist like Thomas Hart Benton doesn't like them. He said recently that he would rather have his paintings hung in privies or night clubs than in an art gallery. Nobody pays attention to art in museums, he complained, except Harvard-trained aesthetes with "delicate wrists and swinging gaits." Billy Rose took him at his word, and now a juicy Benton nude hangs in New York's Diamond Horseslioe, where fat and plodding mid-Western businessmen can admire it. The reverse might be just the ticket for Harvard: why not hold the Freshman Jubilee in Fogg's Renaissance court?