Clock Ticking on Mac Conner Show



Just back from New York, where I gave a talk at the Museum of the City of New York on the Mac Conner show; a Wash U alumni event. It was a treat to see so many former students and meet other friends of the university and the Sam Fox School. Thanks to Suzanne Randolph for organizing, and to Jenna Stempel for introducing me. It really was treat. (Also in attendance was son Andrew, now working in NY at R/GA and living in Brooklyn.)







The Museum sits at the very top of the Museum Mile, at 5th Avenue and 103rd. It's easy to overlook, but it's a treasure, and I found the curatorial folks there–namely Sarah Henry and Sara Spink–tremendous to work with. Terry Brown, my co-curator and I had a ball working on the exhibition. It was good to see Terry this week, too. 

Now it's back to work on getting ready for the spring semester, which starts on Monday.




BUT in the meantime: the Conner show runs through February 4. If you live in the Greater New York area, and you have even a passing interest in visual culture, go see this exhibition. Mac's work is winsome, to greatly understate the case. Not to brag on ourselves, but I think we did a very serious job contextualizing his work in the world of midcentury publishing and advertising in New York City. It's the "art history" that isn't really art history, and thus has been rendered invisible in high cultural precincts.




I had the pleasure of seeing the art historian Michele Bogart (Stonybrook) on Thursday; she had seen the show and gave the editorial work a vote of confidence–an immensely gratifying vote, at that. Michele's book Artists, Advertising and the Borders of Art (1997) is still the best treatment of the culture of illustration as it developed within, then diverged from that of "fine" art. The discussion of Charles Dana Gibson, the Society of Illustrators and the World War I poster project is particularly relevant during centennial discussions of that conflict. 







As a curator and critic I am committed to bringing such work to light, but not by whining at the door of high culture. Screw the vertical axis. Rotate 90 degrees, and call them parallel cultures: not high and low, but a sanctioned "fine" culture versus an unsanctioned commercial one. I choose to pitch my tent with the commercial vulgarians, for a host of reasons. But "commercial" doesn't have to mean stupid or weak. It signals that something has come into being in a particular context, a profoundly contingent, negotiated territory. Sanctioned culture is also contingent and negotiated, but on different terms.  



Go see the show. If you do, shoot me a message and let me know what you made of it. I will read carefully. 



Your Truly, speaking in front of a giant reproduction of a Mac Conner illustration. If you go to the show, which I urge you to, here's some treasure hunt fun: go find this actual illustration and look at that ring: what's surprising about it? Photograph by Deep Dutta. (Thanks, Deep!) 

The Museum of the City of the New York: a Georgian-style mansion at 5th Ave and 103rd.

Mac Conner, Illustration for "Where's Mary Smith?" Good Housekeeping, June 1950.

Read this book. 

Mac Conner, illustration for "There's Death for Remembrance," This Week Magazine, November 13, 1953

Tear sheet, This Week Magazine, November 13, 1953. From the Mac Conner tear sheet file in the Walt Reed Illustration Archive, housed in the Modern Graphic History Library at Washington University. 

FROM THE LABEL COPY for the color version, above: Florence and Richard Lockridge’s noir tale “There’s Death for Remembrance” typifies the assignments Mac received from This Week. This two-part story centers on the murder of Fern Hartley, shown here in mid-air, falling down a flight of stairs to her death. Hartley had been attending a dinner party and reunion of high school friends when her incessant reminiscing provoked someone to silence her. The following week Conner’s illustration shows dinner guests looking down at Fern’s lifeless body. 

This Week Magazine was a syndicated free newspaper supplement inserted into local Sunday newspapers. Published from 1935-1969, at This Week’s height it appeared in 42 papers nationwide. As many as 13 million people may have seen this image in print, dwarfing the audience for Conner’s magazine work. It’s appropriate that his biggest audience would see such a representative work–featuring the trademark Conner inventive point-of-view.