Peter Selz (Hardcover)

Sketches of a Life in Art

By Paul J. Karlstrom, Ann Karlstrom (Contributions by)

University of California Press, 9780520269354, 321pp.

Publication Date: January 2, 2012

List Price: 24.95*
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This absorbing biography, often conveyed through Peter Selz’s own words, traces the journey of a Jewish-German immigrant from Hitler’s Munich to the United States and on to an important career as a pioneer historian of modern art. Paul J. Karlstrom illuminates key historical and cultural events of the twentieth-century as he describes Selz’s extraordinary career—from Chicago’s Institute of Design (New Bauhaus), to New York’s Museum of Modern Art during the transformative 1960s, and as founding director of the University Art Museum at UC Berkeley. Karlstrom sheds light on the controversial viewpoints that at times isolated Selz from his colleagues but nonetheless affirmed his conviction that significant art was always an expression of deep human experience. The book also links Selz’s long life story—featuring close relationships with such major art figures as Mark Rothko, Dore Ashton, Willem de Kooning, Sam Francis, and Christo—with his personal commitment to political engagement.

About the Author

Paul J. Karlstrom, former West Coast Regional Director of the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, is the editor of On the Edge of America: California Modernist Art, 1900–1950 (UC Press) and a co-editor of Asian American Art: A History, 1860–1970. He is coauthor of Turning the Tide: Early Los Angeles Modernists, 1920–1956 and author of Raimonds Staprans: Art of Tranquility and Turbulence.

Praise For Peter Selz: Sketches of a Life in Art

"[Karlstrom] does a fine job of exploring the shifting nature of art history as a discipline that develops over the course of Selz’s career and the relationships between important characters of the ‘50s and ‘60s in New York and San Francisco. He is kind but not fawning in his treatment of Selz and rightly uses his life as a vehicle for recreating some of the more dynamic moments in 20th century cultural history. In addition, he includes any number of interesting tidbits about museum and university politics on both coasts that illuminate Selz’s wide-ranging career and clarify the history of the period."

— artnet

“A paean to a man who is both vastly experienced and eternally youthful in his outlook.”

— Huffington Post

“Museum curators do not often get the attention that their artists receive. . . . California art enthusiasts and libraries will especially appreciate this detailed and well-researched, scholarly book.”

— Library Journal

“While few great biographies are written of a living subject, Karlstom’s book is like a moving still life, a black-and-white painting richly colored, a silent movie in which every character speaks to be heard. Peter Selz was a great subject, and Karstrom matched him with a great biography.”

— European Legacy

“[Peter Selz] is a readable account packed with information about the workings of art museums on both coasts, but in a larger sense, it is an intellectual bildungsroman recounting a life in art that never stopped evolving.”

— Artillery

“What makes this book an essential read for anyone seriously involved in the field are the conflicts, wrangles, and difficulties encountered by someone who is not merely an operative within the field, but a person who holds substantial and passionate views regarding the conflict between significant art and the vapid, trendsetting enterprise that surrounds it on all sides.”

— Whitehot Magazine

"A captivating story. . . . offers not only a study into the life of a renowned art figure but also an analysis of the art world of the twentieth century as a whole."

— Oral History Review

“A fascinating account of an individual who has made many contributions to art history and who has advocated on behalf of critical, often controversial or unrecognized artists here and abroad.”

— Washington Independent Review Of Books