Return to Writing Main Page

Notes on 'The Kidnapping'

My painting, The Kidnapping of Modern Art by the New Yorkers, is my best-known work. It was inspired by a book that came out in the '80s called How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art. The French author, Serge Guilbaut, made the case that those crafty Americans, a conspiratorial lot that included the government, the Museum of Modern Art, and certain critics and dealers, conducted a campaign after WWII to make New York the center of the art world, replacing dear old Paris. Artists had innocently provided this gang with the perfect weapon, Abstract Expressionism (which owed much, of course, to French art). Its contrast with the dry and dusty propaganda of Soviet Social Realism made it the perfect emblem of freedom in the Cold War, and our own propaganda promoted the "New York School" as the new vital, thriving center of the art world.

More attracted by the idea than the ideology, I began to think of a painting that would record this, the biggest art heist in history. Rubens' The Kidnapping of the Daughters of Leucipus in Munich's Alte Pinacothek has always been my favorite Baroque painting. The Gemini twins, Castor and Pollux, are seen trying to carry away two young women, so ample in proportion a forklift may be required to get them on the horses.

I cast the twins as the predatory New Yorkers, and searched for two young women in 20th century painting who could best represent Modern Art. Since the French have long lamented that the Yanks walked off with Picasso's masterpiece, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (MOMA), considered a starting point for Modern Art, it seemed appropriate to appropriate the two most pliant-looking of the fearsome five.

Arthur C. Danto reproduced the first version of this painting (1985, Collection of Robert and Adriana Mnuchin) on the cover of his 1990 book, Encounters & Reflections (FSG). The second version, above (1991, Collection of John Parker Willis), was widely reproduced in the French press on the occasion of my show at the Nikki Diana Marquardt Gallery in Paris.

© Russell Connor, 2005

Return to Writing Main Page