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Special Issue: Art Intermediation in the United States since 1945: Concepts, Scope, Spaces Edited by Monica Manolescu and Christine Zumello

Dorothy C. Miller, Chase Manhattan and American Banking: Investing Art?

Christine Zumello

Abstract

This article offers an exploration of the imbrications of “business and art” in the United States in the second half the 20th century. It brings to the fore the essential, and understudied, role of a major intermediary: Dorothy Canning Miller. As a curator working for the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), she played a growing, and pivotal role in the Art Committee at Chase Manhattan Bank. Her work at both the MoMA and on the Art Committee of Chase helps us grasp several layers of art intermediation. The Committee set up in 1959 is a de facto intermediary as a structure. And its composition denotes the paramount importance of such new defining artistic, architectural and business trends at the end of the 1950s as corporate modernism, abstraction and new conceptual approaches of business and bank management, as well as the physical space of bank offices and the space devoted to art in almost each single one of those offices. Within that Art Committee the influence of Dorothy Miller, rises to attain great prominence over the more than 20 years when she advised Chase in art purchases as a member of that committee. She was also involved, first hand, in the perusal of the works and their downright installation as intermediaries—in business and in the physical space of the bank itself, more especially in the iconic buildings and locations which were opened at the end of the 1950s and the turn of the 1960s in the Upper East Side (410 Park Avenue) and downtown in the Financial District of Manhattan (One Chase Manhattan Plaza).

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  • 1 Founded in 1799.
  • 2 Founded in 1877.
  • 3 See https://www.jpmorganchase.com/about/our-history.

1In July 1961, Architectural Forum decided to devote a long tribute to the many accomplishments, and not only architectural, of the newly hatched Chase Manhattan “tower” in downtown New York City. This new skyscraper was the material result of a major business project but also a milestone in a new vision of banking and business in postwar America. In 1955, the merger of the Bank of Manhattan Company1 and Chase National Bank2 gave birth to the Chase Manhattan Bank. It is known today as JP Morgan Chase due to subsequent mergers, and is headquartered in New York City. It is one of the oldest American banks3 and also one of the biggest, in terms of capitalization. The merger of 1955 was motivated by the development of a fundamental business trend, and change, anchored in the advent of the consumer society. Consumption was fast becoming an economic growth engine in post-World War II America and was profoundly changing not only business, but also American society. Personal credit needs, in order to consume more, and branch banking were fast altering the financial and banking landscape. The new Chase Manhattan Bank was thus engineered to address both business needs (Chase National Bank) and more retail aspects of the banking business thanks to The Bank of Manhattan Company. But this merger, motivated by business and economic decisions, also translated into a new conception of “the corporation” as well as corporate interests and goals. A new frontier for banking was underway and this idea was gradually materialized in the architecture, the arranging of the office spaces and the place devoted to art works. Indeed, at the end of the 1950s, Chase made the formal decision to start buying works of art and, in order to do so, it constituted an “Art Committee” which advised the bank into the purchase of art. The diversity and fathom of the art buying helped forge an art collection which is, to this day, one of the largest corporate art collections in the United States (Festa). In this exploration of the imbrications of “business and art” we shall bring to the fore the essential, and understudied, role of a major intermediary: Dorothy Canning Miller. As a curator working for the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), she played a growing, and pivotal role in the Art Committee at Chase. The business history of art buying by Chase Manhattan is entangled with a particular moment in time, the 1950s and 1960s, during which Dorothy Miller helped coalesce the emergence of major American artists with a new vision of the place and space of banking, and business more generally. Grounded in the cultural and artistic transformation of New York City as a major art scene after the second World War, we will discuss the reasons why Chase Manhattan decided to buy art, to invest in art, and to show and use the art it was buying within the corporation’s branches, thus literally creating a new space for art.

2The fabric of this investigation is constituted, mostly, of unpublished archival material bringing to the fore the close relation between the emerging New York art scene after the Second World War and, at the same time, the centrality of New York as a financial hub.

1. Dorothy Canning Miller and the Chase Manhattan Bank Art Committee

  • 4 See Alexander 402.

3Dorothy Canning Miller was born in Hopedale (Massachusetts) in 1904 and died in New York in 2003. She studied art history and worked, in the 1920s, as a museum curator at the Newark Museum of Art in New Jersey. Under the leadership of John Cotton Dana, the museum showed contemporary American artists at the beginning of the 20th century, being thus a precursor to the Armory Show which was held in New York in 1913. In 1926, Miller graduated from the first apprenticeship museum course at the Newark Museum (Alexander 402)4. She then moved to New York and was hired as an assistant curator at the Museum of Modern Art in the early 1930s. The MoMA had been founded only a few years before, in 1929. Its first director, Alfred H. Barr, “a militant of modernism” (Cohen-Solal 197) spearheaded the shift and move of the artistic avant-garde from Europe to the United States and New York City more particularly. Dorothy Miller continued working at the MoMA until she retired in 1965.

  • 5 Museum of Modern Art, “New Exhibitions added to Schedule of Museum of Modern Art,” Press Release, h (...)

4At the MoMA she, in particular, curated several landmark exhibitions amongst which a series of group exhibition showing the work of contemporary American artists. The group shows were aptly titled the “Americans.” They were intended to present new American artists who had not had major showings before and to devote enough space to each of the artists so that several of their works could be shown. The first in the series of exhibitions was held in 1942. The limited number of artists included in each of the shows (18 in 1942, 14 in 1946, 13 in 1952, 12 in 1956, 16 in 1959) was specifically intended to provide each of the artists in the selection a separate space for their work. In order to prepare the first exhibition, in 1942, “Miss Miller spent several months last summer traveling over the country in search of the best work of artists, many of them little known—in some cases entirely unknown—to the New York art world”5. Dorothy Miller thus established, very early on, the pattern of being both a discoverer and an intermediary for many American artists, a pattern which she will replicate for the rest of her life and work. Indeed, this path-opener exhibition, in 1942, was followed by five other exhibitions which she curated over a span of a little more than 20 years. For each of the six Americans group shows: 14 Americans, in 1946; 15 Americans in 1952; 12 Americans in 1956; 16 Americans in 1959 and Americans 1963, she also edited the catalog. In accordance with the general title chosen for the shows, she emphasized, again and again, that she wished to show the individual work of artists and also allow them to write about their work which most of them did. Indeed, as she explained in 1956: “(the exhibition) presents a group of distinct individuals in small one-man shows loosely bound within the framework of today’s major preoccupations in the arts. To illustrate trends was not the purpose of the exhibition” (Miller 4). Each of the six group shows introduced some of the leading figures of American art in the second half of the 20th century, among whom, and not exhaustively, Arshile Gorky, Robert Motherwell in 1946; Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, in 1952; Sam Francis, Franz Kline in 1956; Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella in 1959; Robert Indiana, Claes Oldenburg, Ad Reinhardt in 1963.

  • 6 The original members of the Chase Manhattan Bank Art Committee were Alfred H. Barr, Jr. (Director o (...)

5When, in 1959, David Rockefeller, the chairman of Chase Manhattan decided to set up an Art Committee to advise about the purchase of works of art for the bank, Dorothy Miller, standing on her discovery trail at the MoMA, was asked to join the Committee. The Chase Manhattan Art Committee’s founding members comprised David Rockefeller (vice-chairman of the Bank), Gordon Bunshaft (from the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill architecture firm) who was also the lead architect of the new Chase Headquarters built in the early 1960s on Wall Street, in lower Manhattan; and several museum curators, amongst whom Alfred H. Barr (Director of the Museum Collections, MoMA); James Johnson Sweeney (Dallas Museum of Fine Arts), Perry Rathbone (Boston Museum of Fine Arts) and Robert Beverly Hale (Curator, American Painting and Sculpture, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City) 6.

  • 7 Interview of Dorothy Miller by Peter Morrin, New York, 16 July 1982, “The First Ten Years of the Ch (...)

6The Art Committee would meet several times a year, at the bank, and would be given a typed list of works of art to consider. This list, which could be several pages long, comprised the name of the artist, the title of the work of art, the date of completion, the medium used, the size, the gallery of origin, if any, and in almost every instance, the tentative selling price7. Most of the works of art on the list were physically taken to the bank for the Committee to peruse. Hence, the members of the Committee could look at, inspect, value, discuss the works of art. This body of art curators and architects, became an essential intermediary for a renewed dialogue between art and business at the confluence of architectural modernism, corporate modernism and abstraction.

  • 8 See Peter Galison, “Aufbau/Bauhaus: Logical Positivism and Architectural Modernism.” Critical Inqui (...)
  • 9 https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/2411.
  • 10 Special Edition, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Architects, Museum of Modern Art Bulletin, vol. 18, no (...)
  • 11 “Buildings for Business and Government: Exhibition.” Museum of Modern Art, February 25- April 28, 1 (...)
  • 12 “Buildings for Business and Government: Exhibition”, p. 7.

7Anchored in the revolutionary contribution of the Bauhaus “the modernist construction of form fed on elemental geometric shapes and colors8” and led to a major transformation of architectural design as from the 1930 into corporate modernism and its adoption of steel framed, glass walled skyscrapers. The American architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SO&M) was particularly instrumental in realizing corporate modernism, in the United States, and around the world (Adams 2019). As a tribute to the pioneering work of that firm, the MoMA held two exhibitions, in 1950 and again in 1957, on the architectural projects of SO&M. In 1950, the “Architectural Work by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill”9 intended to showcase the influence of pioneers such as Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Gropius, among others, in their buildings. Hence “the desire for pure geometric forms, the striking use of materials, especially glass and steel… the avoidance of applied decoration… are the underlying principles of modern architecture”10. Only a few years later, in the Spring of 1957, another exhibition at the MoMA, entitled “Buildings for Business and Government” was again devoted to the work of the SO&M. The centrality of the architectural firm, as the epitome of corporate modernism is, in itself, another example of successful intermediation between business and art. A corporate building designed by a groundbreaking architect is exhibited, at the MoMA, not only in its business and functional avant-garde, but also as a work of art. Indeed, the catalogue of the exhibition underlined that “business organizations [were] undertaking building programs that deliberately exceed[ed] strict utilitarian limits” and drew a parallel with the Renaissance patrons who were looking for the best materials and artists, and acknowledged that “the most valuable substance is space.”11 In this new substantiation of business space, art is turned into an ally and it soon becomes clear that Dorothy Miller’s role in finding and introducing the art works becomes essential. As “The concern with esthetic and social values exhibited by business and government through these buildings is not in itself new. It denotes rather a shift in emphasis: clients are becoming patrons,”12 one witnesses a symbiotic progression of, on the one hand, the commission and the planning of a new headquarter for the bank following the merger of the mid-1950s and the work of the Chase Art Committee.

2. New Spaces for the Bank and New Space for Art

8At the end of the 1950s, the consumer society was in full bloom in the United States and consumer credit, as well as personal banking, were starting a revolution in the great accessibility of money in cash and credit (Zumello). Indeed, immediate access to cash was considered as a necessity to facilitate easy consumption. Credit cards, which have now become ubiquitous, were entering the world of banking and were to become an important part of the banking business as well as an opportunity to expand the banks’ clientele. Seen as a boon for banking, new branches and offices were built or opened to serve a larger number of clients. Hence, concomitantly with the 1955 business merger and creation of its Art Committee, Chase Manhattan took the decision to vastly expand and increase its office space.

9A prestigious new branch opened in 1959, on the Upper West Side, at 410 Park Avenue. The second location—a gigantic space—was a new headquarter skyscraper which was built in the financial district, on Wall Street (downtown), at the One Chase Manhattan Plaza, in the early 1960s.

  • 13 Gordon Bunshaft (1909-1990) is a leading American architect who was awarded the prestigious Pritzke (...)
  • 14 John McCloy quoted in Money Matters: A Critical Look at Bank Architecture, Parnassus Foundation and (...)

10The new headquarter skyscraper was commissioned by the Skidmore, Owings and Merrill architectural firm and one of its lead architects at the time, Gordon Bunshaft.13 The building was a breakthrough for modern minimalism both in the history of architecture and in the history of urban planning in New York City (Adams 271). As for the choice of the original financial district in Manhattan at a time when uptown was preferred by customers to downtown, John Mc Cloy, the chairman of Chase explained that “downtown was where Washington took his oath of office, in which the Bill of Rights was adopted” and an area, in the city where a great historical American bank belonged, a place where “the progress of the country had been financed.”14 The new Chase headquarter/skyscraper, 60-storeys high, aimed at renewing, albeit in the heart of the New York historical financial district, the very structure and aspect of older skyscrapers through the use of sheer façades, “curtain walls,” which made them sleek and reflecting the light and sun. But it was also breaking the mold of internal structure with office space.

11One of the tasks of the “Art Committee” was to advise the bank on the purchase of art for completion of the new branch on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and the new headquarter downtown. With that architectural and design purpose in mind started a very intensive attempt at purchasing art for every single space, whether private offices or public areas, of the bank. Buying art was, at the outset, seen as part of the functional and structural dimensions of the architectural and design projects of the buildings, hence the central presence of the lead architect, Gordon Bunshaft, on the Art Committee. Indeed, one comes across several instances in which art is seen as something to “fill in,” to “complete,” “decorate” the office spaces. Art seems to be instrumentalized as a way to enhance the appearance of the office(s). And because of the sheer enormous amount of “space to fill and decorate” represented by these two locations, there is an almost voracious need for works of art. Dorothy Miller recalls that she actually went frantically “shopping for art” with Gordon Bunshaft:

  • 15 DCM Interview, p. 2.

the test was conducted by Gordon Bunshaft and me. One Saturday morning, we raced through the New York art galleries, shopping. I think it went into mid-afternoon. We just did it fast because we both knew the galleries so well that we knew which ones to skip and which ones to go to. Anything we saw that we liked, we’d say ‘send it 410.’15

12Several letters attest to the volume of art needed year after year. Again, in 1966, after several years of buying and the inauguration of the 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza in 1961, the same urge is stated in a letter from Clare Fisher, the secretary of the Art Committee, to Dorothy Miller:

  • 16 Letter from Clare Fisher (Chase Manhattan) to Dorothy C. Miller, 9 September 1966, Dorothy C. Mille (...)

Dear Dorothy, we are again in need of more paintings and small sculptures for use in private offices as 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza and for use in our new and renovated branches.
We will, therefore, need to have an Art Committee meeting, the purpose of which will be to select approximately 50 pieces for individual offices and about 12 paintings suitable for reception areas and platform areas in our branches.… I look forward to hearing from you and also to receiving your suggestions for additions to the bank’s art collection.16

  • 17 Fritz Glarner was born in Zurich in 1899, emigrated to the United States in 1936 and became an Amer (...)

13Art is needed “everywhere,” even in the men’s room. To the point that, Dorothy Miller recalls that Alfred Barr was distressed by the placement of a Fritz Glarner17 tondo. which was put in the executive Men’s Room.

  • 18 DCM Interview.

I talked to Glarner about it. He was a very wonderful man. I broke it to him, because I knew he’d hear about it, and he said, ‘Dorothy, wherever you or the committee puts a picture, I’m sure it belongs there. And what’s wrong with the Men’s Room?’ He’s right. Here’s this beautifully designed setting. And everything is just right, every faucet. It’s just astounding. I don’t remember many cases where somebody didn’t like where their work was put. I don’t think there were any.18

  • 19 David Rockefeller, “Art at the Chase Manhattan Bank,” p. 1, undated, Dorothy C. Miller Papers, Arch (...)
  • 20 Rockefeller.

14The official catalog of the Art at the Chase Manhattan Bank states that the works in the collection are “scattered throughout dozens of floors in our headquarters buildings in New York, in offices and public areas…. Rather than being ‘collected’ in the sense of being concentrated, these works have deliberately been dispersed.”19 The magnitude of the process is clearly emphasized, it is not just a few works here and there but rather a whole different conception of the use and role of art in business. And, indeed to “to give maximum enrichment and decoration to the whole series of environments in which we and our customers do business.”20

3. Art at Chase: Abstraction and Corporate Vision

  • 21 Alfred H. Barr, Cubism and Abstract Art (Painting, Sculpture, Constructions, Photography, Architect (...)

15The architectural and design innovations showcased by the 1 Chase Plaza headquarters and the invention of corporate modernism and minimalism resonate with a series of profound transformations in business management and the materiality of money in the 1950s and 1960s. The early theoretical and practical work on the computer and the computerization of tasks in the United States, but not only, before the second World War was going to lead to a revolution in the completion of business tasks and the offering of services in many, if not all, business areas, including financial services. In a similarly revolutionary way, under the impetus of the groundbreaking conceptual opening into new art forms provided by the Armory Show in New York City in 1913, abstraction, and American abstraction more particularly, gathered strength into the art world (Borus). The 1930s and 1940s, with the pioneering work of Alfred H. Barr at the MoMA and Dorothy Miller, with her “Americans” group shows, bear witness to the gradual conquest and acceptance, not without reluctance, of abstraction21:

  • 22 The Masterpieces of Nelson Rockefeller Collection of Modern Art, Orbis Publishing, 1982, Preface by (...)

In the 1940s and 50s, during the middle years of forming the collection, contemporary art in America greatly extended its boundaries, both in the mediums it used and the subjects it chose. Pioneering works in a great variety of new materials and with new concepts of space, which were only later to be readily accepted, at first seemed strange and dissonant to many in the art world, including collectors.22

16On a parallel trajectory, the 1950s and early 1960s, when the Chase Art Committee was founded, correspond to a continuing period of major transformation for the banking business in the United States. It is, in particular, the beginning of the massive computerization of every single banking operation. And, it is also the beginning of “plastic money,” i.e. credit cards. Computerization of banking operations opened a new horizon both for hours of operation: a computer could work 24 hours, and it also greatly expanded the breadth of business transactions. This new virtual space of thinking about banking possibilities was matched by a renewed conception of the organization and aspect of office spaces. The clients of the bank could thus go about their business needs such as borrowing money, signing checks and deposit savings while looking at abstract works of art in minimalist surroundings.

17Inevitably, the intensive buying program and the growing overall presence of art in the bank led to adverse reactions from both employees and executives. Art, some art, was literally seen as a shocker. The main focus of the art purchases for Chase hinged on abstract works. Although paired, in the managerial discourse, with the forward vision of the bank, it nonetheless was not always easily accepted. Dorothy Miller, for example, recounted the way a Jack Youngerman work was wrongly placed in an executive’s office who had clearly stated that he did not want any “abstract” work:

  • 23 DCM Interview, Dorothy C. Miller Papers.

When the Chase Tower opened, the bank had about 100 vice-presidents. It was decided by the top brass that each vice-president could have a work of art of his choice in his office…. [W]e interviewed almost every vice-president. Some said they liked ship models, some said fishing, but very few said modern art. There was one vice-president who said ‘I like ship models, and don’t put modern art in my office!’ Well, when we had bought enough and were ready to start hanging down in the Chase Tower, we had to work at night because the staff had already moved in. I think we spent three nights. Anyway, we left this huge horizontal painting by Youngerman in the office of the vice-president who didn’t want any modern art. We took it into his office because it was the only office with midnight blue fabric on the walls, and Gordon [Bunshaft] thought this painting (white, red, and black) would look wonderful on that color. So we took it in there just to see how it looked on that blue. In the confusion of everything, we accidentally left it there. The next morning, this vice-president came and he saw it. Instead of exploding, he said, ‘I’m crazy about that painting, I’d like to have it for my office.’ We had intended it for a big public space—a corridor, a dining room—but we were so touched that he liked it that we said, ‘all right, we’ll put it in your office.’ And we did. While I was hanging it, he was there. And I said, ‘by the way, you can see where Jack Youngerman lives right from your office window, right down there on Front Street.’ And he said ‘Really’ I’m going to ask him to lunch.’ And they became pals.23

  • 24 It is interesting to notice that the following article does not mention, nor credit, Dorothy Miller (...)

18Dorothy Miller’s role was essential in changing the gravitas of the art that was purchased as a decorative object into a work of art purchased as such24. She, similarly, played a pivotal role in the commission, by the Chase Art Committee, of two major abstract works, one by Alexander Calder, and one by Sam Francis.

4. Alexander Calder’s Mobile and Sam Francis’ Mural: Banking through Other Means

  • 25 Alexander Calder & Jean Davidson, Calder. An Autobiography with Pictures, Pantheon Books, 1966.
  • 26 W. G. Rogers, “Local Color. Assembled for Opening of Calder Exhibit,” The Springfield Union, 9 Nove (...)

19Alexander Calder was already well known at the end of the 1950s and had, by that time, established a working relationship with Dorothy C. Miller.25 His work began to be recognized in the late 1930’s. In 1938 a first retrospective, “Calder Mobiles,” was presented by the George Walter Vincent Smith Gallery, in Springfield, Massachusetts. The Springfield Union reported the effect of the mobiles on the visitors: “a large percentage of the museum members’ groups, hardly able to believe its own eyes, attended the opening last night in the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Gallery of the exhibition of Alexander Calder’s mobiles and stabiles, the most extreme modernism ever presented here in a one-man show.”26 Only a few years later, in 1943-44, the MoMA presented a vast selection of Calder’s works in an exhibition entitled “Alexander Calder: Sculptures and Constructions” curated by James Johnson Sweeney.

20David Rockefeller favored the commissioning of a mobile by Calder for the new 410 Park Avenue branch. The aerial, fluttering and delicate mobiles were projected by Calder into an infinite possibility of movement as if the mobile bore, in its very creative essence, motion and dynamism but also stillness. Jean-Paul Sartre aptly described the mobile as:

  • 27 Jean-Paul Sartre quoted in Giovanni Carandente, Calder: Mobiles et Stabiles, Editions Rencontre en (...)

à la fois des inventions lyriques, des combinaisons techniques, presque mathématiques et, à la fois, le symbole sensible de la Nature, de cette grande Nature vague, qui gaspille le pollen et produit brusquement l’envol de mille papillons et dont on ne sait jamais si elle est l’enchaînement aveugle des causes et des effets ou le développement timide, sans cesse retardé, dérangé, traversé, d’une Idée.27

21The mobile, this “idée,” this new concept, as well as the balance of the several units composing it could be seen as a metaphor for the newly merged bank trying very much to balance and organize its many business units and reunited branches. But also, a sign of futuristically moving upwards with lightness for the sake of the employees and the clients of the bank. Not surprisingly, the Calder mobile was installed in a public area, the main banking floor, of 410 Park Ave. for everybody to see. The bank’s clients could thus “stroll inside the gleaming new office, glance appreciatively at the mobile, and then go about their chores of borrowing money, signing checks, and depositing savings” (Vartan). The mobile is also, unlike a painting or a sculpture, a dynamic work of art. The slightest changing air fluctuation would set the mobile into motion but it would also eventually go back to its initial, unbreaking balance. That was certainly a very apt characteristic for a bank which wanted to be both responsive to the clients’ needs and innovative, but very swiftly, noiselessly, in the same way as the mobile hung light and strong on the ceiling: up and forward with trust like the business of banking.

22Another artist, less well-known than Alexander Calder at the end of the 1950s, Sam Francis, was also commissioned an abstract work, a mural, for 410 Park Avenue. Sam Francis’ abstract works of art, and, in particular, the paintings offering vast white areas embody a particular relation to space. According to Betty Freeman:

  • 28 Sam Francis quoted in Betty Freeman, “Sam Francis : Ideas and Paintings.” Unpublished manuscript. S (...)

his search for an infinite space, a space without dimensions, stands out in compositions from the late 1950s, where open areas of white create translucent, weblike veils—‘airspaces’ as Francis called them. ‘These are neither negative space nor empty pockets,’ he declared, ‘but support the color like the sky holds smoke of a jet…. The spaces are inflated with air and color.’ 28

23We thus have a space to be conquered. Francis’s mural magnifies the white spaces on canvas, and it becomes white on white, the white space painted on the canvas covering the white wall.

24The immense white spaces provided by the new office walls at Chase Manhattan seem to call for a reflection on white, on its very nature and meaning. As William Agee underlines, “The white is not mere background but rather provides a way to discover profound meaning. Vast space gives us a sense of something much larger, especially as the color shapes floating across the surface move beyond the edges” (4).

25Dorothy Miller recalls that

  • 29 Interview DCM, p. 3.

In the middle of a terribly hot summer day, I took David Rockefeller, Gordon Bunshaft, and some other higher Chase officials, higher than David then, to the studio to see the mural when it was in process. I felt that it would be a good idea for them to meet the artist, see what conditions he had to work under, and see what their reactions were. Sam Francis was a seductively young man and could also talk about his work.29

  • 30 “The Corporation as Art Patron.” Look, March, 22, 1965, p. 68.

26David Rockefeller was a director of the Chase Manhattan in the late 1950s when the committee was constituted also had had a seat on the Board of Trustees of the MoMA since 1948. He thus revives the rinascimentale role of the enlightened patron of the arts. And, at Chase, “For employees, visitors and customers, it creates an indoor twentieth-century Florence. For artists, it means ‘exposure’ and bigger bank accounts; for David Rockefeller, a picture of the modern banker as art patron.”30

27And indeed, in several instances, and over the years, a channel between Dorothy Miller and David Rockefeller is established. Initially it is fairly subdued and akin to congratulations for the decorative results of Chase at 410 Park Avenue:

  • 31 Letter from David Rockefeller (Chase Manhattan) to Dorothy C. Miller, 26 October1959, Dorothy C. Mi (...)

Dear Dorothy, Thanks for sending me a copy of VOGUE with the photographs of eight New York artists. I was pleased to be able to show it to some of my colleagues in the bank and to point out that three of the eight are represented at 410 Park Avenue. I think the enthusiasm for the branch is very great on the part of everyone. Even some of my most conservative colleagues concede that it is attracting a lot of favorable attention and that perhaps the experiment was worthwhile. We shall never cease to be grateful to you for your part in finding such excellent paintings and sculpture.31

28And a few months later, David Rockefeller writes again to Dorothy Miller to thank her:

  • 32 Letter from David Rockefeller (Chase Manhattan) to Dorothy C. Miller, 6 April 1960, Dorothy C. Mill (...)

Dear Dorothy: Many apologies for having delayed so long in thanking you for sending me the letter you received from Mr Weill about our 410 Park Avenue branch. It is a very nice letter and I am naturally very pleased about his reactions. I feel you yourself deserve a great deal of the credit for the good appearance of 410. Many thanks again.32

  • 33 Stanley Janis Gallery opened in 1948 in New York City.
  • 34 DCM Cable to Stanley Janis, Dorothy C. Miller Papers, Archive of American Art, Washington, D.C.

29We notice that the exchange is grounded on the appearance, decorative flavor of the work of art. But it also appears that Rockefeller becomes an “art emissary” within his bank, trusting and supporting Dorothy C. Miller and mediating the reactions of his “more conservative colleagues.” In the process, he also purchases art works for his own private collection. The correspondence between Dorothy C. Miller and Stanley Janis, who owned the Stanley Janis Gallery33 in New York, traces the purchase of a Mark Rothko painting by David Rockefeller. The painting, White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose) was purchased in 1960. The cable sent by Dorothy C. Miller to Stanley Janis at the Hotel Metropole in Brussels, says “David Rockefeller definitely wants the Rothko.”34

30David Rockefeller’s role as patron of the arts was also helped and fostered by his blending the function of art in the bank. The works of art were definitely considered as an investment from the ground up. Because of Miller’s work at the MoMA and her very close knowledge of the American and New York art scene, American artists, unsurprisingly, made up the bulk of the art purchases by Chase. The tradition which was established was to buy the works of younger lesser recognized artists. She recalls that:

It is a marvelous moment (for the collection to be started) and not only because this school of American art was becoming world famous, but also because the prices were so low. The Sam Francis mural was $17 000…. And we got everything at the right moment. There’s hardly anything that we paid a huge price for. We got them before they went up.

31The constitution of the Chase art collection helped the bank use art as a language which could be literally hired for management purposes. In one of the Chase Manhattan art catalogues, there are several instances of the circular use of terms which one would, at first, associate with only business and business purposes but which were stretched to accommodate the desired (planned?) effects of art. The foreword by David Rockefeller in the Chase Manhattan Art Catalog states that:

  • 35 David Rockefeller, “Art at the Chase Manhattan Bank,” p. 1, undated. Dorothy C. Miller Papers, Arch (...)

the response to the art program of our customers and friends and of our own staff was so enthusiastic that it soon became apparent that the program could profitably be enlarged to include eventually all our places of business. I have used the word “profitably” deliberately, though perhaps it would be hard to justify on a dollars-and-cents cost accounting basis. On the other hand, even accountants put a money value on such intangibles as good will, and it is the conviction of Chase Manhattan’s management that in terms of good will, in terms of staff morale and in terms of our corporate commitment to excellence in all fields, including the cultural, the art program has been a profitable investment.35

32The profitability of intangibles very clearly attests to the consideration of art as a business end, but also, the importance of staff morale and the pursuit of excellence, positive personal achievements which can, possibly, be enhanced by the art program and the presence of art in the branches and headquarter of the bank.

5. Conclusion

33Dorothy Miller’s work at both the MoMA and on the Art Committee of Chase Manhattan Bank helps us grasp several layers of art intermediation. The Committee set up in 1959 is a de facto intermediary as a structure. And its composition denotes the paramount importance of such new defining artistic, architectural and business trends at the end of the 1950s as corporate modernism, abstraction and new conceptual approaches of business and bank management, as well as the physical space of bank offices and the space devoted to art in almost each single one of those offices. Within that Art Committee the influence of Dorothy Miller, rises to attain great prominence over the more than 20 years when she advised Chase in art purchases as a member of that committee. She was also involved, first hand, in the perusal of the works and their downright installation as intermediaries—in business and in the physical space of the bank itself, more especially in the iconic buildings and locations which were opened at the end of the 1950s and the turn of the 1960s in the Upper East Side (410 Park Avenue) and downtown in the Financial District of Manhattan (One Chase Manhattan Plaza).

34Indeed, Dorothy Miller, thanks to her position at the MoMA, quickly becomes a chaser, a finder, a provider, a purveyor of works of art and gives advice. She rises to the position of “art broker” at Chase as the numerous letters asking her for advice show. Over the years, she contributed to enlarging the scope and meaning of “art” at Chase. From being bought for decorative motives, and part of an architectural enterprise at the beginning, the works of art gradually reach another status. She certainly started as an “art insider” because of her concomitant position at the MoMA and “banking outsider” but, along the years, she mediated the redefinition of corporate art and helped establish budding artists in her days.

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Bibliography

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---. Gordon Bunshaft and SOM. Building Corporate Modernism. Yale UP, 2019.

Agee, William. “Sam Francis: A Painter’s Dialogue with Color, Light, and Space.” Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings, 1946-1994, edited by Debra Burchett-Lere, U of California P, 2011, pp.1-136.

Alexander, Edward P. Museum Masters. Altamira Press, 1995.

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Cohen-Solal, Annie. “The Ultimate Challenge for Alfred H Barr, Jr: Transforming the Ecology of American Culture, 1924-43.” Abstract Expressionism the International Context, edited by Joan Marter, Rutgers UP, 2004.

Dewey, John. Art as Experience. Putnam Capricorn Books, 1958 [1934].

Festa, Susan A. “Bankers and the Arts. Chase Looks at Art as Art.” American Banker, no. 152 (204), 18 October 1987.

Francis, Sam. Studies for the Chase Manhattan Bank Mural and Related Works. Manny Silverman Gallery, 1997.

Freeman, Betty. “Sam Francis : Ideas and Paintings,” Unpublished manuscript. Sam Francis Papers, Getty Research Institute, 1969, Los Angeles.

Herselle-Krinsky, Carol. Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The Architectural History Foundation, MIT P, 1988.

Kantrow, Yvette. “Bankers Take to the Arts,” American Banker, vol. 152, October 1987, p. 204.

Miller, Dorothy C., editor. 12 Americans. The Museum of Modern Art, Simon & Schuster, 1956.

Murray, Scott. Contemporary Curtain Wall Architecture. Princeton Architectural Press, 2009.

Sweeney, James Johnson. Alexander Calder. Museum of Modern Art, 1943.

Tanner, Ogden, David Allison, Peter Blake and Walter McQuade, “The Chase. Portrait of a Giant,” Architectural Forum, July 1961, pp. 66-94

Vartan, Vartanig G. “Abstract Art Adds Zip to Banking,” Boston Globe, 17 November 1959.

Zumello, Christine. “The ‘Everything Card’ and Consumer Credit in the United States in the 1960s,” Harvard Business History Review, vol. 85, no. 3, 2011, pp. 551-575.

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Notes

1 Founded in 1799.

2 Founded in 1877.

3 See https://www.jpmorganchase.com/about/our-history.

4 See Alexander 402.

5 Museum of Modern Art, “New Exhibitions added to Schedule of Museum of Modern Art,” Press Release, https://www.moma.org/documents/moma_press-release_325291.pdf?_ga=2.67879255.718549142.1681038684-151779511.1681038684. Accessed 8 April 2023.

6 The original members of the Chase Manhattan Bank Art Committee were Alfred H. Barr, Jr. (Director of the Museum Collections, Museum of Modern Art, New York City); Gordon Bunshaft (Architect, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill) Dorothy C. Miller (Curator of the Museum Collections, Museum of Modern Art), Robert Beverly Hale (1901-1985), he was hired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 1948 and became the first curator of the department of contemporary American art until 1966 ; Perry Townsend Rathbone (1911-2000) was the director of the Boston Museum of Fine Art from 1955 to 1972; James Johnson Sweeney (1900-1986) (Director, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas). Dorothy C. Miller Papers, Archive of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

7 Interview of Dorothy Miller by Peter Morrin, New York, 16 July 1982, “The First Ten Years of the Chase Art Committee. An Interview with Dorothy Miller.” Dorothy C. Miller Papers, Archive of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

8 See Peter Galison, “Aufbau/Bauhaus: Logical Positivism and Architectural Modernism.” Critical Inquiry, vol. 16, no. 4, 1990, p. 749.

9 https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/2411.

10 Special Edition, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Architects, Museum of Modern Art Bulletin, vol. 18, no. 1, Fall 1950, p. 6.

11 “Buildings for Business and Government: Exhibition.” Museum of Modern Art, February 25- April 28, 1957, p. 6. https://www.moma.org/documents/moma_catalogue_3349_300190165.pdf?_ga=2.187156768.928431029.1682352185-1622813315.1681812115.

12 “Buildings for Business and Government: Exhibition”, p. 7.

13 Gordon Bunshaft (1909-1990) is a leading American architect who was awarded the prestigious Pritzker Prize in 1988.

14 John McCloy quoted in Money Matters: A Critical Look at Bank Architecture, Parnassus Foundation and Mc Graw Hill, 1990, p. 128.

15 DCM Interview, p. 2.

16 Letter from Clare Fisher (Chase Manhattan) to Dorothy C. Miller, 9 September 1966, Dorothy C. Miller Papers, Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C.

17 Fritz Glarner was born in Zurich in 1899, emigrated to the United States in 1936 and became an American citizen in 1944. He joined the abstract expressionists in New York City and befriended, in particular, Piet Mondrian. He died in Locarno in 1972.

18 DCM Interview.

19 David Rockefeller, “Art at the Chase Manhattan Bank,” p. 1, undated, Dorothy C. Miller Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

20 Rockefeller.

21 Alfred H. Barr, Cubism and Abstract Art (Painting, Sculpture, Constructions, Photography, Architecture, Industrial Art, Theatre, Films, Posters, Typography), Museum of Modern Art, [1936], 1966, p. 11.

22 The Masterpieces of Nelson Rockefeller Collection of Modern Art, Orbis Publishing, 1982, Preface by Dorothy C. Miller, p.11.

23 DCM Interview, Dorothy C. Miller Papers.

24 It is interesting to notice that the following article does not mention, nor credit, Dorothy Miller, in the constitution of the Chase art collection. See Susan E. Festa, “Chase Looks at Art as Art,” American Banker, vol. 152 (204), 18 October 1987.

25 Alexander Calder & Jean Davidson, Calder. An Autobiography with Pictures, Pantheon Books, 1966.

26 W. G. Rogers, “Local Color. Assembled for Opening of Calder Exhibit,” The Springfield Union, 9 November 1938.

27 Jean-Paul Sartre quoted in Giovanni Carandente, Calder: Mobiles et Stabiles, Editions Rencontre en accord avec l’Unesco, 1970, p. 11.

28 Sam Francis quoted in Betty Freeman, “Sam Francis : Ideas and Paintings.” Unpublished manuscript. Sam Francis Papers, Getty Research Institute, 1969, Los Angeles.

29 Interview DCM, p. 3.

30 “The Corporation as Art Patron.” Look, March, 22, 1965, p. 68.

31 Letter from David Rockefeller (Chase Manhattan) to Dorothy C. Miller, 26 October1959, Dorothy C. Miller Papers, Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C.

32 Letter from David Rockefeller (Chase Manhattan) to Dorothy C. Miller, 6 April 1960, Dorothy C. Miller Papers, Archives of American Art, Washington, D. C.

33 Stanley Janis Gallery opened in 1948 in New York City.

34 DCM Cable to Stanley Janis, Dorothy C. Miller Papers, Archive of American Art, Washington, D.C.

35 David Rockefeller, “Art at the Chase Manhattan Bank,” p. 1, undated. Dorothy C. Miller Papers, Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C.

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References

Electronic reference

Christine Zumello, Dorothy C. Miller, Chase Manhattan and American Banking: Investing Art?European journal of American studies [Online], 18-2 | 2023, Online since 30 July 2023, connection on 13 April 2024. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/ejas/19636; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/ejas.19636

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About the author

Christine Zumello

Christine Zumello is a Professor of American studies and business history at Sorbonne Nouvelle University in Paris. Her research and publications focus on the interactions between politics, finance and the arts. She has conducted extensive explorations in both public and private archives and she tries to tap the formidable creativity of archival documents and spaces.

By this author

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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