Sanity in Art, Inc.
When Josephine Hancock Logan, a leading patron of the Art Institute of Chicago, published her 1937 book Sanity in Art, she declared her crusade to remove “modernistic grotesqueries” from American museums and homes and “destroy the false gods” of surrealism and Dadaism. “A madness seems to have swept over the world since the Great War,” the anti-modern Mrs. Logan evangelized. “A destructive atavistic violence that stopped at nothing and held nothing sacred. The cuckoo of publicity had laid the egg of a modern dodo bird in the hard old nest of art…”
Local chapters of the Sanity in Art, Inc. movement sprung up around the country and in 1939, Hollywood portrait painter Charles Bensco was recruited to lead the Los Angeles branch. “We all know too well the type of art Europe foisted on us since the last war and called it ‘modern,’” the Hungarian-born Bensco exclaimed. “Bizarre European art known for the past years as ‘Modernistic’ no longer appeals to the American people.” Under Bensco’s leadership, Sanity in Art, Inc. staged exhibitions at Los Angeles venues including the Fisher Gallery at USC and the State Building in Exposition Park. Although Bensco relocated to Arizona in 1945 (where the subject of his work shifted to indigenous Southwestern scenes), the influence of Logan’s movement endured.
In 1951, during the virulent anti-Communist activities of the McCarthy era, Los Angeles Councilman Harold Harby launched an attack, complete with a police raid, on a city-sponsored exhibition at the Greek Theatre in Griffith Park: the art was condemned as abstract, sacrilegious, ultra-modern, and even communist propaganda— in a painting by Rex Brandt, an Orange County watercolorist and avid sailor, the commercial insignia on a pictured sail was interpreted by the City Councilman as a treasonous Soviet hammer and sickle.
highly recommended reading:
D.J. Waldie on the Shock of the New: Los Angeles vs. Modernism
Sarah Schrank’s Art and the City: Civic Imagination and Cultural Authority in Los Angeles (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009)