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books

Chick Austin

EUGENE R. GADDIS’S FULL-DRESS BIOGRAPHY of Arthur Everett “Chick” Austin, Magician of the Modern, is subtitled “the transformation of the arts in America.” But the subtitle tells only half the story. The book also recounts the transformation of a European art movement. Austin, the legendary director of Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum from 1927 to 1944, was one of the most active supporters of Surrealism in the United States. With his patronage, the Surrealist movement was conscripted to serve American needs and sensibilities. This is what makes Austin’s life compelling to contemporary readers. A movement once considered dead today percolates through many cultural spheres, from architecture to advertising to the latest NASDAQ start-up. Now resuscitated by biography, Austin speaks to us like the previous incarnation of a new best friend.

In the cultural annals of the twentieth century, Austin

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