At the time of her death in 1948, Juliana Force held the eminent title of founding director of the Whitney Museum of Art. Nowadays, mention of her name is likely to elicit a blank stare or, from the more knowing, a flip remark about Gertrude Whitney’s “glorified secretary.” While other champions of twentieth-century art (Alfred Stieglitz, Alfred Barr, Betty Parsons, etc.) have by now ascended to mythic heights, Force and her legacy have crumbled into dust. The reason is hardly a mystery. Unlike Stieglitz, she didn’t have a discerning eye. Unlike Barr, she lacked a coherent vision. And she didn’t have Parsons’s instinct for adventure. Yet for all her obvious deficiencies, Force did possess genuine enthusiasm for American art, or rather for American artists, and she helped them win official recognition in an age when society still believed that good art, like good perfume, could only...


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