Dorner, Alexander, 1893-1957

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Art historian. Dorner emigrated from Germany to the U.S. and became director of the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design.

From the description of Alexander Dorner papers, 1938-1955. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122355077

Alexander Dorner was born January, 1893, in Königsberg, Germany. After attending Königsberg University, he transferred to the University of Berlin in 1915, where he began his study of art history, archaeology, philosophy, and history. There he associated with others such as Erwin Panofsky, and developed a strong interest in art theory revitalizing the study of art history. In 1919, he was hired at the Provincial Museum in Hannover; he set about the transformation of the Hanover Museum, creating "atmosphere rooms" intended to demonstrate the continuity of themes in art through the ages rather than illustrate specific art historical periods.

He was the first museum director in the world to purchase and permanently exhibit the works of Piet Mondrian, Naum Gabo, Kazimir Malevich, and El Lissitzky. Recognition of Dorner's work increased in 1927 when he collaborated with the Lissitzky in the creation of the "Abstract Cabinet," a theoretical design for a dynamic museum room based on the viewer's perspective. His influence in avant-garde circles aroused increasing suspicion, and his defense of "degenerate art" led to his being forced out of his job by the Nazis in February 1937.

Dorner appealed to friends and colleagues, including Alfred Barr, Erwin Panofsky, and Walter Gropius, all of whom assisted him to find a position in America. Dorner was hired in late 1937 as director of the Rhode Island School of Design Museum where he implemented many of the same ideas he had in Hannover. After a few years, however, conflicts arose between Dorner and the board, partially due to his personality and directorial methods. The rise of anti-German and anti-Nazi sentiment also raised suspicions, and the FBI investigated and denounced him as a Nazi sympathizer, despite his earlier attempts at opposition to the Nazi party in Germany. In May of 1941, Dorner was dismissed.

He later worked as lecturer at the art department of Brown University, and in 1948 joined the art history faculty at Bennington College. He died in November, 1957, during a trip to Europe to settle issues related to his persecution by the Nazis.

From the description of Papers of Alexander Dorner, 1930-1960 (bulk). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 234360210

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars records, 1927-1949, 1933-1945 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Sachs, Paul J. (Paul Joseph), 1878-1965. Papers, 1903-2005. Harvard University Art Museum
referencedIn The Nation, records, 1879-1974 (inclusive), 1920-1955 (bulk). Houghton Library.
referencedIn Walter Gropius papers, 1925-1969 (inclusive), 1937-1969 (bulk). Houghton Library.
referencedIn Winston, Lydia, 1897-. Lydia Winston Malbin papers, 1891-1997 (bulk 1938-1997). Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Rhode Island School of Design. Museum of Art. Presidents' and Directors' correspondence., 1893-1966, 1900-1948 Rhode Island School of Design Archives.
referencedIn Walter Gropius papers in the Bauhaus-Archiv, ca. 1919-1937. Houghton Library.
referencedIn Helen M. Danforth records, Danforth, (Helen M.) records, 1926-1967 Rhode Island School of Design Archives.
referencedIn Kestner-Gesellschaft. Minutes, 1933 Nov. 8-Dec. 21. Getty Research Institute
creatorOf Dorner, Alexander, 1893-1957. Letter, 1947, to Lewis Mumford. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Bund das Neue Frankfurt. Letters received, 1932. J. Paul Getty Center, Arts Archives
creatorOf Dorner, Alexander, 1893-1957. Papers of Alexander Dorner, 1930-1960 (bulk). Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums
referencedIn Rhode Island School of Design. Office of the Treasurer records, Office of the Treasurer records, 1877-1991 Rhode Island School of Design Archives.
referencedIn Lydia Winston Malbin papers, 1891-1997, 1938-1997 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Dorner, Alexander, 1893-1957. Alexander Dorner papers, 1938-1955. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Royal Bailey Farnum records, Farnum (Royal Bailey) records, 1905-1965, bulk 1905-1946 Rhode Island School of Design Archives.
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Bund das Neue Frankfurt. corporateBody
associatedWith Danforth, Helen M, 1887-1984 person
associatedWith Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars corporateBody
associatedWith Farnum, Royal Bailey person
correspondedWith Gropius, Walter, 1883-1969 person
associatedWith Kestner-Gesellschaft. corporateBody
correspondedWith Nation (New York, N.Y. : 1865). corporateBody
associatedWith Rhode Island School of Design. Museum of Art. corporateBody
associatedWith Rhode Island School of Design. Office of the Treasurer corporateBody
associatedWith Sachs, Paul J. (Paul Joseph), 1878-1965. person
associatedWith Winston, Lydia, 1897- person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
Germany
Rhode Island--Providence
Subject
Museum Directors
Art historians
Art--Study and teaching
Occupation
Museum Directors
Function

Person

Birth 1893

Death 1957

Americans

German,

English

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