Discover the extraordinary story of how one woman, Margaret Scolari Barr, helped MoMA save artist refugees during World War II.
Nov 17, 2020
The US was not every refugee’s ideal destination. Some artists, such as the painter Oscar Domínguez, poet Benjamin Péret, and painter Remedios Varo, Péret’s partner at the time, felt that they would be better off in Latin America due to language and politics. Though these artists were not “personal friends of Alfred’s or mine,” Marga nonetheless felt compelled to act on their behalf. Using her resources, she wrote a letter to art historian Stanton L. Catlin, who was residing in Mexico and working for MoMA on a circulating exhibition series of contemporary American art throughout Latin America.
When you are being dined and wined by officials...you can start the subject by saying, “We in N.Y. try to do our best for refugees.”
Margaret Scolari Barr, in a letter regarding the refugee cases of Oscar Domínguez, Benjamin Péret, and Remedios Varo
For a more detailed presentation of this research and its relation to migration issues today, watch the Dedalus Fouondation discussion "Displacement Past and Present: Migration in the Arts." For additional readings on MoMA’s rescue efforts and exiled artists, Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s exhibition catalogue Exiles + Emigrés: The Flight of European Artists from Hitler and Martica Sawin’s Surrealism in Exile and the Beginning of the New York School are great resources on the subject. Interesting, rich memoirs of these events include Margaret Scolari Barr’s “Our Campaigns: 1930–1944,” published in The New Criterion; Peggy Guggenheim’s Out of this Century: Confessions of an Art Addict; and Varian Fry’s Surrender on Demand.
1. Oral history interview with Margaret Scolari Barr relating to Alfred H. Barr, 1974 February 22–May 13. Archives of American Art (AAA), Smithsonian Institution.
2. Alfred H. Barr Jr., “Preface,” Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1936), p. 7.
3. Oral history interview with Margaret Scolari Barr, AAA.
4. Margaret Scolari Barr Papers, III.A.22. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York.
5. Photocopy of a letter from Marga Barr to Stanton L. Catlin, June 27, 1941. Margaret Scolari Barr Papers, II.86. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York.