"Incredibly Atrocious," Wrote Nixon on Modern Art

Richard Nixon, modern art, Norman Rockwell portrait
A portrait of 37th President Richard M. Nixon painted by Norman Rockwell in 1968. [Credit: National Portrait Gallery]
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A 30-page memo released Monday by the National Archives reveals that the 37th President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, thought of modern art as "decadent" and "incredibly atrocious."

In a memo of January 26, 1970 to his Chief of Staff, H.R. "Bob" Haldeman, Nixon wrote, "As you, of course, know, those who are on the modern art and music kick are 95 percent against us anyway. I refer to the recent addicts of Leonard Bernstein and the whole New York crowd." He continued, "When I compare the monstrosity of Lincoln Center with the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, I realize how decadent the modern art and architecture have become."

Nixon went on to categorize modern art as something the "Kennedy-Shriver crowd" encouraged. "But I have no intention whatever of continuing to encourage it now," he declared. "P.S.," Nixon concluded, "I also want a check made with regard to the incredibly atrocious modern art that has been scattered around the embassies of the world." The embassies, he wrote, "were loaned some of these little uglies from the Museum of Modern Art in New York."

The 30-page modern art memo is among 280,000 pages of previously unseen documents, 12 hours of sound recordings and 7,000 images from the personal collection of White House photographer Oliver F. Atkins, all released this week by the National Archives and the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda.


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