Thursday, February 27, 2014

NYCBallet and SPAC founder, Lincoln Kirstein, was a "Monuments Men".

‘Monuments Men’ soldier helped start SPAC

Ed Burke - The Saratogian 02/20/14 George Balanchine looks over the shoulder of New York City Ballet and SPAC enthusiast Louise Goldstein as she holds a poster of Lincoln Kirstein. Goldstein acquired the posters when the Aldelphi Hotel closed down.

SARATOGA SPRINGS >> One of the U.S. Army’s original “Monuments Men” co-founded the New York City Ballet and was instrumental in the creation of Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

Pfc. Lincoln Kirstein (1907-96) joined the army in 1943 and a year later was named to the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives program, charged with recovering and protecting priceless art looted by the Nazis during World War II.

The “Monuments Men” movie, now playing at Criterion Cinemas in downtown Saratoga Springs, features a character based loosely on Kirstein, the ballet’s general director from 1946-89.

“He was such an important force for arts in this country,” said Louise Goldstein, an avid SPAC booster. “He was here every summer for 30 years. He put ballet on the map in America.”

A Monuments Men Foundation website says Kirstein, while studying at Harvard University, established the Harvard Society for Contemporary Art in 1928. Five years later, Russian choreographer George Balanchine came to the U.S. at Kirstein’s invitation and in 1934 they founded the School of American Ballet.

Shortly after the war, they formed the Ballet Society, which was renamed the New York City Ballet in 1949.

The impetus for SPAC’s foundation started taking shape in 1961, with the goal of it becoming the New York Philharmonic’s summer home. Before long, city ballet became part of the discussions.

By 1963, the philharmonic had dropped out of the picture.

“But the project had a momentum of its own,” SPAC’s website says. “New York City Ballet’s co-founders, George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein helped define both SPAC’s physical form and artistic agenda.”

The stage floor was specifically engineered for the ballet.

“Arnold H. Vollmer designed the floor honoring the wishes of George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein, making the original floor a design marvel,” SPAC’s website says.

Kirstein’s contributions to the Monuments Men are now gaining long-overdue recognition with the movie’s release. He and his commanding Monuments program officer, Capt. Robert Posey, recovered numerous masterpieces from the salt mines at Altaussee, Austria.

A character based on Posey is portrayed by actor Bill Murray in the film.

SPAC opened in 1966. Kirstein received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984, the National Medal of Arts in 1985), and with Balanchine, the National Gold Medal of Merit Award of the National Society of Arts and Letters.

“He was one of the most important people in this country for decades in the arts,” Goldstein said. “He saved art for the world during World War II.”