Mentors: The Making of an Art Historian

By Francis M. Naumann

208 pages with 7 illustrations by Kathleen Gilje
May 2019. Softcover with french flaps.
$24.95 | 9780999754467

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A surprising and revealing memoir populated with art historians, art influencers, and the former lover and lifelong friend of Marcel Duchamp, Beatrice Wood.

Francis M. Naumann, a distinguished expert on Dada and Marcel Duchamp reflects upon his mentors, including Leo Steinberg, John Rewald, and perhaps his greatest influence: Beatrice Wood, a renowned ceramic artist and one of the most prominent participants in New York Dada. Naumann’s close friendship with Wood, who was many decades his senior, continued until the end of her life at age 105. She not only set Naumann upon a course of original research that would define him, but also provided a moral platform and an artist’s view on what an art historian could be. The chapters involving Naumann’s mentors in the field of art history are no less engaging: strong personalities all, each taught Naumann either by positive or negative example and assisted in the development of his scholarship and original research, though sometimes unintentionally. 

Filled with accidental encounters, intrigues and collisions of intentions, Mentors is a rare memoir about art history which exposes readers to a drama that few actually know occurs behind the scenes. One among many lessons learned in this story is how the individuals we know and admire most in life can serve to shape our future, molding us—consciously or unconsciously—into the people we inexorably become. 


[A]t heart, Mentors is an accessible and richly detailed celebration of intense cross-generational exchanges between individuals who champion and challenge each other. Naumann’s cogent and open communicative style, and his personal and professional integrity, should be inspirational and valuable to all, for Mentors is an encounter with a fine and fiercely exacting mind.

An account of an intellectual coming of age full of interesting turns — insights and unexpected disclosures, details of behavior that reveal the character of complex individuals. It is also a chronicle of a life of the mind, lived at close hand to rare and inspiring people.
– Alec Wilkinson, frequent contributor to The New Yorker and author of My Mentor: A Young Writer’s Friendship with William Maxwell

The world has been good to you if you’ve had a mentor who has opened up your life. Art historian Francis M. Naumann had three of them: Leo Steinberg, John Rewald, and Beatrice Wood. The first two took him deep into the mystery of how great art happens, the third turned him toward the artist whose work and thought Naumann has done much to clarify – Marcel Duchamp. Naumann shows that mentorship, when it’s done right, is itself a work of art.
– Calvin Tomkins, author of Marcel Duchamp: A Biography

“Naumann’s writing is entertaining and authentic. He sings the praises of those who formed his own character as well as embraces their flaws. From the bordellos to the classrooms and from high rises to high on the hills of France and Italy, this story offers a unique and riveting view into the world of art history and the people therein.”
Seattle Book Review, 4.5 stars

Mentors explores Francis Naumann’s friendship with luminous individuals who changed the way we think about art and artists, from the Renaissance to the Post-modern present, from Leonardo and Michelangelo to Marcel Duchamp and Jasper Johns. I could not put this book down once I started reading it. If you ever want to know intimate details about these brilliant, unconventional people for whom the phrase “larger than life” is woefully inadequate, this is the book for you.
– John Yau, poet, author, Jackson Poetry Prize recipient and editor for Hyperallergic

An odd but consistently engaging text about academic mentorship, about art, about art history, about writing, about ageing, about illness, about artists and about being successful and self-confident in New York in the second half of the twentieth century. It’s an unexpected pleasure. […] This is undeniably an enjoyable book, full of humour and personality and a real sense of all the various people who mean a lot to Naumann. It’s an easy, warm, unpatronising read and – entering it with no pre-conceptions at all – thoroughly enjoyable!
– Scott Manley Hadley, Triumph of the Now

Naumann allows the reader to see how patterns of sexual comradery among prominent male scholars reinforced the masculinization of art historical scholarship. Naumann broke with that sexist world when, to both Steinberg’s and Rewald’s befuddlement, he took an interest in the work of Beatrice Wood, an accomplished California potter. […] Naumann first met Wood in 1976 during the course of his research into New York Dada when she was 84 and he 28, and he played a tireless role in reigniting her art world career through his devotion to writing about and exhibiting her work—something he has continued to do for other forgotten women Dada and Surrealist artists including Mary Callery, Henrietta Myers, and Maria Martins. Wood became Naumann’s “closest friend and confidant” until her death at 105 in 1998. […] The course of Naumann’s life directed by his choice to adopt different aspects of his mentors, shows how we become ourselves through the ongoing transformation spawned by these relationships.
– Robert R. Shane, The Brooklyn Rail


Over the course of [over] 35 years, Naumann made several discoveries about Duchamp, all addressed in his lively book. One was the piece Étant donnés (1945–1966), Duchamp’s ambitious erotic assemblage, glimpsed through peepholes. The figure in that piece was Maria Martins, a beautiful dark-haired sculptor and the wife of the Brazilian ambassador to the United States. […] Naumann also devotes a lengthy chapter to Duchamp’s long-running interest in the science of optics. […] Other essays delve into the affinities between Duchamp and Andy Warhol and take aim at the many virulent attacks on Duchamp from critics like Hilton Kramer, Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg, and former ARTnews editor Thomas Hess.
– Ann Landi, ARTnews

After studying Duchamp for 40 years, [Naumann] was not expecting to come up with anything startling while working on The Recurrent, Haunting Ghost, his book on the master. But while he was looking at Duchamp’s interest in optics, Naumann came across something truly Duchampian in that it was at once esoteric and naughty….
– The Art Newspaper

Reading about Marcel Duchamp can be hard work, unless the writer has Francis Naumann’s ability to leaven imaginative scholarship with clarity, candor, insight, and high spirits.  The most influential artist of the last century caught Naumann’s attention more than forty years ago, when he saw a reproduction of Duchamp’s bicycle wheel mounted on a kitchen stool, and asked himself how this could be art.  The question has pursued him ever since, and his consistently fresh approaches to Duchamp’s work and Duchamp’s life, set down in agile and jargon-free prose, make these collected essays the single most informative book you will find on the endlessly fascinating artist.
– Calvin Tomkins


Francis M. NaumannFrancis M. Naumann is an independent scholar, curator, and art dealer, specializing in the art of the Dada and Surrealist periods. He is author of numerous articles and exhibition catalogues, including New York Dada 1915–25 (Harry N. Abrams, 1994), considered to be the definitive history of the movement, and Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Making Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (Harry N. Abrams, 1999), Wallace Putnam (Harry N. Abrams, 2002) and Conversion to Modernism: The Early Work of Man Ray (Rutgers University Press, 2002). In 1996, he organized “Making Mischief: Dada Invades New York” for the Whitney Museum of American Art; in 1997, “Beatrice Wood: A Centennial Tribute” for the American Craft Museum in New York; and, in 2003, he co-curated “Conversion to Modernism: The Early Work of Man Ray” for the Montclair Art Museum. His most recent book is The Recurrent, Haunting Ghost: Essays on the Art, Life and Legacy of Marcel Duchamp (Readymade Press, 2012). Through 2019 he owned and operated a gallery in New York City which specialized in art from the Dada and Surrealist periods as well as work by contemporary artists who possess related aesthetic sensibilities.