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Lieberman, Bill

    Full Name: Lieberman, William

    Other Names:

    • Bill Lieberman
    • William S Lieberman
    • William Lieberman
    • William Slattery Lieberman

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 14 February 1924

    Date Died: 31 May 2005

    Place Died: New York, NY, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): American (North American) and Modern (style or period)

    Career(s): administrators, art historians, and curators

    Institution(s): Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art


    MoMA and Metropolitan Museum curator, major exponent of prints and modern art in general; founding member of the Print Council of America.  Lieberman’s father, Max Lieberman (1893-1959), was a scholar of late medieval church history (Ph.D. Sorbonne), and his mother Bertha Slattery (Lieberman) (1897-1958), an Irish Catholic school teacher.  His family had independent means;  Lieberman was born in Paris when the family was living there.  The family  friends included Picasso, Matisse and Gertrude Stein (Meech).  The Lieberman’s returned to the United States in the mid 1930s (Max had graduated from City College of New York) with hostilities in Europe growing (Max was of German-Jewish decent).  William Lieberman attended the private Townsend Harris High School.   He graduated from Swarthmore College with honors in English, and a minor in medieval history in 1943.  As a gay man, he was not a candidate for military service as many men his age were during World War II.  One of his mentors at Swarthmore, the poet W. H. Auden, recommended him to Monroe Wheeler (1899-1988), director of the Department of Exhibitions and Publications of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the same year, for a job.

    Lieberman interned the summer (without pay) under Wheeler, before participating in the Harvard Fogg art museum course on museology.  The course, Paul J. Sachs’ infamous ‘museum course’ taught the fundamentals of connoisseurship and museum studies for many future art historians. Lieberman also cited Harvard’s Jacob Rosenberg as inspiring his interest in prints (Castleman).  Lieberman joined MoMA’s staff in 1945 as an assistant (officially, “secretary”) to its founding director, Alfred H. Barr. Jr.  In 1949 he became director of the Museum’s new department of prints, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Print Room, within the Museum. He developed the Art Lending Service in which other museums could be lent a selection of graphics from MoMA. Lieberman experimented with the mass-market paperback publishing with Pablo Picasso: Blue and Rose Periods in 1954.  One of the few monographs published outside the Museum appeared in 1956, Matisse: 50 Years of his Graphic Art.  The same year assisted in founding The Print Council of America.  MoMA’s print collection became an independent entity within the Museum in 1960 as Department of Drawings and Prints;  Lieberman was appointed its curator.

    In 1966, he was named that Department’s director.  As director, he expanded the collection to include drawings.  The following year he was appointed MoMA’s curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture.  In that position, he mounted, among many exhibitions,  the first retrospective exhibition of Jackson Pollocks’ work in 1967. By 1969 he was the director of the Painting and Sculpture department.  When the Museum’s prints and drawings department split, Lieberman assumed the directorship of Prints in 1971.  There he chose Bernice Rose of the Museum as his curator.  Lieberman was part of a group, formed in 1972, to authenticate thousands of works by Pollock. The result was the four-volume catalogue raisonné published in 1978.  In 1979, he left MoMA to become Chair of the Twentieth-Century Art Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His last show for the MoMA was ‘Art of the Twenties’.  At the Metropolitan he was Jacques and Natasha Gelman Chairman of the Department of Twentieth-Century Art.  He advised on modern art and continued his valuable connections with many in the art world.  He died of cardiopulmonary arrest at his home in New York.

    Lieberman not only organized numerous important exhibitions of prints, drawings, and paintings, but he was also a powerhouse in his ability to acquire gifts to those institutions. This included works by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Joan Miró, and Henri Matisse. While at the Modern, he purchased the bulk of Gertrude Stein’s collection, which included over thirty-eight works by Picasso and Juan Gris. His personal works-on-paper collection included a substantial amount of Japanese prints, of which he was also an expert.  During his long career in the museum world, he wrote dozens of articles and contributed to a wide variety of exhibition catalogs and books.

    Selected Bibliography

    • Pablo Picasso: Blue and Rose Periods.  Pocket Books, Inc  (series) H. N. Abrams, 1954;
    • Matisse: 50 Years of his Graphic Art. New York: G. Braziller, 1956;
    • [numerous art exhibition catalogs for MoMA]
    • Pablo Picasso: Blue and Rose Periods. New York, H. N. Abrams, 1971;
    • and Eugene Victor Thaw, Lee Krasner, Francis V. O’Connor and Donald McKinney.  Jackson Pollock: a Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Drawings, and Other Works. 4 vols. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978;
    • The Art of the Twenties. [exhibition catalog] Museum of Modern Art, 1979
    • The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection: Masterpieces of Modern Art. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1981.


    • [obituaries]  Glueck, Grace.  “William Lieberman, 82, Prominent Curator, Dies.” New York Times, June 3, 2005;
    • Castleman, Riva. “William S. Lieberman.”  Print Quarterly 22 no. 4 (December 2005): 460-461;
    • “The Beginnings of the Print Council of America.” in, Zigrosser, Carl. A World of Art and Museums. Philadelphia: Art Alliance Press, 1975, pp. 294ff;
    • NYC LGBT Historic Sites. (website);
    • Meech, Julia.  “William Slattery Lieberman (1923-2005): Curator and Collector.”  Impressions: official publication of the Ukiyo-e Society of America 28 no. 3 (March 2006):  104-112.


    William S. Lieberman Papers.  Museum of Modern Art, New York, archives.

    Contributors: Eileen Costello and Lee Sorensen


    Eileen Costello and Lee Sorensen. "Lieberman, Bill." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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