Paul Mocsanyi

Paul Mocsanyi (in Hungarian, Mocsányi Pál) initiated and directed the New School Art Center for about 15 years. He was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1900, to a grain merchant family and attended various universities in Budapest, Vienna, and Paris, where he studied art and music without pursuing a degree. German and Hungarian were his native languages and he spoke fluent English and French.

The financial crisis drove the grain merchant company Mocsanyi had inherited from his father in 1928 into bankruptcy. He went on to serve, from 1933-1939, as a Budapest correspondent for the French News Agency, Agence Havas. Much later, in an employment application to the Central Intelligence Agency in 1962, Mocsanyi reported that he had fled Hungary in 1938 after the government accused him of “disseminating information harmful for the Hungarian economy.” [1] He continued working for Havas from Paris as head of their radio listening post (1939-1940). During this time he also worked as a news analyst for the French Foreign Office.

In 1935, Mocsanyi married the Vienna-born Edith Wachtel, a renowned pianist. The couple moved to the United States in 1941, a year after the Nazi invasion of Paris. Soon after arriving in New York, Mocsanyi started working for the United Press, and stayed with the agency for sixteen years, first as the head of their radio listening post, later as head of the library and art critic for the foreign desk. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1946.

Mocsanyi taught music and art history at the New School starting in 1958. He was appointed director of the newly founded Art Center in October 1960, established from a donation by Vera and Albert List. Mocsanyi curated several exhibitions per year, and organized panel and roundtable discussions with outside experts to further explore the exhibition themes. [2] In the first year of the Center he organized two major exhibitions, The Creative Process, which later travelled North America, and Mechanism and Organism, an outdoor exhibition of contemporary sculptures, which was favorably received by the professional art community. Also in the Center’s first year, Mocsanyi invited such figures as art historian Ernst H. Gombrich and art critic Clement Greenberg to speak at the Art Center. Mocsanyi resigned his post in January 1962 over conflicts about the terms of his employment. He was rehired, however, on his own terms, in August 1962 following the recommendation of the Art Center Committee, chaired by philanthropist and art collector Vera List.

As a curator Mocsanyi was interested in bringing the artistic process closer to the viewer. He was also interested in reflecting on contemporary political and social issues through art, in line with the school’s commitment to openly engage with progressive, provocative subjects. Some of the most important exhibitions he curated were “The American Conscience” that traced social awareness in the American art of the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s; the first ever exhibition of the Hiroshima Panels by Iri and Toshi Maruki in the US in 1970; and several exhibitions concerning the ongoing war in Vietnam. The Art Center started out with a strong educational program but, in its later years, Mocsanyi focused more on educating collectors and organizing exhibitions and events about and for collectors. In 1973, the Collectors Institute grew out of this effort, a membership organization “established exclusively for the purpose of conducting the nation’s first educational program meeting the intellectual and practical needs of the private art collector.”[3]

Mocsanyi ran the Center until he was pressed to retire in 1976, although he stayed on as curator of exhibitions for two years after his resignation. He was also a member of the Purchase Committee of the List Art Purchase Fund from its establishment in 1960, which later grew into the university’s Art Collection. Mocsanyi devoted more time to the Art Collection and the Collectors Institute after retiring from the Center, and remained involved with the school approximately until 1985.

Mocsanyi authored monographs of Karl Knaths and Alfred Van Loen, in 1957 and 1960, as well as numerous exhibition catalogs. He published more than six hundred art reviews. He appeared on portraits by artists Elaine de Kooning and Larry Rivers, both of whom regularly participated in his exhibitions.[4]

Paul Mocsanyi died in 1993 in New York, eleven years after his wife. Mocsanyi was born into a class of society that vanished in Hungary with the Soviet occupation, and his life story can be viewed as a reflection of the political and social upheavals that transformed Europe over the course of the first half of the twentieth century.

For more in the New School Archives on Paul Mocsanyi, see The New School Art Records.


[1] Application draft to the Central Intelligence Agency, 1962, New School Art Center records, NS.03.05.02, box 11, folder 2, New School Archives and Special Collections, The New School, New York, New York.

[2] Some of these events have been recorded and are now available in the Digital Archives website of the New School Archives and Special Collections.

[3] The Collectors Institute of the New School Art Center. 1975 – 1978. New School Art Center records; Records of Paul Mocsanyi (NS030502.02). New School Archives and Special Collections Digital Archive. Accessed 04 March, 2018.…



Portrait of Paul Mocsanyi, date unknown, photographer unknown, New School Marketing and Communications records, unprocessed collection, The New School Archives and Special Collections, The New School, New York, New York.