The Art Association is founded in response to the disintegration of cultural institutions on Montague Street, including the Academy of Music and Mercantile Library. As new commercial buildings rose, the cultural life of the area shifted to Lafayette Avenue. AFA’s founders wanted to ensure that America’s art collectors had access to the finest works from around the world, and envisioned the formation of an organization that would bring those works to the public.

AFA begins distributing illustrated lectures, offering an alternative to costly traveling exhibitions. Each lecture is mailed to more than 14 venues, and includes a typewritten transcript and 50 black-and-white slides. AFA also organizes its first major traveling exhibition: 38 Oil Paintings by Prominent American Artists; and, in conjunction with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Vuillard: Drawings, 1885-1930, the first comprehensive survey of the work of this great 19th-century French painter to be circulated in the U.S.

In the early days of the Cold War, AFA’s directors and trustees support a show of American artists in Moscow, which sparks controversy over its political affiliations. The show ultimately opens, and AFA stands firm in its belief that art should be free from censorship.

AFA forms the National Exhibition Committee to review exhibition proposals and make selections. In addition, AFA establishes a Film Advisory Committee to heighten awareness of the growing role of film in art museums. AFA organizes the first curatorially selected international traveling film exhibition, A History of the American Avant-Garde Cinema. Other notable film exhibitions include Soft and Apparently Soft Sculpture, curated by Lucy Lippard; and Imogen Cunningham: A Centennial Exhibition.