He followed up with three equally searching volumes that traced the history of contemporary American art: “The New York School: The Painters and Sculptors of the Fifties” (1978), “American Art of the 1960s” (1988) and “Art of the Postmodern Era: From the Late 1960s to the Early 1990s” (1996).
In Artforum in 2004, the critic Robert Storr called Mr. Sandler’s sweeping narratives “readable and deeply informed by their author’s unrivaled access to the artists and art-worldlings about whom he writes.”
He added: “No one has seen more exhibitions in New York galleries or sat on, or in on, as many panels for as many years. Nor has anyone more scrupulously set down what people said in such forums, at openings, or in intimate studio or bar conversations than Sandler. Name a painter, sculptor, curator, critic, or idea man or woman and he will have talked to them and made notes.”
Irving Sandler was born on July 22, 1925, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, where his parents, Harry and Diana (Drozdik) Sandler, settled after escaping the revolutionary violence in what is now Ukraine. His father taught at Yiddish cultural societies with a socialist bent, a profession that took the family to Hartford, Winnipeg in Canada and eventually Philadelphia, where Mr. Sandler attended high school. After his mother died in 1933, he was reared by his stepmother, Anna (Robin) Sandler.
At 17 he enlisted in the Marine Corps, which sent him to Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., as part of an officer training program. He spent the rest of World War II with a stateside radar unit. After leaving the Marines in 1946 with the rank of second lieutenant, he attended Temple University on the G.I. Bill, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1948. Two years later he was awarded a master’s degree in American studies from the University of Pennsylvania.
His first marriage, to Lisa Aversa in 1949, ended in divorce in 1954. He married Lucy Freeman, a medieval art historian who taught at New York University before retiring, in 1958. Besides her, he is survived by a daughter, Catherine Sandler.