Kool Aid I
“Can a museum devoted to modernism survive the death of the movement? Can it bring that death about? Ever since the beginnings of the Renaissance in the 14th century, most art movements have lasted one generation, sometimes two. Today, after more than 130 years, modernism is, at least by some measures, insanely and incongruously popular — a world brand. The first thing oligarchs do to signal sophistication, and to cleanse and store money, is collect and build personal museums of modern art, and there’s nothing museumgoers love more than a survey of a mid-century giant. In the U.S., modernism represents the triumph of American greatness and wealth, and it is considered the height of 20th-century European culture — which Americans bought and brought over (which is to say, poached).” [Jerry Saltz What the Hell Was Modernism?]
“At the heart of these riddles lies the core conundrum: what is Modernism? In art, it has fragmented and metamorphosed; in architecture and design, it has consolidated into an aesthetic that is revanchist, ubiquitous and monolithic. Its avant-garde days long in the past, the utopian movement has become a classic style, and the building, designed by the formerly renegade firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, is indistinguishable from the midtown offices that enfold it. No matter how hard curators labour to loosen categories or toy with timelines, they must go to work each day in an utterly conventional monument to corporate chic.” [MoMA makeover: has it made modern art fresh? – Ariella Budick]
If this kind of spectacle were without consequence, I doubt there’d be much response, but the wealth that supports a museum of this scale often comes from less-savory sources. This summer, artists and protestors forced Warren B. Kanders to resign from his position as a Whitney board member after revelations emerged that his company sold tear gas used on children at the border. MoMA isn’t any better. Steven A Cohen, a billionaire hedge fund manager, and MoMA board member has been implicated in multiple insider trading investigations. He donated $50 million towards the renovation and the Ofili. This Friday, a protest led by New Sanctuary Coalition demanded that among other things, MoMA trustee Larry Fink, the CEO, and chairman of the investment firm BlackRock, “divest from prison companies, the war machine and the destruction of the environment.” [Ready to Meet the New MoMA? You’ll Need More Time—and Money—Than Ever Before – Paddy Johnson]
A couple of thoughts:
Re. Modernism: It’s been critiqued in very way imaginable (it’s corporate! It’s politically regressive! It’s nostalgic!, It’s…) but the reason it doesn’t go away is because its high water marks in painting, sculpture and architecture have not been eclipsed. When someone comes up with something that looks better, Modernism will recede in to the past. Lazy post-modern critique and the art it has inspired has not proved itself equal to the task.
Re. Oligarchs: Art has always been funded by that crowd and they were always an unsavory lot: Pharaoh, the Borgias, Innocent X, and on and on up to the hedge fund managers and pill producers of the 21st century. What can be done about this? Federal funding? In America? Oh, please! “The people”? They constantly confirm that they hate and mistrust what we do!
Contemporary abstraction is caught in a twisted embrace with Modernism which ever escapes its hold and retreats further and further into the past. How much longer will we limp along in this contorted topology, that knows vaguely where it came from but for sure does not know where it is going.