January 20, 2013

"Inventing Abstraction,1910-1925" at MoMA

It is hard to believe but it was almost exactly a century ago, in 1911 and 1912, that American and European audiences began to see Abstract Art in museum and gallery shows.  Indeed, we are now so used to Abstract and Conceptual art that it is hard to imagine a world where nothing is left to the imagination, although some might argue that less illusion and more realism would be a good thing.

These pioneers, including Vasily Kandinsky, Marcel Duchamp, Robert Delaunay, Fernand L├ęger, Frantisek Kupka and Francis Picabia, whether by accident or design, succeeded in totally up-ending all preconceived notions of what constituted art.  And it stuck.  Art was no longer the representation of a person or an object or a landscape, it became the interpretation of ideas - a radical perspective that became the dominant theme of the 20th century.  No longer limited to the fine arts of painting, sculpture and drawing - this new approach involved unprecedented collaborations producing atonal music (think Schoenberg), sound poetry (think "Ursonata") and non-narrative dance (think Mary Wigman).

This winter season, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, under the curatorship of Leah Dickerman, is paying homage to this watershed period in art history with the special exhibition "Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925".  Ms. Dickerman has assembled a stellar group of works representing the period's most influential "isms" - Cubism, Synchromism, Orphism, Futurism, Suprematism, Constructivism and Dadaism that combined, make up the salad that is Abstraction.

 Frantisek Kupka "Localization of Graphic Motifs II", 1912-13
In what I can only suppose is an effort to bring the stone age to the internet generation, the exhibition begins with a huge flow chart indicating how artists around the world were interconnected, whether they realized it or not.  This Facebook moment is intended to drive home the point that the new fangled thinking was pervasive in the art world and its revolutionary effect was the result of primitive networking through the language of art.  For me, the more successful comparisons were inside the galleries where complimentary artists' works were hung close together so viewers could clearly see the similarities and differences.

I came away with a wonderment at how much radical change occurred in a mere decade and a half.  Despite, or maybe because of, the massive upheaval and destruction of World War I, art continued to be created but with a whole new attitude.  By 1925 the metamorphosis was entrenched and Abstraction remains a guiding factor in many art movements to this day.  "Inventing Abstraction" is on view until April 15, 2013.

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