28 February 2013

Form without content?

I visited MoMA yesterday to see the "Inventing Abstraction" exhibition. A lukewarm show with many sins of omission. A guide was giving a gallery talk. What struck me most was the absence of big history in her discussion. The push towards abstraction took place on many fronts, but to view it without considering accelerating industrialization, advances in physics, WWI, the Russian Revolution, is to take it out of context to a great degree. This is akin to the split that Reyner Banham describes in The Architecture of the Well-tempered Environment. At some point in the recent past, there was a divorce between architecture and systems of comfort. The latter was, and still is, banned from consideration of a work of architecture. So the larger context of a work of architecture remains ignored. The same holds true for much of art in the academy (MoMA being a bastion of the academy). Despite the deep theory that accompanies much contemporary art, the same depth of investigation into wider culture doesn't seem to apply to modern art, which, it appears, is still viewed as primarily an aesthetic endeavor. So El Lissitzky is viewed as equivalent to Picasso. But Lissitzky was seeking to build a new language, divorced from the anti-Semitic, imperialist history of art.

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