another modernism?


WHAT SHAPE might the narrative of modernism in the visual arts have assumed in the absence of New York’s Museum of Modern Art? Would we envision the history and evolution of modern art differently if we had not been guided for decades by the famous flowchart that MoMA director Alfred H. Barr Jr. prepared to explain the organization of his 1936 exhibition “Cubism and Abstract Art”? Here, for the first time, Barr crystallized MoMA’s paradigmatic vision of modernism as a progressive, formalist development across the European avant-gardes that could be traced along a dense network of intersecting pathways beginning with various forms of Post-Impressionism in the 1890s and culminating by the mid-1930s in “geometrical” and “nongeometrical” abstract art. So convincing was the apparent logic of this model that for many years it effectively obliterated all other versions of how the history of modern art might be told. In the past quarter century, however, some of the powerful institutional forces that enabled MoMA’s narrative to become authoritative have been exposed, and alternative histories are now emerging to challenge the singular perspective that for so long dominated the field. Curated by Yale University Art Gallery’s Jennifer R. Gross with assistance from Susan Greenberg, the current traveling exhibition of works of art and related ephemera drawn from the Société Anonyme Collection housed at Yale University is a compelling instance of this revisionist trend, offering a distinctly different standard for appreciating the artistic and collecting practices through which modernism was initially constructed and explained to American audiences during the first half of the twentieth century.

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