Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Modern Art

The Origins of Modern Art

“I have seen, and heard, much of cockney impudence before now; but never expected a coxcomb to ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.”
John Ruskin, Fors Clavigera, 1877

With this affront, John Ruskin (1819–1900) touched off a firestorm in the staid art world of late Victorian Britain. Ruskin was Britain’s most influential art critic. The target of his attack: James McNeill Whistler’s painting, Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket

James McNeill Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold: 
The Falling Rocket, c. 1875. Oil on panel, 23 x 18” (60.3 x 46.4 cm).
Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit.

Ruskin’s acidic review—in which he essentially accused the painter of being a charlatan whose only aim was to bilk art collectors of their money—provoked Whistler (1834–1913) to sue the critic for libel. The case went to court in 1878. The trial drew many spectators, eager to watch the eminent critic spar with the famously witty artist. Few observers were disappointed: according to newspaper accounts Whistler’s testimony was loaded with irony and sarcasm. For instance, when Ruskin’s attorney, John Holker, questioned the success of Nocturne in Black and Gold , asking of Whistler: “Do you think you could make me see beauty in that picture?” Whistler replied dryly: “No … I fear it would be as impossible as for the musician to pour his notes into the ear of a deaf man.”

Théophile Gautier
Preface to Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835) The first statement of Art for Art’s Sake appeared in Gautier’s preface to a novel. Critics and censors found the preface objectionable for its seeming hedonism. …Someone has said somewhere that literature and the arts influence morals. Whoever he was, he was undoubtedly a great fool. It was like saying green peas make the spring grow, whereas peas grow because it is spring…. Nothing that is beautiful is indispensable to life. You might suppress flowers, and the world would not suffer materially; yet who would wish that there were no flowers? I would rather give up potatoes than roses…. There is nothing truly beautiful but that which can never be of any use whatsoever; everything useful is ugly, for it is the expression of some need, and man’s needs are ignoble and disgusting like his own poor and infirm nature. The most useful place in a house is the water-closet.

Jacques-Louis David, The Oath of the Horatii, 
1784. Oil on canvas, 10’ 10” x 14’ (3.4 x 4.3 m). 
Musée du Louvre, Paris.

The Modern Artist
The notion that an artwork is fundamentally the expression of a particular artist’s thoughts or desires seems obvious today. But this has not always been the case. The idea that Whistler put forward is rooted—like many sources of modernism—in the eighteenth century. Until the late eighteenth century, artists in the West since the Renaissance had understood their work as part of a tradition going back to classical antiquity. Though each artist was expected to contribute uniquely to this tradition, the practice of emulation remained central to any artist’s training. Young artists would learn to create by first copying works acknowledged as superior examples of their genre, style, or medium. Only after a student fully understood the work of earlier artists and was able to reproduce such examples faithfully could he or she go on to create new forms. But even then, new works were expected to contribute to established traditions. This was the method of training used at art academies throughout Western Europe from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries. Artists achieved success by demonstrating their inventiveness within the tradition in which they worked.

For instance, one of the consummate achievements of eighteenth-century French academic art is Jacques-Louis David’s Neoclassical painting The Oath of the Horatii. The subject is taken from classical sources and had been treated earlier by other painters. For his version, David (1748–1825) emulates the crisp linearity, rich colors, and sculptural treatment of figures by earlier painters such as Nicolas Poussin, relying on him for the clear, geometrical arrangement: the bold pentagon holding old Horatio and his sons, the oval grouping of despondent women on the right. David has radically compressed the clear, stage-like architectural setting in emulation of ancient relief sculpture. Of course, David’s treatment of the theme as well as his rendering of figures and space was heralded for its freshness and novelty at the time of its initial exhibition in 1785. At this time, however, novelty and originality were subsumed within the conventions of artistic tradition.

William Blake, Nebuchadnezzar, 1795. 
Color print fi nished in ink and watercolor on paper, 21 x 28” (54.3 x 72.5 cm). 
Tate, London.

What Does It Mean to Be an Artist?:
From Academic Emulation toward Romantic Originality

The emphasis on emulation as opposed to novelty begun to lose ground toward the end of the eighteenth century when a new weight was given to artistic invention. Increasingly, invention was linked with imagination, that is to say, with the artist’s unique vision, a vision unconstrained by academic practice and freed from the pictorial conventions that had been obeyed since the Renaissance. This new attitude underlies the aesthetic interests of Romanticism. Arising in the last years of the eighteenth century and exerting its influence well into the nineteenth, Romanticism exalted humanity’s capacity for emotion. In music, literature, and the visual arts, Romanticism is typified by an insistence on subjectivity and novelty. Today, few would argue that art is simply the consequence of creative genius. Romantic artists and theorists, however, understood art to be the expression of an individual’s will to create rather than a product of particular cultural as well as personal values. Genius, for the Romantics, was something possessed innately by the artist: It could not be learned or acquired. To express genius, then, the Romantic artist had to resist academic emulation and instead turn inward, toward making pure imagination visible. The British painter and printmaker William Blake (1757–1827) typifies this approach to creativity.

Producing prophetic books based in part on biblical texts as well as on his own prognostications, Blake used his training as an engraver to illustrate his works with forceful, intensely emotional images. His depictions of familiar biblical personages, for instance, momentarily evoke for the viewer conventional representations before spinning away from the familiar into a strange new pictorial realm. His rendering of Nebuchadnezzar (fig. 1.3 ) shows the Babylonian king suffering the madness described in the Book of Daniel. The nudity and robust muscularity of the king might initially remind the viewer of the heroic Old Testament figures who people Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling, but the grimacing expression and distortions of the figure— which emphasize the king’s insanity as he “did eat grass as oxen”—quickly dispel thoughts of classical prototypes or quiet grandeur.

With Jacques-Louis David and William Blake, we have representatives of the two dominant art styles of the late eighteenth century: Neoclassicism and Romanticism. Both of these styles—along with the growing influence of art criticism, a proliferation of public art exhibitions, and an expansion in the number of bourgeois patrons and collectors— helped to lay the foundations of modern art. David’s Neoclassicism carried into the nineteenth century an awareness of tradition along with a social conscience that enabled art to assume a place at the center of political as well as cultural life in Europe. Blake’s Romanticism poured a different strain into the well from which modern art is drawn. With its insistence that originality is the mark of true genius, Romanticism demands of modern art an unceasing pursuit of novelty and renewal.

Theodore G.ricault, Cheval Devoré par un Lion (Horse Devoured by a Lion), 1820–21. 
Lithograph; black lithographic ink on prepared “stone” paper, 1013∕16 x 149∕16” (27.4 x 37 cm). 
British Museum, London.

History Painting
David and his followers tended toward history painting, especially moralistic subject matter related to the philosophic ideals of the French Revolution and based on the presumed stoic and republican virtues of early Rome. Yet painters were hampered in their pursuit of a truly classical art by the lack of adequate prototypes in ancient painting. There was, however, a profusion of ancient sculpture. Thus, it is not surprising that Neoclassical paintings such as The Oath of the Horatii (see fig. 1.2) should emulate sculptured figures in high relief within a restricted stage, which David saw in Rome, where he painted The Oath. The “moralizing” attitudes of his figures make the stage analogy particularly apt. Although commissioned for Louis XVI, whom David, as a deputy of the Revolutionary government, later voted to send to the guillotine, this rigorous composition of brothers heroically swearing allegiance to Rome came to be seen as a manifesto of revolutionary sentiment.

Of course, not all Neoclassical painters used the style in support of overtly moralizing or didactic themes. Jean- Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780–1867), a pupil of David who during his long life remained the exponent and defender of the Davidian classical tradition, exploited Neoclassicism for its capacity to achieve cool formal effects, leaving political agitation to others. His style was essentially formed by 1800 and cannot be said to have changed radically in works painted at the end of his life. Ingres represented to an even greater degree than did David the influence of Renaissance classicism, particularly that of Raphael. Although David was a superb colorist, he tended to subordinate his color to the classical ideal. Ingres, on the contrary, used a palette both brilliant and delicate, combining classical clarity with Romantic sensuousness, often in liberated, even atonal harmonies of startling boldness (fig. 1.5 ). His Grande Odalisque , though not a figure from any specific historical or mythological text, maintains the monumentality and idealization typical of history painting. Ingres’s preoccupation with tonal relationships and formal counterpoints led him to push his idealization of the female body to the limits of naturalism , offering abstractions of the models from which he worked.

The sovereign quality that Ingres brought to the classical tradition was that of drawing, and it was his drawing, his expression of line as an abstract entity—coiling and uncoiling in self-perpetuating complications that seem as much autonomous as descriptive—that provided the link between his art and that of Edgar Degas and Pablo Picasso (fig. 1.6 ).

One of the major figures of eighteenth- and nineteenthcentury Romantic history painting, who had a demonstrable influence on what occurred subsequently, was the Spaniard Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746–1828). In a long career Goya carried his art through many stages, from penetrating portraits of the Spanish royal family to a particular concern in his middle and late periods with the human propensity for barbarity. The artist expressed this bleak vision in monstrously fantastical scenes of human depravity. Like Géricault and Blake, he pursued printmaking, exploiting the relatively new medium of aquatint to endow his etchings with lush chiaroscuro effects. His brilliant cycle of prints, The Disasters of War (fig. 1.7 ), depicts the devastating results of Spain’s popular uprisings against Napoléon’s armies during the Peninsular War (1808–14), triggered by Napoléon’s determination to control the ports of Portugal and Spain. Facing certain invasion, the Spanish monarchy agreed to an alliance with the French emperor who nevertheless gave his army free rein to pillage Spanish towns as they marched to Portugal. In one of the most searing indictments of war in the history of art, Goya described, with reportorial vividness and personal outrage, atrocities committed on both sides of the conflict. While sympathetic to the modern ideas espoused by the great thinkers of the Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason, Goya was simultaneously preoccupied with the irrational side of human nature and its capacity for the most grotesque cruelty. Because of their inflammatory and ambivalent message, his etchings were not published until 1863, well after his death. During his lifetime Goya was not very well known outside Spain, despite his final years in voluntary exile in the French city of Bordeaux. Once his work had been rediscovered by Édouard Manet in the mid-nineteenth century it made a strong impact on the mainstream of modern painting.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Grande Odalisque, 
1814. Oil on canvas, 36 x 64” (91 x 162 cm). 
Louvre, Paris.

The French Romantic movement really came into its own with Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863)—through his exploration of exotic themes, his accent on violent movement and intense emotion, and, above all, through his reassertion of Baroque color and emancipated brushwork (fig. 1.8 ). He brought the same qualities to more conventional subjects drawn from literature and history. Not surprisingly, Delacroix felt drawn to scenes taken from Shakespeare, whose characters often succumb to their passions for power or love. Delacroix’s intensive study of the nature and capabilities of color derived not only from the Baroque but also from his contact with English painters such as John Constable, Richard Bonington, and Joseph Mallord William Turner. His greatest originality, however, may lie less in the freedom and breadth of his touch than in the way he juxtaposed colors in blocks of mutually intensifying complementaries, such as vermilion and blue-green or violet and gold, arranged in large sonorous chords or, sometimes, in small, independent, “divided” strokes. These techniques and their effects had a profound influence on the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, particularly Vincent van Gogh (who made several copies after Delacroix) and Paul Cézanne.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Roger Delivering 
Angelica, 1818. Graphite on white woven paper, 63∕4 x 73∕4” (17.1 x 19.7 cm). 
Harvard University Art Museums,

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, “This Is Worse,” Plate 37 from The Disasters of War, 
1810–11. Etching, 1863 edition, image 5 x 61∕8” (12.8 x 15.5 cm). 
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Eugene Delacroix, The Lion Hunt, 
1861. Oil on canvas, 301∕8 x 383∕4” (76.5 x 98.4 cm). 
The Art Institute of Chicago.

Landscape Painting

Fascinated with the awesome power of nature, Romantic artistswere, not surprisingly, drawn to the genre of landscapepainting. For some painters, the landscape offered a manifestationof the sublime, the rational workings of a deity; forothers, a symbol of humanity’s helplessness in the face of anirrational fate. Either way, the landscape served as a forcefulvehicle for Romantic meditations on the limits of human understanding and the fragility of civilization. Landscape paintings were also much sought after by early nineteenth century patrons, who could accommodate scenes of familiar as well as distant lands in their homes more easily than they could hang large-scale history paintings depicting arcane subjects from classical texts.

Although the main lines of twentieth-century painting are traditionally traced to French art, Romantic treatments of the landscape found their most characteristic manifestation in Germany. Indeed, there were critical contemporary developments in Germany, England, Scandinavia, and the LowCountries throughout much of the nineteenth century. One may, in fact, trace an almost unbroken Romantic tradition in Germany and Scandinavia—a legacy that extends from the late eighteenth century through the entire nineteenth century to Edvard Munch, the Norwegian forerunner of Expressionism, and the later German artists who admired him. Implicit in this Romantic vision is a sense that the natural world can communicate spiritual and cultural values, at times formally religious, at times broadly pantheistic.

Although landscape painting in France during the early nineteenth century was a relatively minor genre, by midcentury certain close connections with the English landscapists of the period began to have crucial effects. The painter Richard Parkes Bonington (1802–28), known chiefly for his watercolors, lived most of his brief life in France, where, for a short time, he shared a studio with his friend Delacroix. Bonington’s direct studies from nature exerted considerable influence on several artists of the Romantic school, including Delacroix, as well as landscape painters associated with the Barbizon School, which will be discussed below.

Richard Parkes Bonington, A Scene on the French Coast, c. 
1825. Watercolor and pencil on paper, 81∕4 x 133∕8” (21.3 x 34.2 cm). 
Tate, London.

Although he painted cityscapes as well as genre and historical subjects, it was the spectacular effects of Bonington’s luminous marine landscapes (fig. 1.9 ) that directly affected artists such as Johan Barthold Jongkind and Eugène Boudin, both important precursors of Impressionism (see fig. 2.27). Indeed, many of the English landscapists visited France and exhibited in the Paris Salons, while Delacroix spent time in England and learned from the direct nature studies of the English artists. Foremost among these were John Constable (1776–1837) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851). Constable spent a lifetime recording in paint those locales in the English countryside with which he was intimately familiar (fig. 1.10 ). The exhibition of several of his works, including his The Hay Wain , at the Paris Salon of 1824 brought him greater acclaim in France than he received in Britain. Delacroix, in particular, took to heart Constable’s evocative brushwork and personal engagement with nature.

John Constable, The Hay Wain, 
1819–21. Oil on canvas, 511∕4 x 73” (130.2 x 190 cm). 
The National Gallery, London.

Though his paintings and the sketches he made from nature were the product of intensely felt emotion, Constable never favored the dramatic historical landscapes, with their sublime vision of nature, for which Turner was justifiably famous in his own day. Ambitious, prolific, and equipped with virtuosi technical skills, Turner was determined to make landscapes in the grand tradition of Claude Lorrain and Poussin, whose carefully constructed, Italianate landscapes defined classical landscape painting for over two centuries. Though both were French, each decided to pursue painting in the campagna , or countryside around Rome. Turner’s first trip to Italy in 1819 was an experience with profound consequences for his art. In his watercolors and oils he explored his fascination with the often destructive forces of nature and the ever-changing conditions of light and atmosphere in the landscape. His dazzling light effects could include the delicate reflections of twilight on the Venetian canals or a dramatic view across the Thames of the Houses of Parliament in flames (fig. 1.11 ). Turner’s painterly style could sometimes verge on the abstract, and his paintings are especially relevant to developments in twentieth-century art.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Burning of the Houses of Parliament, 
1834– 35. Oil on canvas, 361∕2 x 481∕2” (92.7 x 123.2 cm). 
The Cleveland Museum of Art.

The degree to which Turner’s subjective exploration of nature led him toward abstraction did not deter John Ruskin from heralding the painter as the most significant of “modern” artists. Viewers looking today at Turner’s The Burning of the Houses of Parliament alongside Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold might wonder at Ruskin’s rejection of the latter. Like Turner, Whistler gives the majority of his canvas to the striking play of light and color against the sky. Both painters appeal to technical experimentation to achieve the dramatic incendiary effects at the center of their paintings. One place where the two differ, however, is in their handling of space. Turner remains true to the classical construction of pictorial space as divided into a clearly discernible fore-, middle-, and background. Despite its violent subject, his painting retains the balance and symmetry characteristic of classical works by Claude and Poussin. Whistler, on the other hand, abandons these conventions, plunging the viewer into an uncertain position vis-à-vis the flash of fireworks and their reflection on the surface of the river.

What is more, Whistler’s subject—the regular fireworks display over an amusement park popular among the working as well as middle classes—evokes the cheap and artificial pleasures of urban life. Turner’s work instead conveys the awesomeness of nature—here, represented by the fire—which threatens to destroy a consummate symbol of civilization.

The principal French Romantic landscape movement was the Barbizon School, a loose group named for a village in the heart of the forest of Fontainebleau, southeast of Paris. The painters who went there to work drew from the seventeenth-century Dutch landscape tradition as well as that of England. Works by Bonington and Constable rather than Turner, however, had the greatest influence on the Barbizon painters. Thus, the emphasis continued to be on unified, tonal painting rather than on free and direct color.

It was the interior of the forest of Fontainebleau, rather than the brilliant sunlight of the seashore, that appealed to them. This in itself could be considered a Romantic interpretation of nature, as the expression of intangibles through effects of atmosphere. Among the artists most closely associated with the Romantic landscape of the Barbizon School was Théodore Rousseau (1812–67). Instead of following the classical approach by visiting Italy and painting an idealized version of the campagna , Rousseau deliberately turned to the French landscape for his subjects. What is more, he refused to endow his landscapes with mythological or other narrative scenes. He painted pure landscapes, believing that nature itself provided more than sufficient thematic content. In the forests around Fontainebleau Rousseau distilled the essence of French culture and nationality; not surprisingly, the

period of his greatest popularity coincided with the establishment of France’s brief Second Republic (1848–52). In his Edge of the Forest of Fontainebleau, Sunset (fig. 1.12 ), Rousseau endows the scene with great intimacy by framing the view with trees that appear to bow as if acknowledging the presence of the viewer. The vegetation—especially the lone, backlit tree in the middle ground—seems more animated, more alive than even the cattle who staff the scene.

Other painters associated with the Barbizon School depended instead on a more literal human presence in order to animate their landscapes. Jean-François Millet (1814–75) peopled his landscapes with laborers, often treating them with a grandeur customarily reserved for biblical or classical heroes (fig. 1.13 ). As if to redeem the grinding poverty of unpropertied farm life, he integrated his field laborers into landscape compositions of Poussinesque grandeur and calm. Because of this reverence for peasant subjects Millet exerted great influence on Van Gogh (see Chapter 3).

Theodore Rousseau, Edge of the Forest of Fontainebleau, Sunset, 
1850. Oil on canvas, 557∕8 x 777∕8” (142 x 198 cm). 
Louvre, Paris.

In the end, both Neoclassicism and Romanticism (and, ultimately, modernism) can be seen as products of the Enlightenment. The eighteenth-century valorization of rationality, the faith in reason exhibited by such philosophies as Voltaire and Denis Diderot, undergirds the Neoclassical penchant for archeological accuracy, pictorial clarity, and even moral virtue. Through reason, the social as well as the natural order can be understood and, perhaps, even improved. Hence, rigorous academic training with its years of practice and emulation offered the most reliable guide to young painters. Yet, the Enlightenment had another face, a face that turned toward the emotional side of life. The philosophe Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that natural, unpolluted human emotions offered the surest means of understanding truth. For Rousseau, only by feeling something could one truly know it. This strand of the Enlightenment finds itself at the center of Romanticism, where truth is sought by turning inward, where subjective experiences are the surest markers of genius. Just as, for Rousseau, conventional schools offered only corruption and lies, academic practices struck some Romantic artists as similarly contrary to their aims.

It can fairly be said, however, that both Neoclassicism and Romanticism nourish the roots of modernism. In fact, modernism might be best understood as a struggle between the forces of objective rationality and subjective expression. At certain points in the history of modern art, one or the other might seem to gain the advantage. But the tension between the two continues to exert its influence, and the other side is never far from revealing itself. This condition makes itself felt early in the nineteenth century with the appearance of another artistic mode of representation that contributed to the evolution of modernism: Realism. A literary as well as visual style, Realism pushed the Enlightenment penchant for dispassionate rationality and social improvement to its zenith.

Jean-Fran.ois Millet, The Angelus, 
1857–59. Oil on canvas, 211∕2 x 257∕8” (55 x 66 cm). 
Mus.e d’Orsay, Paris.

The Search for Truth: Early Photography, Realism, and Impressionism
New Ways of Seeing: Photography and its Influence

 Étienne-Jules Marey, A Man Doing a High Jump, 1892.

Heinrich Kühn, Der Malschirm (The Artist’s Umbrella), 1908.

Alfred Stieglitz was the chief proponent of European Modern art in America


Although modern sculpture and architecture are reckoned to have emerged at the end of the 19th century, the beginnings of modern painting can be located earlier. The date perhaps most commonly identified, as marking the birth of modern art is 1863, the year that Édouard Manet exhibited his painting Le déjeuner sur l'herbe in the Salon des Refusés in Paris. Earlier dates have also been proposed, among them 1855 (the year Gustave Courbet exhibited The Artist's Studio) and 1784 (the year Jacques-Louis David completed his painting The Oath of the Horatii. In the words of art historian H. Harvard Arnason: "Each of these dates has significance for the development of modern art, but none categorically marks a completely new beginning .... A gradual metamorphosis took place in the course of a hundred years.”

Jacques Louis David, Oath of the horatii-1784

Jacques Louis David, The Death of Marat

Gustave Courbet, The Artist's Studio 1855

Gustave Courbet, Autoritratto

Napoleon III developed the Salon des Refusés for artists rejected from the official Salon.
Most of the Impressionists painted en plein air, which meant they painted outside the studio.

Édouard Manet, Le déjeunersur l'herbe 1863.

Édouard Manet, Olympia

Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, and the Beginnings of Expressionism
A Return to Simplicity”: The Arts and Crafts Movement and Experimental

Vincent Van Gogh, Starry Night

Vincent van Gogh, Le Café de nuit, 1888. Yale University Art Gallery

Today I am probably going to begin on the interior of the café where I have a room, by gaslight, in the evening. It is what they call here a “café de nuit,” staying open all night. “Night prowlers” can take refuge there when they have no money to pay for a lodging, or are too drunk to be taken in. All those things—family, native land—are perhaps more attractive in the imaginations of such people as us, who pretty well do without land or family either, than they are in reality. I always feel I am a traveler, going somewhere and to some destination. If I tell myself that the somewhere and the destination do not exist, that seems to me very reasonable and likely enough. The brothel keeper, when he kicks anyone out, has similar logic, argues as well, and is always right, I know. So at the end of my career I shall find my mistake. So be it. I shall find then that not only the Arts, but everything else as well, were only dreams, that one’s self was nothing at all.

Vincent van Gogh

from a letter to his brother Theo van Gogh, August 6, 1888

Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh, A Pair of Shoes

Cezanne, Apples

Mary Cassatt

While most of the Impressionists were born in France, Mary Cassatt was born in America.

Cubism Immersed in Tradition: Picasso’s Early Career Beyond Fauvism: Braque’s Early Career
Braque, Picasso, and the Development of Cubism Developments in Cubist Painting in Paris

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, “À Montrouge”—Rosa La Rouge, 1886–87.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Moulin Rouge—La Goulue, 1891.

Henry van de Velde, Tropon, c. 1899.

Pissarro, Self Portrait 1873

Pissaro was devoted to anarchist philosophies and developed an exhibition for Impressionists apart from the official Salon.

Camille PISSARRO, Baigneuses (Étude) - Bathing Women (Study) 1896

 Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884–86.

The New Century: Experiments in Color and Form

As the twentieth century dawned, the malaise of the fin de siècle subsided and la belle époque, “the beautiful age,” was under way. The ambivalence toward industrial and commercial expansion gave way to renewed optimism. Stunning new inventions promised to ease the burden of manual labor, to conquer disease, and to enhance leisure. Automobiles, cinemas, even airplanes became part of the imagination if not the everyday experience of the inhabitants of industrialized Europe and America. A willingness to experiment, to attempt what seemed impossible only months earlier, emboldened progressive artists along with their counterparts in industry and science. This zeal for experimentation brought radical new styles to the fore: Fauvism, Cubism, and Expressionism, just to name a few. It also meant that new styles evolved rapidly, with one succeeding another at a dizzying pace. In contrast to earlier periods when an established style would endure for decades or even centuries, the avant-garde styles of the early twentieth century were quickly developed then often immediately modified or abandoned.

As already indicated, this passion for innovation was not unique to the visual arts. Scientists and engineers, for instance, advanced their fields with similar energy. Aside from what might be described as a generally optimistic and progressive milieu at the start of the century, artistic innovation must also be understood as a response to a particular aesthetic demand. Originality had, since the advent of Romanticism in the late eighteenth century, become an increasingly important measure of aesthetic success for progressive artists. Yet even the avant-garde recognized that they were part of an artistic tradition. To remain in conversation with that tradition meant that artists had to retain some of the vocabulary and syntax of its language. How to balance innovation against tradition would remain a central concern for modern artists of the early twentieth century, no matter how radical their work became.

The quest for originality had already led some artists, such as Paul Gauguin, to turn away from Western formulas and instead pursue primitivism. This interest in non-Western art peaked in the early twentieth century with a particular focus on African cultures. As was the case with late nineteenth-century primitivism, this preoccupation with African art resulted in large part from European colonization of most of the continent. Though not initially greeted with the same enthusiasm as Asian or Oceanic artworks, by the 1920s sub-Saharan African sculpture, in particular, came to symbolize the “primitive,” pre-industrial “other” in the imaginations of many Europeans and North Americans. By extension, African or African-seeming forms and motifs were seen as markers of novelty and, hence, originality. So potent was the link between African art and originality that several artists and critics claimed to have been the “discoverer” of this art. Of course, most Western artists gained familiarity with African works through magazine illustrations or through visits to ethnographic museums, a reminder that the avant-garde’s understanding of non-Western cultures was highly mediated by the desires and assumptions of their own societies. These tensions—between Western and non-Western forms, between tradition and innovation—make themselves felt acutely in the work of Henri Matisse and the Fauves.

Henri Matisse, La Desserte (Dinner Table), 1896–97.


“Donatello au milieu des fauves!” (“Donatello among the wild beasts!”) was the ready quip of Louis Vauxcelles, art critic for the review Gil Blas, when he entered Gallery VII at Paris’s 1905 Salon d’Automne and found himself surrounded by blazingly colored, vehemently brushed canvases in the midst of which stood a small neo-Renaissance sculpture. With this witticism Vauxcelles gave its name to the first French avant-garde style to emerge in the twentieth century. It should be noted, however, that Vauxcelles was generally sympathetic to the work presented by the group of young painters, as were other liberal critics.

The starting point of Fauvism was later identified by Henri Matisse, its sober and rather professorial leader, as “the courage to return to the purity of means.” Matisse and his fellow Fauves—André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Georges Rouault, Raoul Dufy, and others—allowed their search for immediacy and clarity to show forth with bold, almost unbearable candor. While divesting themselves of Symbolist literary aesthetics, along with fin-de-siècle morbidity, the Fauves reclaimed Impressionism’s direct, joyous embrace of nature and combined it with Post-Impressionism’s heightened color contrasts and emotional, expressive depth. Following the example of Post-Impressionists like Gauguin and Van Gogh, they emancipated color from its role of describing external reality and concentrated on the medium’s ability to communicate directly the artist’s experience of that reality by exploiting the pure chromatic intensity of paint. Fauvism burst onto the Parisian art scene at a time when the heady pace of change in the arts, as in society as a whole, was coming to be seen as part of the new, modern world order. Moreover, as artists from many different countries and backgrounds were drawn to Paris, seeking contact with the exciting new developments there, Fauve paintings made a deep impression on the new generation of avant-garde artists who were also coming to terms with the possibilities for painting opened up by Cézanne.

Inevitably, the Fauves’ emphasis on achieving personal authenticity meant that they would never form a coherent movement. But before drifting apart as early as 1907, the Fauves made certain definite and unique contributions. Though none of them attempted complete abstraction, as did their contemporaries Vasily Kandinsky or Robert Delaunay, for example, they extended the boundaries of representation, based in part on their exposure to non-Western sources, such as African art. For subject matter they turned to portraiture, still life, and landscape. In the last, especially in the art of Matisse, they revisualized Impressionism’s culture of leisure as a pagan ideal of bonheur de vivre, the “joy of life.” Most important of all, the Fauvist painters practiced an art in which the painting was conceived as an autonomous creation, freed from serving narrative or symbolic ends.

 Henri Matisse, Luxe, calme et volupté (Luxury, Calm, and Pleasure), 1904–05.

“Purity of Means” in Practice: Henri Matisse’s Early Career

Henri Matisse (1869–1954) first studied law, but by 1891 he had enrolled in the Académie Julian, studying briefly with the rigidly academic painter William Bouguereau, who came to represent everything he rejected in art. The following year he entered the École des Beaux-Arts and was fortunate enough to study with Gustave Moreau (see fig. 3.10), a dedicated teacher who encouraged his students to find their own directions not only through individual experiment but also through constant study in museums. In Moreau’s studio, Matisse met Georges Rouault, Albert Marquet, Henri-Charles Manguin, Charles Camoin, and Charles Guérin, all of whom were later associated with the Fauves.

Matisse’s work developed slowly from the dark tonalities and literary subjects he first explored. By the late 1890s he had discovered the Pointillist paintings of Seurat and his followers, known collectively as Neo-Impressionists, along with artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec and, most importantly, Cézanne. In about 1898 he began to experiment with figures and still lifes painted in bright, non-descriptive color.

In 1900, Matisse entered the atelier of Eugène Carrière, a maker of dreamily romantic figure paintings. There he met André Derain, who introduced him to Maurice de Vlaminck the following year, completing the principal Fauve trio.

Around that time, Matisse also worked in the studio of the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, making his first attempts at sculpture and demonstrating the abilities that were to make him one of the great painter–sculptors of the twentieth century.

Earliest Works

Moreau’s admonition to copy the Old Masters instilled in Matisse an unflagging concern for artistic tradition and his relationship to it. Among the paintings that Matisse copied in the Louvre during his student days was a still life by the seventeenth-century Dutch painter Jan Davidszoon de Heem. Matisse’s version was a free copy, considerably smaller than the original. In 1915, he would even make a Cubist variation of the work. At the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts (known as the Salon de la Nationale) of 1897, he exhibited his own composition of a still life, Dinner Table (fig. 5.1), which was not favorably received by the conservatives.

Though highly traditional on the face of it, this work was one of Matisse’s most complicated and carefully constructed compositions to date, and it was his first truly modern work. While it still depended on locally descriptive color, this painting revealed in its luminosity an interest in the Impressionists. The abruptly tilted table that crowds and contracts the space of the picture anticipated the artist’s subsequent move toward radical simplification in his later treatment of similar subjects (see fig. 5.21). Male Model of about 1900 (fig. 5.2) carried this process of simplification and contraction several stages further, even to the point of some distortion of perspective, to achieve a sense of delimited space. Again, Matisse has chosen to experiment with a very conventional subject: a male nude. A single male figure, often clearly in a studio pose, was known as an académie and was central to the training of any aspiring academician. The modeling of the figure in abrupt facets of color was a direct response to the paintings of Cézanne, whose influence Matisse here brings to bear on what most progressive painters would perceive as a tired academic exercise. On the contrary, Matisse’s fusion of Cézanne’s radica treatment of space, pigment, and brushwork with an académie announces Matisse’s intention of realizing Cézanne’s dream to “make of Impressionism something solid and lasting like the art in the museums.”

At around the same time, Matisse began working on a related sculpture (fig. 5.3). The Serf was begun in 1900, but not completed until 1904. Although sculpted after the well-known model Bevilacqua, who had not only posed for Matisse’s Male Model but also for Rodin, The Serf was adapted in attitude and concept (although on a reduced scale) from a Rodin sculpture called Walking Man. In The Serf Matisse carried the expressive modeling of the surface even further than Rodin, and halted the forward motion of the figure by adjusting the position of the legs into a solidly static pose and truncating the arms above the elbow.

Between 1902 and 1905 Matisse exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants and at the galleries of Berthe Weill and Ambroise Vollard. The latter was rapidly becoming the principal dealer for the avant-garde artists of Paris. When the more liberal Salon d’Automne was established in 1903, Matisse showed there, along with the Nabi painter Pierre Bonnard (see figs. 3.31, 3.32, and 3.33) and a fellow alumnus of Moreau’s studio, Albert Marquet. But most notorious was the Salon d’Automne of 1905, in which a room of paintings by Matisse, Vlaminck, Derain, and Rouault, among others, is supposed to have occasioned the remark by Vauxcelles that gave the group its permanent name.

Matisse’s Fauve Period

The word fauve made particular reference to these artists’ brilliant, arbitrary color, more intense than the “scientific” color of the Neo-Impressionists and the non-descriptive color of Gauguin and Van Gogh, and to the direct, vigorous brushwork with which Matisse and his friends had been experimenting the previous year at St. Tropez and Collioure in the south of France. The Fauves accomplished the liberation of color toward which, in their different ways, Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Seurat, and the Nabis had been experimenting. Using similar means, the Fauves were intent on different ends. They wished to use pure color squeezed directly from the tube, not to describe objects in nature, not simply to set up retinal vibrations, not to accentuate a romantic or mystical subject, but to build new pictorial values apart from all these.

For the Fauves, all pictorial elements could be realized through the use of pure color. Even space and the modeling of form could be rendered through color without recourse to Renaissance tricks of perspective or chiaroscuro. Thus, in a sense, they were using the color of Gauguin and Seurat, freely combined with their own linear rhythms, to reach effects similar to those constantly sought by Cézanne, whom Matisse revered.

Earlier in 1905, at the Salon des Indépendants, Matisse had already exhibited his large Neo-Impressionist composition Luxe, calme et volupté(fig. 5.4), a title taken from a couplet in Baudelaire’s poem L’Invitation au voyage (see Baudelaire, Invitation to the Voyage, below). In this important work, which went far along the path to abstraction, he combined the mosaic land-scape manner of Signac (who bought the painting) with figure organization that recalls Cézanne’s many compositions of bathers (see fig. 3.9), one of which Matisse owned. At the left of this St. Tropez beach scene, Matisse depicted his wife, Amélie, beside a picnic spread. But this mundane activity is transported to a timeless, arcadian world populated by languid nudes relaxing along a beach that has been tinged with dazzling red. With Luxe, therefore, Matisse offered a radical reinterpretation of the grand pastoral tradition in landscape painting, best exemplified in France by the seventeenth-century painters Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin.

As in many of the paintings that postdate this work, Matisse’s idyllic world is exclusively female. The significance of this inclination deserves consideration at this point. As mentioned earlier, the nude male figure, the subject of countless académies, was traditionally considered the most important subject for an ambitious young artist to learn to manage. Decorum as well as a predilection for themes from classical antiquity led academic artists to view the heroic nude male (as opposed to nude female) body as a particularly elevated motif. Nude women were largely confined to the lesser genres: minor classical subjects such as the Loves of the Gods or scenes of everyday life. Avant-garde artists since Courbet, however, tended to address their nude studies to female models. This shift might be explained in terms of the avant-garde’s rejection of academic hierarchies.

Another, more compelling, factor that contributed to this shift is the long-standing association between femininity and nature. The female body served for many artists as a metaphor for essential, uncorrupted nature. In this way, the nude female figure served the avant-garde in much the same way that non-Western motifs did: as guarantors of aesthetic authenticity. Of course, the erotic character of many avant-garde treatments of the female body also reveals the enduring association between artistic creativity and masculine sexual potency, a link that will come under sharp scrutiny by later, especially feminist, artists.

While Matisse wrestled with the legacy of classicism through his work, the sculptor Aristide Maillol (1861–1944) found in classical antiquity a reassuring source for his formal experiments. Maillol began as a painter and tapestry designer; he was almost forty when the onset of a dangerous eye disease made the meticulous practice of weaving difficult, and he decided to change to sculpture. He began with woodcarvings that had a definite relation to his paintings and to the Nabis and the Art Nouveau environment in which he had been working at the turn of the century (see Chapters 3 and 4). However, he soon moved to clay modeling and developed a mature style that changed little throughout his life. That style is summarized in one of his very first sculptures, The Mediterranean (fig. 5.5), a massive, seated female nude, integrated as a set of curving volumes in space. He developed a personal brand of classicism that simplified the body into idealized, geometric forms and imparted a quality of psychological withdrawal and composed reserve.

Shown at the infamous Salon d’Automne of 1905 (known as the Fauve Salon), Maillol’s Mediterranean would have provided a cool, monumental counterpoint to the flashing scenes mounted on the walls. It was there that Matisse exhibited The Open Window (fig. 5.6), which is perhaps the first fully developed example of a theme favored by him throughout the rest of his life. It is simply a small fragment of the wall of a room, taken up principally with a large window whose casements are thrown wide to the outside world—a balcony with flowerpots and vines, and beyond that the sea, sky, and boats of the harbor at Collioure. It was at this Mediterranean port, during the summer of 1905, that Matisse and Derain produced the first Fauve paintings.

In The Open Window the inside wall and the casements are composed of broad, vertical stripes of vivid green, blue, purple, and orange, while the outside world is a brilliant pattern of small brushstrokes, ranging from stippled dots of green to broader strokes of pink, white, and blue in sea and sky.

This diversity of paint handling, even in adjoining passages within the same picture, was typical of Matisse’s early Fauve compositions. Between his painterly marks, Matisse left bare patches of canvas, reinforcing the impact of brushstrokes that have been freed from the traditional role of describing form in order to suggest an intense, vibrating light. By this date, the artist had already moved far beyond any of the Neo-Impressionists toward abstraction.

In Neo-Impressionism, as in Impressionism, the generalized, allover distribution of color patches and texture had produced a sense of atmospheric depth, at the same time that it also asserted the physical presence and impenetrability of the painting surface. Matisse, however, structured an architectural framework of facets and planes that are even broader and flatter than those of Cézanne, suppressing all sense of atmosphere; internal illumination, the play of light within a painting that suggests physical depth, is replaced with a taut, resistant skin of pigment that reflects the light.

Rather than allowing the viewer to enter pictorial space, this tough, vibrant membrane of color and pattern draws the eye over and across, but rarely beyond, the picture plane. And even in the view through the window, the handling is so vigorously self-assertive that the scene appears to advance more than recede, as if to turn inside out the Renaissance conception of the painting as a simulacrum of a window open into the infinite depth of the real world. As presented by Matisse, the window and its sparkling view of a holiday marina become a picture within a picture. This is a theme the artist often pursued, transforming it into a metaphor of the modernist belief that the purpose of painting was not to represent the perceptual world but rather to use visual stimuli to take the viewer beyond the perceptual reality—or the illusion of perceptual reality—that was the stock-in-trade of earlier Western art.

Shortly after exhibiting The Open Window, Matisse painted an audacious portrait of his wife. In Portrait of Madame Matisse/The Green Line (fig. 5.7), the sitter’s face is dominated by a brilliant pea-green band of shadow dividing it from hairline to chin. At this point Matisse and his Fauve colleagues were building on the thesis put forward by Gauguin, the Symbolists, and the Nabis: that the artist is free to use color independently of natural appearance, building a structure of abstract color shapes and lines foreign to the figure, tree, or still life that remains the basis of the structure. Perhaps Matisse’s version was more immediately shocking because his subject was so simple and familiar, unlike the exotic scenes of Gauguin or the mystical fantasies of Redon, in which such arbitrary colorism seemed more acceptable. With its heavy, emphatic strokes and striking use of complementary hues, the painting is actually closest to portraits by Van Gogh (see fig. 3.27).

The artist’s experiments with Poussinesque arcadian figure compositions climaxed in the legendary Le Bonheur de vivre (fig. 5.8), a painting filled with diverse reminiscences of past art, from The Feast of the Gods, by Giovanni Bellini and Titian, to Persian painting, from prehistoric cave paintings to a composition by Ingres (see fig. 1.5). In this large work (it is nearly eight feet, or 2.5 m, wide), the artist has blended all these influences into a masterful arrangement of figures and trees in sinuous, undulating lines reminiscent of contemporary Art Nouveau design (see Ch. 4, pp. 74–84).

Le Bonheur de vivre is filled with a mood of sensual languor; figures cavort with Dionysian abandon in a landscape that pulsates with rich, riotous color. Yet the figure groups are deployed as separate vignettes, isolated from one another spatially as well as by their differing colors and contradictory scales. As Matisse explained, Le Bonheur de vivre “was painted through the juxtaposition of things conceived independently but arranged together.” He made several sketches for the work, basing his vision on an actual landscape at Collioure, which he painted in a lush sketch without figures that still contains some of the broken color patches of Neo-Impressionism. The circle of ecstatic dancers in the distance of Le Bonheur de vivre, apparently inspired by the sight of fishermen dancing in Collioure, became the central motif of Matisse’s 1909–10 painting, Dance (II) (see fig. 5.22). Le Bonheur de vivre is an all-important, breakthrough picture; it was bought immediately by the American writer Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo, among the most adventurous collectors of avant-garde art at the time. It was through the Steins, in fact, that Matisse was eventually introduced to Picasso, who admired Le Bonheur de vivre in their apartment.

  Henri Matisse, Le Bonheur de vivre (The Joy of Life), 1905–06.

Gustav Klimt, Detail of dining-room mural, c. 1905–08.

Gustav Klimt, Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907.

Georges Braque, Viaduct at L’Estaque, 1907.

Pablo Picasso - Masters of the Modern Era (BBC Documentary)

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, June–July 1907.

Georges Braque, Large Nude, 1908.

In place of the official art culture, Modern artists have created what has been called an avant-garde

Henry Matisse, Dance

Henry Matisse, Blue Nude I 1952

The World Turned Upside Down: The Birth of Dada “Her Plumbing and Her Bridges”: Dada Comes to America “Art is Dead”

 Hannah Höch, 1919–20.

Marcel Janco, Mask, 1919.

Raoul Hausmann, The Spirit of Our Time (Mechanical Head), 1919

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain 1917

Marcel Duchamp, LHOOQ

Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, 1912.

Bauhaus and the Teaching of
Modernism The Architecture of Gropius The Building as Entity: The Bauhaus
The Vorkurs: Basis of the Bauhaus Curriculum From Bauhaus Dessau to Bauhaus U.S.A.

Percy Wyndham Lewis, Composition, 1913.

 Percy Wyndham Lewis, Blast cover, July 1915.

 Carlo Carrà, Patriotic Celebration (Free-Word Painting), 1914.

 Kazimir Malevich, Suprematist Composition- White Square on White, 1918.

 El Lissitzky, Proun 99, 1924–25.

Aleksandr Rodchenko, Untitled advertising poster, 1924.  

American Art Before World War II The Truth about America: The Eight and Social Criticism

A Rallying Place for Modernism: 291 Gallery and the Stieglitz Circle. Coming to America: The Armory Show.

Piet Mondrian, Broadway

Abstract Expressionism and the New American Sculpture

Mondrian in New York: The Tempo of the Metropolis Entering a New Arena: Modes of Abstract Expressionism

Piet Mondrian 21

Amadeo Modigliani, Red Nude 1917

Taking Chances with Popular Culture “This is Pop Art in Britain Pop Art in the United States

 Joan Miró, Nude with Mirror, 1919.

 Joan Miró, Carnival of Harlequin, 1924–25.

 Salvador Dalí, Persistance de la mémoire (The Persistence of Memory), 1931.

Modern Masters - Salvador Dali (BBC Documentary)

Salvador Dalí, Soft Construction with Boiled Beans- Premonitions of Civil War, 1936.

 Joan Miró, The Poetess from the series Constellations, December 31, 1940.

Joan Miró
Miró exhibited with the Surrealists from the beginning and embraced biomorphic abstraction.

Discoveries in psychology, especially the work of Freud influenced Modern art.

Fauvismmeans “wild beast” and was the name of an art movement that included
Henri Matisse.

Collage, a term which comes from the French term “to paste” was an important aspect of
Synthetic Cubism.

The readymade was a concept of the artist Duchamp, where he could transform any object into art by deciding to do so.

Picasso’s painting Guernica (figure 31-1) depicts an image of the bombing of civilians.
After World War II, many artists questioned the nature of art itself.

The Armory Show was a turning point for Modern art in the United States.

Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were influences on the artist Jackson Pollock in developing his spontaneous, improvisational style.

Several action painters worked on the floor as a way to free themselves from the constraints of the easel.

 Hans Hofmann, Spring, 1944–45 (dated 1940 on reverse).

The Surrealists developed many techniques for liberating the unconscious.

Constructivism was a direct outgrowth of the Russian Revolution.

A spare, geometric style of Modern architecture in Europe developed in response to Art Nouveau.

Hartley, Dove, and O’Keeffe were all supported by Alfred Stieglitz and shown in his gallery.

Léger was deeply influenced by his war experiences which led him to see the beauty in everyday objects.

 The City, Fernand Leger 1919, oil on canvas, The Philadelphia Museum of Art

Three Women, Fernand Leger 1921

Three Women is an example of Leger’s smooth forms, created with machine-like solidity and a precision reminiscent of technology. In the tradition of classical images of female nudes, the three women recline in a chic apartment, sipping their drinks. The bodies of the women have been simplified into clean forms of smooth shapes, their smooth skin polished like metal. After serving in World War I, in which he was badly injured, Leger hoped that technological advances and the machine age would cure the chaos unleashed by the war. His quasi-mechanical shapes exemplify his intent to use art as a representation of the possibilities of the machine age. 

Mark Rothko, No. 1 (No. 18, 1948), 1948–49.

Mark Rothko, Untitled (Rothko number 5068.49), 1949.

Mark Rothko, no-8-1952

 Willem de Kooning, Woman I, 1950–52.

Franz Kline, Nijinsky, 1950.

Jackson Pollock, Number 1A, 1948, 1948.

Jackson Pollock

Conceptual and Activist Art
Art as Language Conceptual Art as Cultural Critique
The Medium Is the Message: Early Video Art When Art Becomes
Artist: Body Art Radical Alternatives: Feminist Art

Post- Minimalism, Earth Art, and New Imagists Metaphors for Life Earthworks and Land Art. Public Statements: Monuments and Large- Scale Sculpture. Body of Evidence: Figurative Art. Animated Surfaces: Pattern and Decoration Figure and Ambiguity

Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe 1962

Andy Warhol, Autoritratto

Roy Lichtenstein, "Drowning Girl," 1963

Lucio Fontana
Arte Povera was centered in Italy

Barbara-kruger Untitled (Your body is a battleground), 1989

Painting through History The Sum of Many Parts: Abstraction in the 1980s Taking Art to the Streets: Graffiti and Cartoon Artists Painting Art History

Jean Michel Basquiat

Robert Mapplethorpe Ken Moody and Robert Sherman,1984

Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe Man In A Polyester Suit. 1980

Many Conceptual artists used their bodies as an artistic medium.

Ana Mendieta

Ana Mendieta

Ana Mendieta

Christo and Jeanne-Claude make temporary site-specific artworks.

The Limits of Modernism: Minimalism

It will be clear by now that several trends characterize the painting and sculpture of the 1960s, with a number of artists blurring the distinction between these two media. Discussed less explicitly is the ideological background to the various approaches to art making, particularly sculpture, during this decade. With the publication of Clement Greenberg’s collection of essays Art and Culture in 1961, and the continued success of the Abstract Expressionist artists whose work he had championed since the 1940s, Greenberg’s influence was at its height. However, just when his modernist view-point prevailed, artists began to question the basis for his valuations of excellence. According to Greenberg, the best modern art continued the historical trajectory of painting since the time of Manet, which he understood to involve a progressive evolution toward flatness as artists became increasingly effective at exploiting those qualities specific to the medium of paint. For Greenberg, even sculpture was to be judged by the same criterion of displaying opticality rather than illusionistic volume. Many of the artists who would come to redefine the limits of aesthetic inquiry simply failed to accept the continuing relevance of Greenberg’s doctrine. Whether through active confrontation with his conception of modernism or by rejecting entirely the terms by which modern art had come to be circumscribed by critics and theorists, Minimalism emerged in the 1960s as a forceful riposte to existing aesthetic categories.

The term Minimalism was coined in 1965 to characterize an art of extreme visual reduction, but many Minimalist artists resisted its application to their work. Although the pronounced simplicity of their art was ostensibly in keeping with Greenbergian principles of truth to the medium and the evolution of flatness—that is, the elimination of the illusion of depth on a two-dimensional surface—Minimalism also served to undermine this version of modernism. Minimalist artists discussed their ideas in print, providing an intellectual justification for their dissatisfaction with modernist criticism.

With Greenberg and his followers advocating that painting should embrace those qualities unique to the medium (flat-ness, pictorial surface, and the effect of pure opticality) and that sculpture should aspire to similar goals (an emphasis on surface and optical effect), Minimalist artists began agitating against the supremacy of painting and, above all, to stress the primacy of the object itself. Here, the legacy of Marcel Duchamp and his readymades can be discerned, a legacy made all the more important for American artists by the 1963 retrospective of his work at the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum) in California. Yet, Minimalist artists denied the modernist belief that works of art should be autonomous—that they should exist on their own terms irrespective of context—and instead considered the importance of a work’s environment. They often took into account theories of the psychology of perception and emphasized the importance of the audience’s interaction with their pieces, arguing that art need not be absorbed from a single viewpoint in a purely optical fashion. Minimalist art considered not only the eyes of the spectator, but also the body.

In order to understand the relationship between modernism and Minimalism, it is helpful to consider the work of a key 1960s modernist, the British sculptor Anthony Caro (b. 1924). His work has been discussed in opposition to Minimalism by the critic Michael Fried, who acknowledges his sympathy with Greenberg’s ideas. For Fried, Caro exemplifies modernism while the Minimalists are dismissed as antimodernist. Caro was particularly influenced by the example of Henry Moore (see figs. 14.49, 14.50, 17.43), for whom he worked as an assistant between 1951 and 1953.

Subsequently, he began to experiment with new materials and with the production of welded metal sculpture. He was encouraged to pursue this direction by a lengthy trip in 1959 to the United States, where he met Clement Greenberg, David Smith, and Kenneth Noland (see figs. 16.31–16.33, 20.18, 20.19).

On returning to England, Caro worked actively in a modernist vein, producing sculptures that stressed their presence as physical objects less than their dematerialized optical appearance. Greenberg’s 1961 essay on the sculpture of David Smith clarified the goal toward which Caro’s work strived: To render substance entirely optical, and form, whether pictorial, sculptural or architectural, as an integral part of ambient space—this brings anti-illusionism full circle. Instead of the illusion of things, we are now offered the illusion of modalities: namely, that matter is incorporeal, weightless and exists only optically like a mirage.

In similar fashion, Caro’s works often seem to dematerialize in front of the eye, registering their surfaces rather than any sense of bulk. The bright planes of Midday (fig. 20.33) appear almost to float. Similarly, elements of Riviera (fig. 20.34) seem to hover effortlessly in the air. Thus, the opticality of Caro’s sculptures—their appeal to a purely visual experience—along with their emphasis on compositional unity, on the harmonious balance of discrete elements brought together as a whole, place them squarely in the modernist camp.


The art of Frank Stella (b. 1936) straddled the line between Minimalism and the modernism advocated by Greenberg. Stella first gained wide recognition in 1960 with a number of works exhibited by New York’s Museum of Modern Art during one of its periodic group shows of American artists, on this occasion entitled Sixteen Americans. The “black” paintings shown there were principally large, vertical rectangles, with an absolutely symmetrical pattern of light lines forming regular, spaced rectangles (fig. 20.35). These lines were not formed by adding white pigment to the canvas—rather, they marked the areas where Stella had not laid paint down. In their balanced symmetry and repetition of identical motifs, his paintings had a compelling power of their own, which led modernist critics to praise their optical qualities (fig. 20.36). Over the next few years, using copper or aluminum paint, Stella explored different shapes for the canvas, suggested by variations on his rectilinear pattern. In these, he used deep framing edges, which gave a particular sense of solidity to the painting. In 1964 the artist initiated a series of “notched V” compositions, whose shapes resulted from the joining of large chevrons.

After some explorations of more coloristic rectangular stripe patterns, at times with optical effects, about 1967 Stella turned to brilliantly chromatic shapes, interrelating protractor-drawn semicircles with rectangular or diamond effects. These “protractor” works (fig. 20.37) sometimes suggest abstract triptychs, with their circular tops recalling late Renaissance altarpieces. The apparent stress that these works placed on their qualities as objects—as opposed to a strictly optical character—was extremely appealing to Minimalists. At the same time, two friends and former schoolmates of Stella’s, Greenbergian critic Michael Fried and Minimalist artist Carl Andre, both struggled for his allegiance. Fried repeatedly claimed that Stella represented modernist principles; Andre worked closely with him and, when Stella’s Black paintings were included in the Sixteen Americans exhibition, he wrote a statement about them at the artist’s request.

Although Stella refused to connect himself firmly with one group or the other, his work continued to undermine any strict division between painting and sculpture. To understand the difficulty in placing his works of the 1960s into a ready category—modernist or Minimalist—the aesthetic concerns motivating Minimalism must be addressed.

Smith, Judd, and Morris




 Richard Serra

 Richard Serra
Tony Smith-Marriage

Tony Smith-Night

 Tony Smith-We Lost

Minimalism’s clearest early statements came in the form of sculpture. Despite the fact that the sculptor Tony Smith (1912–80) matured artistically during the 1940s and 50s, his most important impact was felt during the 1960s. He came to be celebrated by other Minimalists for pronouncements about the nature of art in general (see Tony Smith Interview, below), and about his art in particular, which helped to define the new approach of the group as a whole. Smith’s belief that one had to experience art, not merely imbibe its significance by standing in front of it, manifested itself in his large, abstract pieces, which subvert traditional categories of sculpture and experience. Cigarette, 1961–66, demands a physical interaction with the viewer (fig. 20.38); as he or she moves around the structure, certain aspects of it appear as others fade from sight. Both memory and movement are required for the appreciation of the work.

Despite its association with an everyday, disposable object, the sculpture is by no means pictorial; nor can it be easily cast aside or discarded. Smith’s Die of 1962 (fig. 20.39) has still more obvious affiliations with the common object its name evokes. However, its scale has been radically increased and the cube bears none of a die’s traditional markings. Die is not an object that can be thrown thoughtlessly by a human hand. Indeed, the sculpture’s dimensions—six feet cubed (1.8 m)—recall the depth of a grave, lending an ominous pall to the object’s association with games of chance.

Donald Judd (1928–94) was one of Minimalism’s most important sculptors and theorists. With his art criticism and, in particular, his 1965 essay “Specific Objects,” he helped to define the convictions behind the Minimalist questioning of the traditional categories of painting and sculpture. As he wrote in 1965, “A work can be as powerful as it can be thought to be. Actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface… A work need only be interesting.” For Judd, the “specific object” could not be classified as either a painting or a sculpture, or even precisely described prior to its making, except in principle. The specific object was less about creating particular structures and more about an attitude toward artmaking. Through his sculpture, Judd carried the objective attitude to a point of extreme precision. He repeated identical units, often quadrangular, at regular intervals (figs. 20.40,20.41).

These are made of galvanized iron or aluminum, occasion-ally with Plexiglas. Although Judd sometimes painted the aluminum in strong colors, he at first used the galvanized iron in its original unpainted form, something that seemed to emphasize its neutrality. Progressively, however, he used color more frequently in his work, which he began to have professionally manufactured in the mid-1960s.

Judd vehemently insisted that Minimal sculpture—most specifically his own—constituted a direction essentially different from earlier Constructivism or rectilinear abstract painting. The difference, as he saw it, lay in his search for an absolute unity or wholeness through repetition of identical units in absolute symmetry. Even Mondrian “composed” a picture by asymmetrical balance of differing color areas.

Judd’s works raise fundamental questions concerning the nature and even the validity of the work of art, the nature of the aesthetic experience, the nature of space, and the nature of sculptural form. Like those of most Minimalist sculptors, his works progressively expanded in scale. In 1974 he introduced spatial dividers into his sculptures. Three years later he began to construct large-scale works in cement to be installed in the landscape, creating structures that resonate with their environment as they impose order on the movement and experience of a visitor to the site (fig. 20.42).

Robert Morris (b. 1931), who during the 1960s was associated with Minimal sculpture, later became a leader in a wide variety of sculptural and environmental art forms. A student of Tony Smith, Morris, like Donald Judd, proved to be a persuasive advocate of Minimal art. His Notes on Sculpture provided an important statement about the heritage to which the Minimalists felt themselves heir—a tradition marked by the Constructivists, the work of David Smith, and the paintings of Mondrian—but perhaps even more important, also about the Gestalt principles he believed to be crucial to Minimal sculpture. Gestalt (German for “shape” or “form”) theory focuses on human perception, describing our ability to understand certain visual relationships as shapes or units. To ascribe Gestalt to an artwork is to recognize its possession of meaningful, compelling form.

Through his familiarity with these theories, Morris posited that one’s body has a fundamental link to one’s perception and experience of sculpture. According to Morris, “One knows immediately what is smaller and what is larger than himself. It is obvious, yet important, to take note of the fact that things smaller than ourselves are seen differently than things larger.” Morris’s sensitivity to the impact of scale and the corresponding implications of publicness or privateness led to his pioneering work in the organization of entire rooms into a unity of sculptural mass and space.

During the 1960s and 70s, the monumental size of much Minimal sculpture led inevitably to the concept of sculpture designed for a specific space or place. This in turn resulted in ideas such as the use of the gallery space itself as an element in an architectural–sculptural organization. An early experiment in this direction was Morris’s 1964 exhibition at the Green Gallery in New York, where large, geometric sculptural modules were integrated within the room, whose space became an element of the total sculpture (fig. 20.43). The idea, of course, had been explored earlier by such varied sculptural environments as Schwitters’s Merzbau (see fig. 10.24) of the 1920s and Yves Klein’s Le Vide exhibition of the late 1950s, in which the spectators provided the sculptural accents for the empty, whitewalled gallery.

The implications of sculpture in place were explored and expanded enormously during the 1970s and extended to environments based on painting, Conceptualism, and Earthworks.

LeWitt, Andre, and Serra

Sol LeWitt (1928–2007) produced Minimalist sculptures and paintings. His early sculpture consisted of open, identical cubes integrated to form proportionately larger units. These cubes increase in scale until they dominate the architectural space that contains them (fig. 20.44). In such works, the physical essence is only the outline of the cubes, while the cubes themselves are empty space. Like Judd and Morris, LeWitt made important theoretical contributions to artistic practice during the later 1960s. His Paragraphs on Conceptual Art, published in 1967, reiterated the discomfort of Minimalist artists with Greenbergian standards of quality and set the stage for the recognition of yet another digression from the modernism endorsed by Greenberg—Conceptual art (see Chapter 22). LeWitt’s essay argued that the most important aspect of a work of art was the idea behind it rather than its form: “The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.” LeWitt’s 1968 Box in the Hole put his thesis into practice. Created in the Netherlands, this work consisted of a metal cube that the artist buried, covered over, and preserved in a series of recorded photographs.

During the early 1970s, LeWitt exploited gallery space in another way—by drawing directly on the walls. These drawings—frequently destroyed at the close of each exhibition—were generally accumulations of rectangles, drawn with a ruler and pencil, toned to various degrees of gray, and accompanied by written specifications, which ensured that a given work could be executed by assistants in the artist’s stead. Following LeWitt’s conception, the internal lines of each rectangle, creating the tones, might be diagonal as well as vertical or horizontal, and the result was frequently a geo-metric abstraction of considerable beauty. LeWitt continued his practice of creating wall installations (fig. 20.45). Even if the walls are repainted, the piece is not destroyed; it continues to exist as a well-specified idea and can be reinstalled by following the artist’s instructions. The practice of leaving the execution of an artwork to others is common in Minimalist practice, which aims to eliminate all vestiges of the Romantic “hand of the artist” in order to concentrate interest in the work itself.

The early work of Carl Andre (b. 1935), influenced by the ideas of his friend Frank Stella and the sculptor Brancusi (see figs. 5.32–5.34), consisted of vertical wooden sculptures, given form by the use of a saw. By the early 1960s, Andre had moved away from carving to the construction of sculptures using identical units. The arrangement of the wooden units in Pyramid (fig. 20.46), first created in 1959 and later reconstructed in 1970, suggests a carved form, although the undulations of the surface were not created by the use of a saw.

Other pieces from the early 1960s, like Well (also seen in fig. 20.46), are more literal in their arrangement. This shift can be, at least in part, attributed to Andre’s experience as a brakeman on a freight train, where he developed an interest in industrial materials and in a populist approach, through which art might spark an aesthetic or even somatic response regardless of the education or cultural background of the audience. After 1965, when he ended his four-year stint with the railroad, Andre began to make horizontally oriented sculptures, known as “floorpieces.” Lever (also seen in fig. 20.46), of 1966, initiated this new phase in his work. These pieces were made out of rugged, industrial materials not traditionally used in fine art. Combined timbers extended horizontally, bricks, styrofoam units, or identical metal squares assembled on the floor were sculptures intended to be walked on. This direct interaction between the audience and the artwork sharpens awareness of the environment, making the piece as much about one’s physical orientation as about the visual pattern created by the tiles.

Since the mid-1960s, Andre’s sculpture has mostly been constructed in the exhibition space itself. The ideas behind the pieces need only be realized where they are intended for display. One of his most intricate floorpieces, 37 Pieces of Work, was executed in 1969 on the occasion of his solo show at the Guggenheim (fig. 20.47). The work consisted of a combination of tiles made from six metals: aluminum, copper, steel, magnesium, lead, and zinc. The tiles were a foot square (930 cm2) and three-quarters of an inch (1.9 cm) thick. Each metal piece was placed first into a six-by-six-foot (1.8 m) square and then used to create accompanying squares by being alternated with one other metal until every combination had been achieved. The title for the piece comes from the thirty-six-square pattern the metals formed, plus the square that encompassed the whole. The work was particularly appropriate for the Guggenheim, where viewers could gaze down on it as they ascended or descended the museum’s spiral ramp.

After experimenting with different materials, such as vulcanized rubber, Richard Serra (b. 1939) created sculptures consisting of enormously heavy sheets of steel or lead that balanced against or on top of one another. Despite the various forms that his work takes, it consistently exploits the natural form of the material itself. Rather than manipulate his media, Serra looks to their own physical properties for inspiration. His Belts, for example, take their form from the simple act of hanging the rubber loops on the wall (fig. 20.48). The incorporation of a neon tube into the work heightens the viewer’s awareness of the intricacies of the forms created by the draped rubber. One Ton Prop (House of Cards) (fig. 20.49) balances four 500-lb. lead sheets against one another. The seemingly casual arrangement of these slabs paradoxically accentuates their weight and communicates a sense of dangerous but exciting precariousness—heightened by the title’s reference to the ephemeral, practically weightless house of cards that it emulates.

Serra has also been interested in a form of “scatter sculpture,” in which series of torn lead sheets are scattered on the floor or molten lead is splashed along the base of a wall. Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Serra progressively enlarged the scale of his sculptures, took them out of doors, and combined his sheets of steel (see Minimalist Materials: Cor-Ten Steel, opposite) with a landscape environment, thus effecting the inevitable transition from sculpture placed in an interior environment to sculpture that becomes part of a landscape (see fig. 23.33).

Minimalist Painters

Agnes Martin (1912–2004) refined her art over many years, progressing from rather traditional still lifes to Gorky-like biomorphic abstractions, before arriving in the early 1960s at her mature distillations of pure style. Martin honed her means until they consisted of nothing but large, square canvases gridded all over with lines so delicately defined and subtly spaced as to suggest not austere, cerebral geometry but trembling, spiritual vibrations, what Lawrence Alloway characterized as “a veil, a shadow, a bloom” (fig. 20.50).

Declaring their physical realities and limitations yet mysteriously intangible, intellectually derived but Romantic in feeling and effect, the paintings of Agnes Martin are the product of a mind and a sensibility steeped in the meditative, holistic forms of Reinhardt, Rothko, and Newman, as well as the paintings of Paul Klee and the historic landscapes and poetry of China. While using Hard-Edge structure in a visually self-dissolving or contradicting manner, Martin had no interest whatever in the retinal games played by Op artists. Nor did she ever aspire to the heroics of the Abstract Expressionists. When she felt that she had lost her clarity of vision in 1967, she ceased painting and left New York, returning to New Mexico in 1968. After a period of solitude visible the artist’s sense of life’s essence as a timeless, shad-owy emanation (fig. 20.51). “When I cover the square with rectangles,” she explained in 1967, “it lightens the weight of the square, destroys its power.”

Since the beginning of his career, Robert Ryman (b. 1930) has been interested in “how paint worked.” The crucible in which Ryman’s investigations catalyzed was The Museum of Modern Art, where he worked as a guard from 1953 until 1960. There, he essentially taught him-self to paint by studying the collection.

What Ryman came thoroughly to know was the history of modernism as it was conceived largely by Alfred H. Barr, The Museum of Modern Art’s first director and a guiding presence until his final retirement in 1968. Barr understood the mission of the museum to be twofold: curatorial and pedagogical. So along with presenting works he believed to be most representative of modernism (Barr tended to favor European movements like Cubism, Expressionism, and Constructivism over contemporary American trends, though he did promote Pop art), he fostered a strong education program, including art classes accessible to staff members. Ryman availed himself of these opportunities, and the mode of empirical inquiry he brought to his studies led him to question all prevailing assumptions about painting, including the fundamental relationship between pigment and support. His fascination with paint extended from the way in which it was applied to its interaction with its support and the way in which various types of paint worked together. In his earliest work, Ryman explored a range of colors, gradually giving way to an exclusive use of white paint. Untitled of 1962 (fig. 20.52) represents one of the last instances of color in his work.

Here multiple white strokes are layered over a background of blue and red, literally suppressing the bright hues while simultaneously reacting to them. By the mid-1960s Ryman had dedicated himself to the use of white, believing that this color more than any other could highlight his manipulation of paint itself. By way of elucidating his “silent” all-white paintings (fig. 20.53), Ryman said in a frequently quoted statement, “It’s not a question of what to paint but how to paint.” With these words he declared his commitment to pure painting. “To make” has often figured in Ryman’s conversation, for he considers “making” a matter of knowing the language of his materials—canvas, steel, cardboard, paper, wood, fiberglass, Mylar interacting with oil, tempera, acrylic, epoxy, enamel—and of exploiting its syntax so that his paintings come alive with their own story. In Classico III, Ryman applied white polymer paint in an even film to twelve rectangles of handmade Classico paper precisely assembled to form a larger rectangle gridded by shadows between the smaller units. With these positioned slightly off-center on a white ground, three types of rectangles in different scales and relationships echo and interact with one another. His attention to detail is such that even the metal fasteners that affix his larger paintings to the wall are considered part of the work. He takes into account the relationship of the work to the wall, carefully considering the height at which it is hung and the distance it projects forward. By such rigorous attention to material detail and to issues of optical perception, as well as through his painterly touch, Ryman invests his pictures with a lyrical presence, while pursuing a stern Minimalist program of precision and purification.

In his reaction against the perceived excess of Abstract Expressionism, Robert Mangold (b. 1937), a student of Al Held, stressed the factuality of art by creating surfaces so hard, so industrially finished, and so eccentrically shaped that the object quality of the work could not be denied. This assertion of the painting as an object in space was emphasized in several works in which the artist joined canvases, drawing attention to the importance of edges and creating a play between the real line formed by the junction of the two (or more) parts and the drawn line laid down by the artist.

In paintings of the late 1960s and early 70s, he used decorative color to accentuate neutral, monotone grounds, while an “error” in the precise, mechanical drawing subverted the geometric overall shape of the canvas from within (fig. 20.54). Here, destabilized by elusive color and the imperfect internal pattern, stringent formalism gave way to spreading openness and unpredictability, evoking the outside world of nature and humanity. And so Mangold too struck a balance between impersonality and individualism, bringing a welcome warmth to the pervasive cool of Minimalist aesthetics.

The precocious Brice Marden (b. 1938) had hardly graduated from the Yale School of Art, where he too worked with Al Held, when he created his signature arrangement of rectangular panels combined in often symbolic order and painted with dense monochrome fields of beeswax mixed with oil (fig. 20.55). During his career, Marden became a virtuoso in his ability to balance color, surface, and shape throughout an extended series of variations, developed within a set of purposeful restrictions.

In the late 1970s, Marden began to introduce a combination of vertical and horizontal planes within his paintings. Despite the abstract quality of his images, however, Marden continued to negotiate an underlying relationship between his painting and nature, later introducing a curving, calligraphic line. His study of Chinese calligraphy and corresponding interest in Asian culture informed his Cold Mountain paintings, honoring the ninth-century Chinese poet whose name comes from his sacred dwelling spot (fig. 20.56).

The layering and interplay of lines and pigment comment on the process of painting itself. The rhythmic, allover disposition of the calligraphic marks produces a sense of balance, harmony, and precision much in keeping with his earlier painting. Here again, then, is the Minimalist paradox of an extreme simplicity that is capable of rewarding sustained contemplation with revelations of unsuspected spiritual complexity or sheer aesthetic pleasure.

Drawing directly on the wall or attaching to it a flattened, geometric shape created merely by folding brown wrapping paper (fig. 20.57), Dorothea Rockburne (b. 1932) might seem to have so reduced her means as to take Minimalism over the line into Arte Povera, an Italian movement characterized by its use of humble materials (see Ch. 23, pp. 595–96). However, the direction proved quite different, fixed by the artist’s preoccupation with the mathematics of set theory as an intellectually pure strategy for creating an intricate interplay of simple geometric forms and real space.

So dependent was this art on process itself that Rockburne created it directly on the gallery wall, thereby condemning her pieces to a poignant life of fragility and impermanence. She subsequently worked in more durable materials and installations, as well as with richer elements, such as color and texture (fig. 20.58). Nevertheless, Rockburne remained loyal to her fundamental principle of “making parts that form units that go together to make larger units.” In the end, the logical yet unexpected way in which her scientifically derived but imaginative folding produces flat, prismatic shapes seduces the eye while engaging the mind. It also reveals why the challenge of working within Minimalism’s puritanically self-denying regimen appealed to some of the most gifted artists to emerge in the 1960s.

During that decade, Jo Baer (b. 1929) eliminated the brushwork and painterly texture of her earlier work to create pieces whose smooth surfaces showed little evidence of the artist’s hand. By reducing the visual interest of the sur-face itself, Baer believed that the spectator could focus on the image as a whole. Like Robert Morris, she incorporated the principles of Gestalt psychology into her work, using her images to test the limits of human perception, and thus drawing attention to the object nature of the canvas itself.

In 1969, Baer began her Wraparound series, which involved wrapping a painted black band outlined in color around the edge of the stretcher (fig. 20.59). Looking at the work from a certain angle, the viewer can perceive the whole band, but upon closer inspection it becomes evident that the perceived flat solid is actually painted on two adjacent surfaces. The canvas is no longer purely surface, but a three-dimensional entity, relying upon all of its surfaces to produce its particular effect. The colored bands in Untitled (Wraparound Triptych—Blue, Green, Lavender) play an important role, for it is the borders of an image that first signal the presence of a shape to the human brain.

Complex Unities: Photography and Minimalism
Minimalism’s visual achievements can also be associated with photography. Serialism, an interest in process as a key source of content, and a search for the complex within the simple, unified image are all fundamental to the Minimalist aesthetic, and can be found in the field-like collages created by Ray K. Metzker (b. 1931), a former student of Harry Callahan (see fig. 16.47) at the Institute of Design in Chicago. But, like most photographers in the “straight” tradition, Metzker begins with a real-life subject. Having photographed this, not as a single, fixed image but rather as a series of related moments, he then combines, repeats, juxtaposes, and superimposes the shots until he has achieved a composite, grid-like organization reminiscent of Minimalist painting, a single visual entity in which the whole is different and more rewarding than its parts (fig. 20.60). Metzker says of his work, “Where photography has been primarily a process of selection and extraction, I wish to investigate the possibilities of synthesis.”Bernd Becher (1931–2007) and Hilla Becher (b. 1934), German photographers who married in 1961, together developed the documentary style for which they became known. The Bechers turned their attention to the industrial transformation of the Western world, taking stark, closely cropped photographs of its hallmark architectural structures. Their photographs are frequently arranged into series of visually similar buildings and hung together in the format of a grid (fig. 20.61). 

Within these typological studies, each photograph functions as an independent unit, but the virtually uniform lighting and the similarity in form and view-point produce an effect of serial repetition that could be compared to the sculptures of Judd or Andre. Such interest in the individuality of units within similar types has a history in German photography that extends to the work of August Sander (see fig. 10.36). As teachers, the Bechers have deeply influenced several generations of artists. The extent of their legacy rivals that of Hans Hofmann, Josef Albers, and Josef Beuys. Among their former students are Thomas Struth and Candida Höfer (see Ch. 27, p. 755).

The Bechers’ photographs resist conveying a sense of the scale or function of the structures they depict. This endows the buildings with a sculptural quality, as if they exist primarily as objects rather than as productive, utilitarian components of the modern landscape. Of course, the dual nature of architecture as something both to be seen and to be used has challenged modern architects since Louis Sullivan declared that “form should ever follow function.” The degree to which a work of architecture should answer aesthetic rather than purely utilitarian impulses is a concern that architects negotiated throughout the twentieth century.

Francis Bacon

The Life of Francis Bacon Documentary

Lucian Freud, Reflection selfportrait

Lucian Freud, Sue-tilley

Lucian Freud, at the studio with the Queen

Lucian Freud, Nude-With-Leg-Up

Lucian Freud, Leigh Bowery

Lucian Freud, at the studio with Leigh Bowery

Lucian Freud, Sleeping by the lion carpet


Impressionism: A painting movement of sometimes varying styles which began in mid-19th century France, including such artists as Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Degas, Morisot, Cezanne (in his early years), and the American painter, Mary Cassatt. The group practiced plein air painting (working from life mostly out-of-doors), wanting to capture modern life in a spontaneous, direct manner. Impressionism also at times included breaking up the picture surface into small dabs of broken color, rather than blended, smooth surfaces, which the viewer would merge together when looking at the painting.

Post-Impressionism: Not really a movement in the usual sense, but a description of painting which followed Impressionism in France, and was influenced by it, but evolved beyond it. Post-Impressionism generally existed in the 1880's, and included artists such as Cezanne, Gauguin, Seurat, and Van Gogh, and tended to be less naturalistic than Impressionism, seeing the picture surface more as a flat plane than an illusion of depth. This thinking led toward the 20th century notion of painting as essentially colors and forms on a flat surface, rather than the imitation of objective reality. Seurat and others began the Pointillist movement, which carried the color and optical ideas of the Impressionists to an almost scientific extreme, consisting of tiny dots of color.

Symbolism: A literary as well as a visual art movement, in the 1890's in Europe, particularly France, which included the painter Odilon Redon. A group of painters was influenced by Symbolist ideas, and also carried further the ideas of the Post-Impressionists, such as Gauguin. Painters influenced by Symbolist ideas, calling themselves the Nabis (French for 'prophets'), included Pierre Bonnard and Vuillard. The Symbolists were also influenced by Art Nouveau (with its curvilinear quality), and carried forward the notion of painting being colors and shapes on a flat surface, rather than "objective" reality. There was also a tendency toward dreamlike imagery, such as Gauguin's and Redon's.

Fauvism: Also a movement of loosely connected French painters, of the first years of the 20th century, which included Matisse and Derain. The main emphasis in Fauvism was on color - bright, free use of arbitrary (independent of objective reality) color (les fauves meant 'wild beasts,' a term coined by those critical of the paintings). The shapes were also not confined to objective reality, and showed strong exuberance of spirit.

Cubism: A new structural and spatial organization in painting (and sculpture), begun in France following Fauvism, in the first years of the 20th century, by Picasso and Braque, which was inspired by African sculpture and Cezanne's paintings, among other influences. Cubism dealt mainly with space - the disintegration of traditional illusionistic space in art, and the beginning of pictorial space, which again was based on the notion that a painting is not an illusion of three dimensions, but has its own two-dimensional reality which overrides the depiction of depth. There was also a tendency toward flattening images as geometrical shapes, and the notion of multiple perspectives, as opposed to the previous one vantage point of Renaissance space. Other artists, such as Gris and Feininger, followed Picasso and Braque, and spelled out their cubist theories in writing.

Abstraction: Abstraction (in painting and sculpture) was not really a movement per se, but an idea which took root in the 1890's in Europe, came to fruition around 1910, and continues to be a viable tradition today. Some of the first abstractionists included Kandinsky and Mondrian. They believed that art does not exist to depict external reality, anymore than music exists to imitate the sounds of nature. Abstract art modifies or distorts objective reality (nature), as opposed to "non-objective" art, which refers to art which exists independently of, and is not based on, external reality. Kandinsky's essay, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, recounts his passage from more conventional painting to his ideas on the higher ideals of abstract art.

Dada: Dada was a European precursor to Surrealism, and included artist Marcel Duchamp. The dadaist movement extended to both visual art and literature. It was an anti-movement born in the second decade of the 20th century, and affected by the disillusionment after World War I. Dadaism was out to shock, to shake up conventions, to be anti-art, to question the very definitions of art. The most famous example of dada is Duchamp's entry into the 1917 Society of Independent Artists exhibition in New York - a 'found' urinal displayed with his pseudonym of "R Mutt." (Duchamp was way ahead of his time, and is considered the first exponent of conceptual art, a movement of the late 20th century.) Dada expressed itself in the forms of collage and sculpture, among others.

Surrealism: Some of the members of Dada went on to create the Surrealistic movement of the 1920's, which was also a literary movement, in Europe. Surrealistic painters had wildly divergent styles, but some of the elements they had in common were: the effect of the subconscious and dreams in art; the importance of the element of chance in art; the idea of an absolute, or 'super-reality' in art. The most famous exponent of Surrealism was Salvador Dali; other Surrealists were Joan Miro, Max Ernst, and Rene Magritte.

Abstract Expressionism: A mainly American movement of artists who came together informally, Abstract Expressionism began in the 1940's, influenced by European abstraction and Surrealism. Many emigre artists from World War II Europe and before came to America and became major influences on artists here before, during and after World War II, including Max Ernst, Mondrian, Arshile Gorky, Leger and Hans Hoffman. Major figures of Abstract Expressionism were Willem de Kooning (who came from Holland in the 1920's), Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko. Stylistically, there was a wide range, from the large drip paintings of Pollock to the geometric abstraction of Newman, and the soft color field paintings of Rothko, and the painterly work of de Kooning. Common elements included a certain spiritual nature of the work, the elements of chance and the unconscious, and the absence or distortion of objective reality. The movement was at its height during the early 1950's; several sculptors can also be considered abstract expressionist, such as Reuben Nakian.

Expressionism: Mainly centered in early 20th century Germany, with loosely connected painters, Expressionism was also found in other places and even other times (James Ensor, Edvard Munch, and Van Gogh are considered to be three precursors of Expressionism). It can be considered to be the German version of Fauvism. As well as being a movement, expressionism is also a characteristic applied to any art which holds as its primary focus the expression of emotion, as opposed to a description of external reality. Stylistic tendencies include bright or even garish color, sharply linear, or dark and brooding quality, black and white woodcuts. Kirchner and Emil Nolde can be characterized as Expressionists. 

Pop Art: Also an American (and non-organized) movement, Pop is well-known as a late 1950's, early 1960's art movement. A reaction to Abstract Expressionism and the new consumer culture in the United States, Pop's early figures were Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol; Claes Oldenburg is a Pop sculptor. Pop artists generally wanted to make art that was 'cool' as opposed to the strong emotion of Abstract Expressionism; that avoided Abstract Expressionism's tendency to serious artistic individualism to instead divorce the artist's personality from the work. Everyone is familiar with Warhol's Soup Cans, and other images taken from advertising and the contemporary world. Styles of Pop ranged from painterly to hard-edge, but generally had a certain 'deadpan' attitude.

Op Art: Generally a minor (and not organized) movement of painters, Op art came to prominence following Pop art in 1960's America, although artists had been creating works using optical effects since the 1930's. It focused on a strictly visual exploration of the inter-relatedness of colors and other optical effects in painting, often resulting in striking and dramatic effects that also were illusionary in terms of depth (optical illusion). The best known of the Op artists was Victor Vasarely; Josef Albers is sometimes considered to be an Op artist, but I feel his work, though dealing with the interaction of colors, was more of an intense lifetime study of color, rather than a superficial interest in optical effects.

Earth, or Environmental Art: This international movement began in the 1970's, and used the natural world as its material and content, generally making large 'earthworks'. Environmental artists work as individuals, rather than as part of an organized art movement. Coming from Europe to America, Christo and Jeanne-Claude are the best known environmental artists (they work as partners). They create temporary works that are a combination of natural and manmade, often involving large numbers of workers to construct their projects. Examples of their work: In Japan and California, a series of large umbrellas in the landscape; a miles-long and tall running fence in California; a "wrapped" building in an urban setting, such as their covering of the Reichstag in Germany. There is a conceptual, or idea, sense to their work, and generally a poetic and art-for-all quality. Other earthworks consist of natural materials, such as large rocks, arranged in patterns over a large and perhaps isolated area, such as Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson.

Minimalism: Not an organized movement, minimalism began in the 1960's, predominantly in the United States. Its main thesis is "less is more," perhaps a reaction against the highly emotional nature of Abstract Expressionism. Large sculptures and paintings consist of bare geometric forms - squares, cubes, sometimes in more complex arrangements, and often limited in color. Donald Judd's minimalist sculpture consists of large, heavy cube forms. Although it can be a sterile form of expression in the hands of an artist of limited depth, Judd's cubes express a forceful finality and strength, and are an expression of our times in terms of the lessening influence of the natural world, and more influence from our industrial, geometric environment; and within this ascetic parameter, minute variations in treatment, composition, and color can become much more apparent and meaningful. The painter Agnes Martin works in an austere geometric abstraction, which is also luminous in muted color and expression.

Conceptual Art: Not an organized movement, Conceptual art can be thought to have begun in the early 20th century with Marcel Duchamp of the European dada movement (see above), but its official genesis was the 1960's. Basically, conceptual art places its emphasis on the idea of the work of art as its primary identity, rather than the object itself. This idea is as old as Plato, meaning that the idea of an object is more real than the actual object (the chair can be destroyed, but the idea of the chair is eternal and immutable). There is perhaps a contemporary addition of the notion that art is not a commodity, as so much else in our society is, but rather a non-saleable idea. Conceptual art, as is much art in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, is an international movement, and comes in many forms and mediums, sometimes being an act or acts done by an artist, that may or may not result in a physical object. Conceptual art can sometimes be very cerebral in nature. Good examples of conceptual artists are Ann Hamilton and Christian Boltanski, whose work contains poetic and powerful ideas on the nature of reality.

Installation Art: Not a movement per se, installation art consists of very large, mainly three-dimensional, collections of objects and forms, often filling a large gallery or museum space. Entire environments can be created (or re-created), often evocatively. One of the first installation artists was Kienholz, an American artist first known in the 1960's, and loosely connected with the Pop artists. He created large three-dimensional groupings of objects, such as smashed-up cars, etc., with an air of violence, or perhaps death, but also an element of tongue-in-cheek. Some of his later work contained elements from such institutions as prisons or state mental hospitals, perhaps with social comment in mind. Another installation artist beginning in the 1960's was George Segal, who made white plaster casts from real people, and placed them in contemporary mundane settings, such as a man putting letters on a movie marquee, reflecting the poetry of the mundane. Artists since have created many site-specific installations, meaning that the work was conceived to fit physically and aesthetically in a given area. One contemporary sculptor and installation artist is Judy Pfaff.

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