New York Hashtags
One of the more thought-provoking pieces of art writing this month was not about contemporary work, but modern art. Tucked away in his review of “Radical Terrain” at the Rubin Museum, New York Times critic Holland Cotter called out the Euro-American belief that the West invented modernism, which was then either copied or imposed (inferiorly) across the globe. We might have missed Cotter’s article, if it wasn’t for Sharon Butler’s short piece over at Two Coats of Paint, which places images from the show in the context of Cotter’s argument.
“Radical Terrain,” the Rubin Museum’s third exhibition exploring Modernism in India, focuses on landscape, presenting work by the generation of artists who worked after India gained independence in 1950. Alongside work by the older artists, curator Beth Citron has included work by an international cohort of younger artists, including Meagan Boody, Hasan Elahi, Isca Greenfield-Sanders, Marc Handelman, Byron Kim, Lisi Raskin, Seher Shah, and Janaina Tschäpe.
The West tends to be proprietorial about Modernism, treating it as a Euro-American invention copied, in inferior versions, by the rest of the world. But more and more this view has come to look parochial and wrong. In recent years historians have been studying the reality of multiple (sometimes referred to as alternative) modernisms that developed in Africa, Asia and South America parallel with, or sometimes in advance of, what was happening in Europe…
Viewers coming to these works for the first time, knowing little about their history or context, may well see traces of European Modernism in them before anything else. It takes some looking and exposure to information to get beyond that and see what is really happening in these paintings. They aren’t about copying; they’re about artists making choices, trying out options, pursuing some, rejecting others, taking what they know and adding to it, editing it, blurring lines between South Asian and Western, shaping something distinctive from the sources used…
It’s great that the Rubin, a small institution with limited resources but imaginative thinking, has brought us exhibitions like this one and its two predecessors. Even together, though, these shows can only hint at the full history of global modernism, or modernisms, that everyone now knows is the true story of modern art. It’s a story that has yet to make its way into our big museums, but surely that day must come.
Put in this context, MoMA’s excellent abstraction exhibition “Inventing Abstraction, 1910-25,” seems a little parochial, doesn’t it?
- Sharon Butler, Two Coats of Paint, January 5, 2013.
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