International Modernisms 1840-present: Shock, Electricity, Invention
MA seminar, autumn 2014
In 2010, the Museum of Modern Art in New York ran an exhibition titled Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925. Illustrated by a large, international network diagram covering an entire wall at the exhibit entrance, the show thematized invention, with its technoscientific resonances, as much as abstraction. The idea that the European and North American artists featured in the 2010 show had “invented” abstraction as an artistic principle would come as a particular surprise, however, to visitors familiar with an earlier, enormously influential MoMA show, “Primitivism” in Twentieth-Century Art (1984), which framed modernist abstraction in conversation with African and Oceanic art. This seminar will closely interrogate “invention” as an aesthetic desideratum across the long modernist moment, examining how its association with technological modernity relies in part on the production of a “tradition”-oriented “primitive” whose modernity is permanently deferred, yet whose art can be appropriated for modernism as a means of invigorating a declining civilization. This graduate seminar will investigate the workings of aesthetic modernism in relation to the modern ideologies of time, progress, and development on which “invention” relies, paying special attention to psychoanalysis and anthropology.