PART IV: Modern art and socialism

Henry C K Liu

Ruthless Empire Builders
A Monetary Coup d'etat
The Year of Contradictions

It is in a milieu of social revolution through the avant-garde that Abby Aldrich Rockefeller developed an interest in modern art, an avocation she would pass on to her son Nelson, who would play a key and extended role in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and later become a liberal Republican governor of New York and vice president of the United States in the administration of Gerald Ford as a result of Richard Nixon's resignation over the Watergate scandal. "She was attracted by the unusual, adventurous, inner-directed art," says biographer Bernice Kert. "She liked experimentation, she was open to new ideas, and also she wanted to understand the art that her children would grow up to understand. In other words, she wanted to be a modern." Abby's enthusiastic support of the work of artists such as Henri Matisse, Diego Rivera, Vincent van Gogh, and Marc Chagall was a source of friction between her and her conservative, if not reactionary, husband. John D Rockefeller Jr strongly objected to his wife's involvement in a new museum that would make such "unintelligible" art available to the public. Abby went ahead anyway and, in 1929, co-founded the Museum of Modern Art with friends Lillie P Bliss and Mary Quinn Sullivan. "Mother's museum," as it would be known within the family, was the first in the country to devote its collection entirely to the Modern Movement, and now houses more than 100,000 works in a 630,000-square-foot (58,500-square-meter) building that occupies half a city block in midtown Manhattan.

Abby's commitment to Modernism was felt even after her death in 1948. Based on her will, which stipulated that any work older than 50 years should be removed from the museum collection, some of the valuable impressionistic works she had originally donated to the Modern were transferred to other museums in 1998. The foresighted arts patron believed that after half a century they would no longer be "modern" and should not be housed in a modern-art museum. This attitude would present a dilemma for the trustees of the Modern, as the early works of the Modern Movement became increasingly valuable in the art market and having them in its permanent collection provided the Modern with a badge of authenticity and definitive authority as the seminal herald of Modernism with proven prescience that had stood the test of time. The Modern was torn between establishmentarianism and anti-establishmentarianism; to be modern in the temporal sense, risking its authority by being possibly wrong in heralding new artistic trends that might turn out to be of only fleeting importance; or to be modern in the periodization sense, bathing in the comfort of having correctly identified the Modern Masters, as opposed to the Old Masters, before they were generally appreciated. Few institutions in history have managed the challenge of being revolutionary in more than one generation, let alone perpetually. To be modern in a post-modern age is to be traditional.

Founding director Alfred H Barr Jr (1902-81), the intellectual force behind the Modern who managed to turn a few eccentric individual collections that reflected idiosyncratic personal tastes into a powerful statement of the philosophy of art, described the museum's collection as a "torpedo moving through time". The Modern has since faltered on its founding conviction on being modern in its handling of the art of the first five decades of Modernism. Its permanent collection, aside from becoming a priceless asset, has become too valuable to give away and too iconic to dislodge.

A museum of modern art is in fact an oxymoron, comparable to the absurdity of the embalmment of the living. Museums are institutions of things past. The Latin meaning of the word denotes a place of learned occupation, an institution devoted to the procurement, care and display of objects of lasting value or interest, objects that have already survived the test of time. The conceptual problem facing a museum of modern art is that it must deal with artistic trends that have yet to face the test of time. By definition, its collection becomes art of lasting artistic value in a self-fulfilling prediction. Art galleries are the marketplaces for contemporary art, while museums are depositories of the best or at least the most representative art of an epoch. Collectors always risk suffering the misfortune of having acquired art works that will fall to the roadside of history. Museums at times suffer the same risk. A museum that exhibits the latest trends in art runs the risk of a conflict of interest, with a proclivity to endow trends it exhibits with unwarranted lasting value and respectability. There is no arguing that a museum aims to select what is good and lasting; the danger is to confuse what a museum selects as good and lasting. "Museum of modern art" rings of word abuse. A living museum of modern art is not synonymous with a modern museum of living art. When words are abused, they lose their ability to differentiate. "One word in the wrong place," said Voltaire, "ruins the most precious thought."

In recent decades, the Modern has become a doctrinal fortress of art for art's sake. Its presentation strains to emphasize methodological breakthroughs in formal high esthetics while covering up the underlying revolutionary radicalism of the avant-garde, particularly its rebellious socio-political roots that often frighten if not offend the generally conservative trustees. It has taken on the role and mission of adjudicator of Modernist taste and avant-garde esthetics and confirmer of lasting relevance on the yet untested. It has sought to focus on path-opening milestones in the development of new esthetics detached from disturbing social roots. The Modern now reeks of the staleness of academy in an art world that has continued to change and expand beyond radical rejection of classical concepts of order, space and color. It has become a hall of fame for dead revolutionaries who have been transformed from living threats against the established social order to esthetically revered but politically harmless icons. As radicalism becomes institutionalized, revolution ossifies through canonization.

Some critics have pointed out that the ne plus avant-garde charge was off target, as the Modern has always been a congenitally cautious institution. It opened in 1929 with a survey of Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat and van Gogh at a time when these rebels had been long dead. It would be like opening a contemporary art museum today with a show about Abstract Expressionism or Pop Art or Minimalism. And the Modern was slow in embracing Abstract Expressionism and has yet to acknowledge the movement's violent anger against the established order. In the course of the decades after its founding, a steady flow of landmark exhibitions presented Cubism, Dada and Surrealism years after they had been invented and survived official ridicule, and only when the social contradiction had waned. The museum, far from being an avant-garde asylum, was a legitimizing academy, putting a stamp of good housekeeping on the conceptually dangerous by turning revolutionary art aimed at a new consciousness for the masses into high art above the level of the masses. It was then the museum's mission to reintroduce this new art to the public after it has been sanitized of its rebellious social content.

Alfred Barr wanted to build a museum that remained in touch with the present but that also rethought and refined the past in terms of the present. To him, "modern" meant "progressive", moving toward a higher plane of civilization with enlightenment and courage through a new way of seeing. He preferred the word "modern" to "contemporary" because the latter only signifies being indiscriminately current with the times, without any commitment to a new vision. To be modern is to be progressive. To be contemporary in an age of reaction is to be reactionary, not modern, a pitfall Barr clearly and presciently feared, as exemplified by the Modern's revisionist show in 1976 of architectural renderings from the Ecole des Beaux Arts, the tenacious institutional nemesis of the Modern Movement in architecture.

In the autumn of 1928, Barr gave a course on modern art titled "Tradition and Revolt" with sensational success at Wellesley, a progressive college for upper-class women. The course description outline read: "The achievement of the past - especially in the 19th century. The 20th century: its gods and isms. The painter, the critic, the dealer, the collector, the museum, the academies and the public. Contemporary painting in relation to sculpture, the graphic arts, architecture, the stage, music, literature, commercial and decorative arts. Fashionable esthetics, fetish and taboo. Painting and modern life. The Future." The seminar at Wellesley was probably the first college course to deal with the art of the early 20th century. Barr pioneered the use of color slides for studying the works of Pierre Bonnard, Lyonel Feininger, Giorgio de Chirico and Chagall, and initiated his students into Cubist and Futurist art. Included among the "isms" he treated was also a young movement he called the "Superrealists", as the term "Surrealism" had not yet been coined. Taking inspiration from Le Corbusier's important book Vers une Architecture (1922), Barr had his classes visit well-designed modern train stations, industrial buildings and new works of engineering, such as bridges and dams. He also discussed the design of objects of daily use, furniture, and automobiles. The English translation of Corbu's book changed the French title from Vers une Architecture to Towards a New Architecture (1927), misdirecting subsequent generations of architects on a skewed course to seek new-isms in style, misinterpreting Corbu's unifying idea of a timeless architecture as the mother of all arts molded by the specificities of different epochs.

Inspiration in Europe

The innovative approach of Barr's course on modern art prepared him for directing the launching of a new museum of modern art. Midway through an academic year, after he was informed of having been selected as the founding director of the proposed museum, Barr, with his friend and later assistant at the Modern, Jere Abbott, a member of a textile-manufacturing family in Dexter, Maine, embarked on a European tour in 1927 that lasted several months to soak up new ideas for the direction of the future museum. Barr had seen photographs of the Bauhaus school designed by Walter Gropius at the Machine Age Exposition in The Little Review, but visiting the actual Buahaus building in Dessau, Germany, far surpassed all Barr's expectations based on photographs.

The Little Review, founded by Margaret Anderson, the most influential literary magazine in English in the 1910-20s, introduced great writers such as Ezra Pound, T S Eliot, James Joyce and Wyndham Lewis to the world, most famously Joyce's Ulysses, the publishing for which editor Anderson was tried for obscenity. Ezra Pound was foreign editor and was closely identified with the magazine.

Starting in the Netherlands, where Barr and Abbott studied the works of Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg and other members of the De Stijl group in museums and private collections, they traveled to the Bauhaus via Berlin, where the connection between the Harvard tradition and the Modernist adventure seemed to come full circle. Barr later recalled: "This multi-departmental plan [of the Museum] was ... inspired by Rufus Morey's class in Medieval art ... and equally important, the Bauhaus of Dessau. Morey, who used to lose his temper and swear about the Bauhaus, would be surprised at this parentage, but there are real similarities between the Bauhaus and the Medieval art course when you come to study them." The similarities were a sense of historical imperative, a respect for conceptual structure and the fusion of all art in architecture.

Barr's sojourn in Dessau fortified his comprehensive cultural approach based on Gropius' guiding principle of total architecture: "Let us desire, devise, and together create the building of the future, which shall be everything in a single form: architecture and sculpture and painting." Barr was impressed by the school's international make-up and by the pedagogy in its workshops as well as by Feininger's enthusiasm for the Bauhaus jazz band, Gropius' ambitious vision, his encounters with Paul Klee, and his debates with Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. The wide scope the two enthusiastic men from Harvard covered on their European trip attested to their urgent desire to use every chance possible to absorb Modernist trends for their task of shaping the path of the new museum in New York.

Departing from Berlin, Abbott and Barr traveled to the Soviet Union, the scene of the new and exciting in both politics and art. "He was constantly preoccupied with the Constructivists," remarked architect Philip Johnson, who would become the Modern's curator of Architecture and Design under Barr and who went on to become a commercially successful post-modern practitioner. "The Constructivists were on his mind all the time. Malevich was to him, and later to me, the greatest artist of the period. And you see, the Constructivists were cross-disciplinary, and I'm sure that influenced Alfred Barr, both that and the Bauhaus."

Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935) wrote: "Under Suprematism, I understand the supremacy of pure feeling in creative art. To the Suprematist the visual phenomena of the objective world are, in themselves, meaningless; the significant thing is feeling, as such, quite apart from the environment in which it is called forth ... Art no longer cares to serve the state and religion, it no longer wishes to illustrate the history of manners, it wants to have nothing further to do with the object, as such, and believes that it can exist, in and for itself, without 'things' (that is, the 'time-tested well spring of life'). But the nature and meaning of artistic creation continue to be misunderstood, as does the nature of creative work in general, because feeling, after all, is always and everywhere the one and only source of every creation. The emotions which are kindled in the human being are stronger than the human being himself ... they must at all costs find an outlet, they must take on overt form, they must be communicated or put to work ... The black square on the white field was the first form in which non-objective feeling came to be expressed. The square equals feeling, the white field equals the void beyond this feeling." Malevich did not include service to capitalism as something art had also rejected because in the new Soviet Union, capitalism had been given a dialectical burial. In the United States, where capitalism continued to flourish, modern art became an easy and willing captor, voluntarily limiting its radicalism to formal esthetics under the protective wings of capitalism. Non-objective art is misinterpreted as devoid of social content instead of a radical rejection of traditional society.

Barr's encounters in Moscow with the Russian avant-garde were stimulatingly exhaustive. Friends organized cinema parties for him, introduced him to theater directors or arranged visits with Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953), designer of the spectacular Monument of the Third International (1919-20) that reduced the Eiffel Tower to an old-fashioned icon. Barr also met El Lissitzky (1890-1941) and Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891-1956).

In 1909 the Italian Futurists published their manifesto in the Parisian newspaper Le Figaro. Their ideas filtered to Russia, and Malevich and his followers, including Lissitzky, responded with ideas of their own. Lissitzky studied engineering and architecture from 1909-14. After being a painter, illustrator and designer of Soviet flags, he taught with Malevich at Vitebsk and at art workshops in Moscow. He arrived in Berlin in 1921 and set up exhibitions of art by the post-revolutionary avant-garde, working also as a writer and designer for international magazines. His achievements forged links between artists in Russia and in the West, between Weimar's De Stijl and Constructivism. His own Proun paintings, Proun being a Russian acronym signifying "for the new art", express his vision of a world of physics inspired by modern spiritualist thought. His work was intended to be a catalyst to encourage "the broad aim of forming a classless society".

Rodchenko, one of the leading artists in the creative period immediately following the Revolution of October 1917, was among the most zealous of the Russian avant-garde who identified totally with the policies of triumphant communism. By the mid-1930s, his photographic work was celebrated for its powerful impact along with that of his German contemporary Leni Riefenstahl. Like Tatlin, and unlike the profoundly mystical Malevich, Rodchenko was an artist-engineer, blazing theoretical trails to practical goals. The Russian avant-garde intoxicated young radical artists all over the world with its radical promise of the possibilities of a new society. After the Cold War, when communism was no longer viewed as a threat, the Museum of Modern Art finally presented the first US retrospective of the work of Rodchenko. On view from June 25 through October 6, 1998, the exhibition comprised more than 300 works in a wide range of media and included a model of the Workers' Club that Rodchenko designed for the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes. The Modern's catalogue for the exhibition read: "The Revolution forced Russian artists and intellectuals to make difficult political choices, and many emigrated. Rodchenko and other members of the avant-garde soon sided with the Bolsheviks, who welcomed their support. Thus it was that a tiny, gifted, obstreperous group, whose sophisticated art was unknown to the vast majority of the Russian people, set forth their own artistic ideals as the vanguard of communist culture - and in the process created a unique and lasting body of art and theory."

In the Soviet Union, Barr energetically hunted down icons in museums, watched Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948) as the master filmmaker edited the film October, which had been commissioned for the 10th anniversary of the October Revolution of 1917, bought a watercolor from Diego Rivera, who was staying in Moscow at the time, and studied the architecture of modern Soviet apartment buildings.

Eisenstein's reception in Europe nurtured his opinion that he could be both avant-garde artist and creator of popular and ideologically uncompromising films. In every country he visited he was hailed by radical students and intellectuals. He met with Joyce, Jean Cocteau, Abel Gance, Filippo Marinetti, Albert Einstein, Le Corbusier and Gertrude Stein, all of whom were passionately excited about his work. In May 1930 Eisenstein arrived in the United States, where he lectured at several Ivy League schools before moving on to Hollywood, where he hoped to make a film for Paramount, but that never came to pass. He was welcomed by leading Hollywood figures, including Douglas Fairbanks, Joseph von Sternberg, Walt Disney and especially Charlie Chaplin, himself a communist, who became his close friend.

"The work of art is a symbol, a visible symbol of the human spirit in its search for truth, freedom and perfection," Barr wrote. Barr was schooled on art and art history both at Princeton, where he entered at age 16, and Harvard in the 1920s before he traveled extensively in Europe to see for himself its multitudes of great museums and schools devoted to art. He had a lasting love of the paintings of Vincent van Gogh. He had an instinctive grasp of the myriad influences of artists, often charting them out in extensively detailed diagrams, showing clearly how one art form influenced another, making sense of their twisting labyrinths. Under his direction, the Modern was committed to preserving and showing the newest, best, and most imaginative works of art the world had to offer the viewing public. The compromise he had to make, given the nature of US society, the conservatism of the trustees of a private museum and the political climate of the Cold War, was to de-emphasize the socialist content of the art he presented.

The Garrison State

One could only guess where Barr would have taken the museum in a more liberal age, not to mention the direction of the Modern Movement. Counterfactual theorists may speculate that had John D Rockefeller been born in czarist Russia, he might have channeled his revolutionary energy in unifying the oil industry into building a new rational society and became a Lenin. In many ways, what saved the Modern Movement in the US, more than the sanitizing of its socialist content, was its rejection by the Soviets, a fundamental error in a series of fundamental errors traceable to a garrison-state mentality, killing the revolution to protect the revolution. Josef Stalin, who saw the state as the sole agent of revolution, rejected non-objective art that openly refused to serve the interest of the state, thus making itself counter-revolutionary, notwithstanding its aim of expressing the promise of a new society.

Freedom is always under attack in any society beset with a garrison-state mentality. The "war on terror" has turned the US into a police state. Stalin did many inhumane things in the name of preserving institutional revolution. Josef Vissarionovich Stalin (1879-1953) would in fact fit the definition of a Lutheran diehard, at least in revolutionary strategy if not in ideological essence. Like Martin Luther (1483-1546), Stalin suppressed populist radicalism to preserve institutional revolution, and glorified the state as the sole legitimate expeditor of revolutionary ideology.

Early Protestantism, like Stalinism, became more oppressive and intolerant than the system it replaced. It heralded in a period of blanket suppression of the arts, which the Counter-Reformation took advantage of by launching the Age of Baroque, which produced much great art. Ironically, puritanical Protestant ethics celebrating the virtues of thrift, industry, sobriety and responsibility were identified by many sociologists as the driving force centuries later behind the success of modern capitalism and industrialized economy, notwithstanding its barren artistic garden. Particularly, ethics as espoused by Calvinism, which in its extreme advocated subordination of the state to the Church, diverging from Luther's view of the state to which the Church is subordinate, was ironically credited as the spirit behind the emergence of the modern Western industrial state. In that sense, the post-Cold War Islamic theocratic states are Calvinist in principle, as is the neo-conservative George W Bush administration. In the United States, the Russian avant-garde was also suppressed by the garrison mentality of McCarthyism.

Barr was visionary enough to recognize how impressionists and even the surrealists grew out of the classical mode. He also understood the importance of an institution devoted to new and emerging art forms, especially the new and less critically accepted art forms such as photography and film, which had been given short shrift in high-brow college classrooms at the time, considered as nothing more than media of "popular entertainment". He gave serious treatment to all practical, commercial, and popular arts. Advertising art, photography and film were shown with equal attention to a van Gogh or a Picasso. All these popular expressions were seen, through discerning eyes, as related components in the total world of art. In Barr's own words, "A work of art ... is worth looking at primarily because it represents a composition or organization of color, line, light and shade. Resemblance to natural objects, while it does not necessarily destroy these esthetic values, may easily adulterate their purity. Therefore, since resemblance to nature is at best superfluous and at worst distracting, it might as well be eliminated." Even now, three-quarters of a century later, such extremes as Chris Ofili's elephant-manure Madonna, Damien Hirst and his dissected cows, Sue Coe, with her riveting and disturbing imagery, would all have a home in Barr's liberal and "thinking man's intellectual" version of modern art. Yet in 1950, the Modern excluded the still life A Distinguished Air from a major Demuth retrospective because it considered its sexual theme too controversial. Charles Demuth (1883-1935) was best known for his landscapes of industrial America, featuring bridges, grain silos and factories.

Barr Named Founding Director

In June 1929, at age 26, taken entirely by surprise, Barr was informed by his mentor Paul J Sachs (1878-1965), professor and associate director of the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard, that he had been selected to become the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art. While Barr brought Modernism closer to Sachs, the latter introduced the young student to museum life. Sachs had ended a long career on Wall Street at the age of 37 in order to dedicate himself entirely to his passion for art and collecting. As a financier and a partner of the family bank Goldman Sachs, he brought not only his extensive knowledge of art to Harvard, but also the business prowess of a banker, which he quickly applied to his involvement in the art world.

For Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, who was to become the closest ally of the future director Barr, radical patronage of art was coupled with liberal social commitment. While the donations and estates the three collector friends laid the foundation for the institution, her personal commitment contributed to making the Museum of Modern Art into the most influential institution of the 20th century. Barr wrote: "Not only is modern art artistically radical, but it is often assumed to be radical morally and politically, and sometimes indeed it is. But these factors which might have given pause to a more circumspect and conventional spirit did not deter [Mrs Rockefeller], although on a few occasions they caused her anxiety, as they did us all." Barr's memories of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller did not match the conservative reputation of the Rockefeller family. On the contrary, she was especially enthusiastic about Barr's progressive ideas, his plans for the interdisciplinary departments of the Modern, and his wish to bring living contemporary art closer to people in an understandable way. She liked Barr, as she wrote Sachs after their first encounter, and felt that his youth, his enthusiasm, and his knowledge were all positive attributes.

The young museum's inaugural exhibition proved to be an immense popular success: 47,000 visitors came to see the paintings of Cezanne, Gauguin, Seurat and van Gogh. On the show's last day alone, 5,300 people tried to enter the six rooms of the rented apartment in the Heckscher Building. A US institution to the core, the Modern's roots traced back to the avant-garde art movements of Europe. As divergent as the influences on its history may seem, they embodied the intellectual and social upheavals of Modernism that left their mark on the young museum's budding program. Dedicated both to the liberal ideals of the US upper class and the socialist vision of the Bauhaus, the founding of the Museum of Modern Art marked an unparalleled cultural awakening that changed the way in which modern art was perceived in the US, as an academically respectable and socially non-threatening movement.

Hired by the wealthy art-collecting elite to validate their tastes by creating a museum for their art, Barr acted as their adviser and procurer of art during the early years when the museum bought almost no art at all. The works he selected, many of which were donated back to the museum, formed the canon of modern-art history. But the museum was late to purchase New York abstract expressionists when they lived and exhibited under the very nose of the museum. As a museum director, Barr instituted aggressive advertising campaigns for the museum at a time when few other art museums did, insisting that exhibition catalogues be accessible both financially and intellectually to the public. His concept of art history was a construct of "isms" linked in a linear fashion. In 1935 Barr was one of those invited to the famous informal gathering of art scholars organized by Columbia University art historian Meyer Schapiro (Modern Art: Nineteenth and Twentieth Century, 1978) that included Robert Goldwater, the dealer Jerome Klein, Erwin Panofsky and Lewis Mumford.

According to Marshal Bergman (All That Is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity), Schapiro (1904-96) of Columbia was a product of Jewish immigrant culture and the New York public school system, a brilliant upstart in a university that still belonged to Anglo-Saxon gentlemen and that granted him tenure and recognition only grudgingly, when it turned out that lots of people in the rest of the world knew his worth. He was an intellectual activist, close to the Communist Party in his youth, through much of the 1930s and '40s a militant left-wing socialist, later a liberal social democrat, a founding editor of Dissent magazine, dialectical in sensibility, oriented toward history and social development, always focused on the politics of culture. Schapiro built his career around the exploration of Modernism. He asserted the dignity of modern art and literature, and fought for recognition of its permanent value; he showed how this art and literature could help and also force the world to see into the heart of modern life. That life, he believed, was animated by contradictory drives, both around and within us, and was at once a thrill and a horror. The writers and artists he loved most were radical critics of their culture, yet expressed its deepest values. In their feeling for cultural contradictions, Schapiro gave a new subtlety and depth to intellectual Marxism.

Modern Art, whose contents span five decades, contains Schapiro's 1937 "Nature of Abstract Art" essay, a tour de force that situated abstract art amid the conflicts of modern history, and highlighted the combative impulse that drives it: in leaving nature and society out, or distorting them drastically, the abstract painter "disqualifies them from art"; this essay explained, a decade in advance, why Abstract Expressionism would have to happen, and happen in the United States. The book includes two shorter, more recent pieces on abstract painting; Schapiro's brilliant 1941 essay "Courbet and Popular Imagery"; fascinating studies of van Gogh, Seurat, Mondrian and Arshile Gorky; and "The Armory Show: The Introduction of Modern Art in America" (1956). These essays captured the subjectivity and inner life of modern artists, the totality of historical forces around them, the rivers that ran through them, the spiritual twists and leaps they experienced, the breakthroughs they finally achieved. Along with a few other children of the century - Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Harold Rosenberg, Paul Goodman - they were just the sort of "free-thinking Jews" that T S Eliot warned his readers against: they expressed "the modern spirit" better than anyone, but were menaces to "the idea of a Christian society".

In 1935, Barr hired Beaumont Newhall to be curator of photography and Iris Barry (1895-1969) to establish the first film library to be part of a museum. In 1939 the first of Barr's panegyrics to Pablo Picasso appeared, Picasso: Forty Years of his Art. In 1943 Steven Clark, a conservative, became chairman of the board of the MoMA. Disputes with Barr erupted and Clark fired him. The popular legend, told years later, that Barr retired to the library, refusing to leave, was not true. A special position was created for Barr (his salary cut to US$6,000 a year). In 1944 the museum appointed Rene d'Harnoncourt as director, whose sensitivity to the situation with Barr and gentle personality allowed both men to function positively. Barr remained true to the artists whom he championed. In 1944, during the height of World War II, when Piet Mondrian died in New York, Barr arranged for his funeral. Meyer Schapiro faulted Barr in the 1930s for explaining the rise of abstract art "independent of historical conditions". Barr denied Freudian analysis in art history. Yet the fact that Barr was a leader in modern art cannot be questioned; he was the only historian to write on the subject of modern art for the Gazette des Beaux Arts in the 1940s.

Sybil Gordon Kantor in her biography Alfred H Barr Jr and the Intellectual Origins of the Museum of Modern Art (2002) credited Barr, born in Detroit as the son of a Presbyterian clergyman, with furthering the Modern cause with more rebellion, more foresight, and more discipline than any of his contemporaries. He exerted a greater influence on the agendas of US museums and did more to determine the reception of 20th-century art than any other museum director or curator of the time. Barr's books on Picasso and Matisse and the best-selling What Is Modern Painting? (1943) are works of astute and illuminating historical analysis that have stood up to the test of time more than half a century later.

Struggling Artists in a Struggling World

The Modern Art Movement began in the 19th century when artists struggled to rebel against the established world view that had lingered since the Renaissance, with its classic codes of composition, meticulous execution, harmonious coloring, idealized realism and heroic and mythical subjects. Patronage by church and royalty had declined along with changing political realities, reducing artists from the respectable status of privileged guildsmen to members of the poorest segment of society, but giving them a new creative freedom from patronage dictation. The combination of abject poverty, loss of social status as fringe members of society, pent-up creativity and freedom from fear of loss of non-existent sponsorship turned many artists into rebellious souls against a vulgar society they despised. Masterpieces were created by struggling artists in unheated studios located in poor districts rather than prestigious royal academies, freely expressing their unconventional vision without the stifling dictates of official taste. The works were bought as finished products by eccentric collectors who responded to their honesty, truth and beauty. While abstract expressionism has always been present in all art, painters beginning around 1870 took new delight in freedom of expression and technique that marginalize the significance of the subject matter to capture universal truth about relationships of shapes, light and colors in the new scientific age, separating form from subject. While pre-classic expressionism had been anchored by underdevelopment of visualization techniques, modern expressionism was a rebellion against the perfection of visualization techniques of the Renaissance.

Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas and Camille Pissaro celebrated ordinary lives of the common people with fleeting glimpses of cafe society and urban life, drawing awareness to temporary emotions in rejection of permanent glory. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec painted the sly nocturnal existence of the Parisian underworld, seeing raw beauty in underclass members such as cabaret dancers and street prostitutes. Seurat and Paul Signac developed disciplined systemic approaches typical of neo-impressionism. Van Gogh and Gauguin gave color a new intensity and excitement while Cezanne painted subtle tonal nuances to achieve structural clarity through new ways of seeing, flouting the rules of perspective to extract geometric forms from nature to record radically new spatial patterns in conventional landscapes and still-life. Van Gogh painted in rebellion to ascetic Dutch Reform Church values while Gauguin painted in protest against Western civilization. The Norwegian Edvard Munch visually captured the horrifying shriek of psycho-torment. The Art Nouveau movement struggled against the formality of classical decoration with free sinuous lines readily found in nature. Fauvism (1905-08) pioneered the bold distortion of form and the elevation of color from a supportive to a defining role. This brief revolutionary outburst of creative energy became the central influence of modern art for a whole century, evolving into Cubism as a powerful revolt against representational art, academic perfection and establishment taste of preference for appearance over essence. Cubists saw truth as a merging of the humanity of primitive cultures and a fragmented disorder of modern civilization, rejecting the validity of any fixed points of view required by the rules of perspective. The relationship between space and time became a central theme in artistic discovery. A fascination with and unbound fate in the future by exponents of Futurism in Italy contributed to the rise of fascism with its glorification of danger, war and gigantic machines.

World War I (1914-19), which started one year after the introduction of modern art to the US by the Armory Show in 1913, marked the catastrophic triumph of the Modern Age that had begun with the Enlightenment, given political expression by the French Revolution, solidified by Age of Napoleon and suppressed by the rise of conservatism all over Europe after the restoration that followed the fall of Napoleon. The war changed the world by ridding Europe of monarchism and precipitating the October Revolution in Russia, giving communism its first government in modern history. The postwar modern age in Europe was a new age of social democracy from which modern art sprang as its revolutionary expression. However, Western socialism failed to put an end to Western imperialism, leaving the brotherhood of man within strict racial boundaries.

In just one decade after the war to end all wars, the capitalist world's free-wheeling financial system failed, producing the first modern economic depression in 1929, the year the Museum of Modern Art was founded. Within four years of the 1929 stock-market crash, under conditions of worldwide depression, with massive unemployment and hopeless spiritual malaise, democracy presented a desperate Germany with the gift of a fascist state in the form of the Third Reich under a demonic leader in the person of Adolf Hitler, replacing the social-democratic government of the Weimar Republic, the sponsor of German modern art and architecture, which the Third Reich promptly suppressed. By 1939, the world was once again at war.

Fauvism and Cubism were introduced by the members of the Eight in the seminal Armory Show in 1913 to a shocked United States, where Dadaist leader Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase caused a long and bitter controversy. The painting now is in the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art as a required pilgrimage for art students. Following his maxim never to repeat himself, Duchamp "stopped" painting (1923) after 20 works and devoted himself largely to the game of chess.

On November 9, 1929, only a few days after the great stock-market crash, the Museum of Modern Art opened in the rented 12th-floor rooms of the Heckscher Building on Fifth Avenue with a show of works by Cezanne, Gauguin, Seurat and van Gogh, intended to help the general public understand and enjoy the new visual arts that had blossomed three decades earlier. The public response, despite widespread unemployment, was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Over the course of the next 10 years, the Modern moved three times into progressively larger temporary quarters, and in 1939 finally opened the doors of the building it had occupied in midtown Manhattan until the recent rebuilding.

'A Bloodless Purgatory'

One critic called the new galleries in the new building designed by Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi to house the post-1970 arts a disappointment: "a suite of gigantic double-height rooms on the second floor, physically and conceptually prominent, declaring the Modern's intent to seem current, but also separated from the art of the past on the upper floors. The space feels lofty and utterly sterile, like a bloodless purgatory for work that hasn't yet earned the right to ascend to the pantheon. Divided by decade, the galleries are sparsely scattered with eclectic sculptures, paintings, photographs and drawings that look washed ashore - the costly remains from a sea of curatorial indecision ... the custodian of orthodox modernism, and now also a huge bento box of shops, restaurants, cafes, movie theaters, a garden and other diversions, along with art, to justify as a full day's excursion the egregious ticket price."

Taniguchi was reported to have told Terence Riley, the Modern's chief curator of architecture and design, that if the trustees raised enough money, he could make the architecture of the new building disappear, meaning that a minimalist and self-denying approach to museum architecture could emerge that would not compete with the art on exhibit. Such competition between museum architecture and the art on exhibit had been highlighted by Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum 30 city blocks north, the greatest museum building in the world and in all history.

At a cost of $858 million, the architecture of the new Modern disappeared not from competition with the art on exhibit, but from a poverty of ideas disguised as restraint. The entrance hall has the chaotic atmosphere of the Times Square subway station, with long queues for coat checking and ticket buying on crowded days. The approach to the monumental stairway that leads to the piano nobili is anything but noble, with a helicopter hanging overhead that a museum spokesman compared to the Victoire de Samothrice at the head of the Escalier Daru in the Louvre, except that visitors to the Modern would normally not notice the helicopter in the narrow space above the "monumental stair" until they turn and take an escalators to the third floor. Even then, the helicopter, which is not particularly interesting as an industrial design icon, is crammed into a closet of a space so narrow that if its blades were to turn, the machine would crash into the pressing walls. The delightful garden by Phillip Johnson is no longer an experience of surprise after entering the museum as it was in the old building designed by Phillip Goodwin, but a frontal onslaught from the open lobby without the slightest subtlety. The interpenetration of space, a hallmark characteristic of modern architecture, is nowhere to be experienced in the new Modern building. The soaring height of the decidedly meager central atrium leaves the space so ill-proportioned that a serious case of vertigo can develop for most looking down nearly 34 meters from the upper floors. The circulation is so tortuous that visitors unavoidably crash into one another trying to catch the escalators that are so unimaginatively placed as to condemn the museum to a feeling of a cheap department store, with landing signs for galleries that echo "Ladies' Garments - Fourth Floor". Movement within the building, a fundamental opportunity for architectonic celebration, is pushed unceremoniously into a dark passageway, while glimpses of connecting bridges are seductively visible from the central atrium with no sense of how they are accessed.

Joerg Haentzschel of Die Sueddeutsche Zeitung suggested that visitors might have trouble finding the revamped building, since Yoshio Taniguchi's design is marked by an "esthetics of invisibility". "For over a decade now, almost every new cultural building around the world has tried very hard to mimic the hugely successful Guggenheim Bilbao," wrote Haentzschel. "Standing in front of the new MoMA, one looks in vain for blobs, sloping angles or fluttering high-grade steel sails. The building, with its glass facades and right angles, looks as if it had always been there." Haentzschel saw a parallel between the subtlety of the new structure and the intricate and Herculean, but largely unreported, process of fundraising that was undertaken to pay for the $858 million project.

Yet the remedy to showy architectural acrobatics is not boring nihilism. The new exterior of the museum is unfriendly if not outright hostile to the streets it faces, depriving pedestrians of needed visual stimulation necessary for a rich urban experience. Long, boring stretches of aluminum panels found usually on the side of trucks, massive planes of smooth gray granite and black opaque glass graced the sidewalks of two streets in oppressively deadening fashion, in a silent scream for graffiti rage. Walking along 53rd Street or 54th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, the pedestrian is presented with the feeling of walking along the edge of a prison, or to be more kind, the forbidden walls of a citadel of art, absent of show windows which are the source of delight in urban streetscape. The message appears to be: pay the high admission fee or be shut out of art totally.

All the money seems to have gone into extremely constipated detailing to hide contorted construction, with total denial of structural expression. It is a nauseatingly self-effacing architectural statement that perverts the insightful "less is more" dictum put forth by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe into a senseless "more money buys less architecture" self-indulgence. The new building has as much zen spirituality as a Benihana steak house. Since the original, mediocre International Style building designed by Philip L Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone, the museum has ended with more space but less architecture with each rebuilding, in a race to the bottom toward new depths of mediocrity.

Unmet Challenge

Hilton Kramer, the highly respected art critic and ardent champion of abstract painting and sculpture wrote in The New Criterion, the neo-conservative journal of art and culture that he co-founded and edited, on the occasion of the Modern's reopening in 1984 after the previous major expansion, that creating an architecture that would be perfectly consistent with the Modern's artistic purposes, in a building that would reflect in all respects its lofty artistic mission while at the same time serving its practical needs, is a familiar unmet challenge for the museum.

In 1936, when founding director Barr and the trustees and benefactors set about the task of selecting an architect to design the museum's original building at 11 West 53rd St, the site of the former home of the Rockefeller family, who donated the townhouse to the new museum, Barr had hoped to be able to engage one of the great architects of the modern movement for this important commission. During this period, the museum had made the cause of modern architecture one of its principal concerns. In 1931 for an exhibition on modern architecture, Barr coined the term "international style" to describe the movement, a show curated by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson. In 1932, Johnson funded the new department of architecture and became its first curator. It was therefore to be expected that when the time came for MoMA to put up a building of its own, the commission would go to one of the figures it had already singled out as modern master architects.

Barr's own choices were three: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, both of the Bauhaus, and J J P Oud, a Dutch architect associated with the avant-garde De Stijl group. Mies was clearly the director's first choice. In a letter written in July 1936 to Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, Barr referred to Mies as "the man who is possibly the world's finest architect". And in another letter that month - this one to A Conger Goodyear, the museum president - Barr left little doubt about what the selection of an architect would mean for the museum itself. "The museum, presumably, stands for the best," he wrote, "not only in the art of our time but in architecture, too. I cannot but feel that if we took a second best, or, what is just as likely, a fifth best we would be betraying the standards of the museum in general and in particular the standards which it has upheld in architecture." To Mrs Rockefeller, Barr stated the matter in even stronger terms: "To rest content with a mediocre building on such a site would be to betray the very purposes for which the museum was founded ..." Barr lost this battle. Mies would not design a building for New York until the Seagram Building on Park Avenue in 1958, which has since stood head and shoulders above all office buildings in Manhattan, and the world. The ideal museum that Barr envisaged in 1936 would embody the exalted standards which MoMA, under his direction, upheld in its architectural exhibition and publications program. But it was never built. The commission went instead to two mediocre American architects, Philip L Goodwin and Edward Durrell Stone. Goodwin, though a MoMA trustee and a collector of modern painting and sculpture, was about as far from being a modernist as one could be in 1936. Russell Lynes, in Good Old Modern, described Goodwin as "an architect with the eclectic tastes of the Edwardian era and his roots ... in the neo-classicism of the Paris Ecole des Beaux Arts" - the citadel of the opposition to everything modern. Stone was a young, undistinguished recent convert to Modernism who happened to be in the employ of Wallace K Harrison, one of the architects of the Rockefeller Center. Barr had warned Mrs Rockefeller that awarding the commission to Goodwin and Stone "will almost certainly result in a mediocre building", but to no avail.

This fateful episode had a lasting bearing on the architectural fate of the new MoMA, casting the Modern with a tradition of settling for a "safe" solution in 1936 and leading to a fundamental split in MoMA's architectural policies - a split that, from its founding days down to the present day, has separated the ideals put forward in the museum's architectural exhibition and publications from the practice in the museum's own building program. It is a split that manifested itself again in 2004 at a cost of $858 million.

In the November 22, 2004, issue of the New York Observer, Kramer wrote in an article titled "Oedipus on 53rd Street": "Instead of a forward-looking, truly innovative plan for both the new gallery space and the new installation of the museum's permanent collection, we're constantly recalled to the many ways in which the new MoMA remains mired in the arguments and conventions of its own past. As a consequence of this reluctance to make a fresh start for a very different period and a very different public, the new MoMA is full of reminders of the successes and blunders of the old MoMA. The first and gravest of our disappointments is with the ill-conceived architecture. Yoshio Taniguchi's redesign has at every turn in its cold and elephantine structure the look and feel of a Japanese parody of the kind of American modernism that has itself long outlived its expiration date. Thus the galleries are essentially an architectural assemblage of - what else? - bleak, oversized white boxes in which the scale of the interior space and the unrelieved whiteness of the walls conspire to discomfort the viewer while diminishing the aesthetic integrity of works of art marooned in an environment remarkably hostile to the pleasures of the eye."

Kramer accused the curatorial staff of compounding the problem of the new unwelcoming exhibition spaces for the installation of MoMA's permanent collection by the apparent determination of curator to come up with a scheme that would emphatically be seen to resemble as little as possible the classic installations of the late Alfred Barr, MoMA's founding director, by a systematic deconstruction of Barr's pioneering work in establishing a coherent, stylistically oriented history of modernist art. Barr created programs and diagrams that trace a succession of esthetic influences and intellectual linkages that constitute a history of modernism; his installations were based on this historical scenario, which for generations of artists and critics became the accepted way of comprehending the modern tradition of art. That's the spirit in which Barr labored to codify the history of modernist art that no other writer on the subject has succeeded in improving on his work. Yet, precisely because Barr's conception of the modern tradition acquired a kind of orthodoxy, it was inevitable that it would also in time provoke some categorical dissent. The new MoMA, in effect, has transformed itself into the principal voice of the anti-Barr opposition. Thus, in a long essay marking the inauguration of the new MoMA, the museum's chief curator, John Elderfield, writes with unconcealed glee that "by a happy coincidence ... on the 40th anniversary of Barr's installation, a truly new one could be created from scratch".

In Elderfield's view, what went wrong in the Barr installation was that "the painting and sculpture galleries had become unduly hermetic, prescriptive, and progressive in their linear, spinal arrangement - the viewer needed sanction to slow down - while the small size of the individual galleries no longer served the requirements of an intimate address to the works of art".

What has categorically changed at MoMA is the way the museum presents works of art to its public. Heretofore, MoMA's presentation was largely based on a formalist-historical model in which the aesthetics of style was given priority over subject matter or thematic motifs. In the series of MoMA 2000 exhibitions, the formalist-historical model was rejected by MoMA in favor of an emphasis on the subject matter of art. One of the consequences of that decision was that the entire history of abstract art was fractured and rendered incoherent as its various phases were assigned to "subjects" that could rarely, if ever, be discernible to the naked eye. The mistakes of 2000 have been repeated in the permanent collection installation in 2004, according to Kramer.

In Kramer's opinion, the "subject galleries" in the new MoMA are works of art that have been orphaned from history - from the esthetic history from which they derive their ideas and from the history of their influence on later works of art. All esthetic experience is comparative, and the quality of our experience of individual works of art often depends on the relation that obtains between the object before us and our memories of other works of art. In such comparisons, style rather than subject provides the principal linkage. This is one reason the quality and character of installations in museum exhibitions is so crucial to our comprehension of art. Radicalism is unrecognizable out of historical context. Not only has the historical social context been filtered, now the historical stylistic context is also abandoned, presenting the art in the Modern's collection merely as free-standing collectible treasures in their own right. In the old MoMA, a masterwork like Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon offered an experience that the visitor carried in the mind through an encounter with the entire history of Cubist painting. At the new MoMA, Les Demoiselles is so historically isolated that it looks as if it had been not so much installed as simply abandoned.

"It's one of the further curiosities of the new MoMA that while Mr Elderfield dwells at length on the achievements of Alfred Barr, just about everything Barr stood for in the realm of responsible museology is repudiated in this inaugural installation. It's almost enough to persuade one to believe in Freud's Oedipus complex," wrote Kramer, who was being kind. The Oedipus complex implies that the son, in killing the father, seeks to fulfill his own greater destiny, not to announce the end of history.

In the December 2002 issue of The New Criterion, Hilton Kramer posed the question: Does abstract art have a future? "It was certainly striking that in the vast logistical planning that went into the organization of the 'MOMA 2000' exhibitions, no place was accorded to the birth and developments of abstract art."

Kramer argued that two historical developments - one within the realm of art itself, the other in the larger arena of intellectual and cultural life - appear to have shaped the situation in which we find ourselves. In the art world, the emergence of the Minimalist movement, which has been so central in determining the fate of abstract art since the 1960s, went so far in diminishing the esthetic scope and resources of abstraction that it may in some respects be said to have marked a terminal point in its esthetic development. At the same time, in the larger arena of cultural life, the fallout from the 1960s counterculture left all prior distinctions between high art and pop culture more or less stripped of their authority. It was hardly a coincidence that Minimalism and Pop Art made their respective debuts on the US art scene at the very same moment. However they may have differed in other respects, they were alike insofar as each constituted a programmatic assault not only on the Abstract Expressionism of the New York School - their initial target - but also on the entire pictorial tradition of which the New York School was seen to be a culmination.

Kramer keenly lamented that "the place occupied by new developments in abstract art on the contemporary art scene ... is now greatly diminished from what it once was". He recalled with nostalgia the 1950s and 60s in the United States when new developments in abstract art had shown themselves to have the effect of transforming our thinking about art itself. This was what Wassily Kandinsky, Mondrian, Malevich and others accomplished in the early years of abstract art. It was what Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and others in the New York School accomplished in the 1940s and 50s. And it was what Frank Stella, Donald Judd and certain other Minimalists accomplished in the 1960s.

Michelle Marder Kamhi, writing in the May 2003 issue of Aristos, a monthly online review of the arts and the philosophy of art informed by Ayn Rand's philosophy of art, under the title "Hilton Kramer's Misreading of Abstract Art", cited Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten (1714-62), the 18th-century German philosopher who coined the term die aesthetic, referring to a new branch of philosophy, which he defined as "the science of perception".

The Notion of Esthetics

In 1735, the young Alexander Baumgarten published his Meditationes philosophicae de nonullis ad poema pertinentibus (Philosophical Meditations on Some Requirements of the Poem), which appeared in Latin, as did almost all of his writings, and in which he identified a theory of sensibility labeled esthetics as a desideratum. For the first time in the history of philosophy, the notion of esthetics as an independent philosophical discipline was laid out. Yet the meaning of the term is far from the common understanding of esthetics as a philosophical investigation of art and a theory of beauty. Baumgarten's esthetics refers to a theory of sensibility as a faculty that produces a certain type of knowledge. Esthetics is taken very literally as a defense of the relevance of sensual perception. Philosophical esthetics originated as advocacy of sensibility, not as a theory of art. Yet without a positive valuation of the senses and their objects, art could not have achieved philosophical dignity but would have remained with the lesser ontological status that traditional metaphysics had assigned to it, compared with rationality.

Baumgarten's aim in exploring this new field was to persuade his fellow philosophers that the arts contain important forms of knowledge, as worthy of serious consideration as the abstract spheres of thought with which German philosophy had previously concerned itself. In Baumgarten's view, esthetic forms were not merely sensuously pleasing, they were meaningful as well.

Prior to the abstract movement, painting, however stylized and simplified in form, had always maintained a recognizable reference to the sorts of things that constitute human experience. The pioneers of abstract painting deliberately abandoned such reference. In so doing, they were neither guided nor inspired by superficially similar formal properties in representational painting. They were impelled by a host of radically extreme assumptions about the nature of reality - not least, about human nature. They were attempting to create a radically new art, and through it a radically new human nature. The goal, albeit never attained, of the first abstract artists was to embody profound meaning in their work, it was not to create arrangements of color and form that were merely sensuously pleasing. Thus abstract art was bound to social revolution based on a new human nature. As Baumgarten suggests, form and content are inextricably linked in works of art. Perceptually graspable forms are the means by which content (meaning) is conveyed in visual art. Form without intelligible meaning or content does not constitute a work of art; nor can there be content in the absence of identifiable forms. The history of 20th-century avant-garde movements, beginning with abstraction, can be understood as a series of attempts to do away with either or both of these essential attributes. Influential advocates of abstract art, such as Barr critics Clement Greenberg and Kramer, tended to discount the pioneers' intent and evaluate it instead in purely formalist terms.

Kramer also offers an analysis of postmodernism in the visual arts - which he aptly characterizes as the "fateful shift of priorities away from the esthetics of painting, both abstract and representational, in favor of a political, sexual, and sociological interest in art-making activities". Despite the superficial resemblance between some Minimalist paintings and those of early abstract painters such as Malevich, their works are worlds apart in intention - so much so that Minimalism can hardly be considered an instance of abstraction. Kramer correctly notes that, like the Pop Art of Andy Warhol and others, Minimalism "constituted a programmatic assault ... on the Abstract Expressionism of the New York School".

Minimalists in effect rejected all prior tradition and practice, whether abstract or representational. Purporting to create an art that dispensed with both content and esthetic form, they simply presented things, or objects, for what they are, mainly by exhibiting arrangements of the most banal of industrial materials, such as bricks, paving materials, and cubes or slabs, or by presenting shapes as mere shapes, as two-dimensional objects having no further reference or significance. "Eschewing representation, illusion, and expressive form, Minimal objects aspired to the ontological status of furniture or other real things, but without practicality or function" - to quote the Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. There was no intention to represent or express anything - to abstract any meaning or emotion from reality. "What you see is what you see," as Frank Stella put it. Of course, the crucial question ignored by Kramer and other critics is: What (if anything) makes such objects art? It is a question that neither the Minimalists nor anyone else has ever adequately answered, according to Kamhi.

To Kramer, another major factor contributing to the art world we know today was that the 1960s counterculture, which included Pop Art, "left all prior distinctions between high art and pop culture more or less stripped of their authority". More fundamentally, post-modern criticism obliterates the distinction between art and non-art. There is a saying among the natives of Bali, "We have no art; we do everything well." Abstract work had itself initiated this breakdown by severing the crucial connection between art and intelligible meaning - and that, by the way, is why it should have no future. In its superficial, trivializing way, Pop Art was an attempt to reintroduce recognizable subject matter into painting and sculpture, just as "conceptual art" constituted another perverse postmodernist approach to putting content back into visual art.

The Modern goes to Berlin

Josef Joffe, publisher and editor of the German weekly Die Zeit, reported on the popular reception of an exhibition of 200 art pieces from New York's Museum of Modern Art that opened in Berlin in February 2004. By the time it closed on September 19, an unprecedented 1.2 million visitors had seen the show. In 2003, Berlin's Neue Nationalgalerie attracted only 220,000 visitors with an exhibition of East German art. The Berlin Tagesspiegel calculated that until early August, people had spent 446 man-years waiting in line to see the MoMA show. The paper pegged the individual record at nine hours. The fans brought rubber mats, thermos bottles and sleeping bags; some showed up as early as 3am. The paper noted that nobody had given birth in line, nor had anybody died. But once every day, an ambulance showed up for other emergencies. Nonetheless, the public kept coming in order to check out the Matisses and Modiglians, and of course the paintings and objects that showed off America's most famous contributions to world art, Pop and Abstract Expressionism. This makes for a startling contrast between the vox populi and the voices of the art-critic establishment, which have ranged from the derisory to the downright hostile.

The critic of the distinguished German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung aimed his volley not so much against MoMA as against imperial America. Regurgitating a piece of European Kulturkritik as old as the American republic itself, this critic insinuated that what America has in the way of culture is not haute and what is haute is not American. After World War II, the United States had wrested "artistic hegemony" from Europe in two unsavory ways. One culprit was "a new abstract school of painting that hyped itself into high heaven". The other was American mammon: "Everything still available in old Europe was bought up." And this "stolen idea of modern art will now be presented in Berlin".

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the country's second-largest quality paper, opined that MoMA's Berlin show was a mendacious ploy, indeed, an imperialist "conspiracy". Hegemonic arrogance came on cat's feet. It was done by "concealment" and "censorship" in a game full of "marked cards", and the name of the game was to blank out not only Europe's greats, but also to suppress their decisive contribution to American art in the latter part of the 20th century. Nonetheless, the show ended with Gerhard Richter's "18 October 1977" cycle depicting dead members of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist gang. But that precisely proved the anti-European conspiracy, the feuilletoniste from Frankfurt all but shouted. This selection, he contended, merely used the terrorist motif in order to finger Europe as a "creepy" place, as a messenger of "bad news".

Might there be a moral to this tale of "two" exhibits, with one stirring the fascination of the Great Unwashed, and the other, as seen by the commenting class, disclosing yet another proof of American perfidy? The moral may well be a tale of two Europes. Those who flocked to MoMA-Berlin with sleeping bag and thermos in hand were mesmerized by all things American, whether highbrow or low. The other Europe, as represented by the critics cited here, resents the United States precisely because it is so seductive. It is hard enough to live with a giant that spends more on its military than the rest of the world combined and unleashes its might on places like Afghanistan and Iraq. It grates even more to see this Gulliver Unbound dominate European culture from McDonald's to MoMA. The fear and loathing of the US will outlive President George W Bush, writes Joseph Joffe.

Yet it should not be surprising that the general public everywhere always loves art, even if they may not always appreciate its political content. Art has always been created with the help of money and power. The issue is not that money and power are themselves evil, only the unfair distribution of them. The Hermitage became a great public museum after the abdication of Czar Nicholas II, as did the Louvre after the French Revolution. Much of the great works of art were sponsored by despots throughout history, but only enjoyed by the people after the original sponsors' demise.

Money, power and the business of museums
Lisa Shiff wrote about the Modern's expansion in PART, a periodical produced and edited by students in the Art History Program of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York where Marshall Bergman teaches: "While Terrence Riley, chief curator of architecture and design, declared that the MoMA plans to 'reinvent the museum for the next century', a 240,000-pound, 55-by-13-foot, recently acquired Richard Serra sculpture sat in a dark MoMA warehouse. The question is who or what is really 'reinventing the museum'? MoMA director Glenn Lowry all but spelled it out when he stated that, 'As the emphasis on the activity shifts, the character of the organization changes ... Museums that wish to engage with contemporary artists must therefore constantly seek to create spaces that can support rapidly changing notions of art.' It appears then that Serra is the 'reinventor', that large-scale works such as his mammoth Intersection II are dictating architectural expansion. But according to what logic do art and architecture begin formally responding to one another? Is there not some invisible force that prompts this material tug-of-war? Space seems to be at the root of all this, for both the museum's art and architecture occupy the same institutional space: the former being placed within that space, the latter structurally and ideologically defining it. By using space as a medium, though, art since Minimalism is often created to contaminate this space, to resist ontological reconfiguration by breaking out of the self-enclosed frame of much modern art into the room, the hall, the space that is the museum. By sometimes overwhelming this space and forcing viewers to bodily experience the work-environment, many works enjoy a sense of liberation, albeit a false one. For the shattering of the modernist frame is immediately greeted by the imposition of another frame, the ever-pliant frame of institutional architecture - one that, as Lowry said, must respond to changes in artistic practice. And this logic, whereby liberation is met by domination, is the logic of late capitalism, what Ernst Mandel has named our current, all-pervasive economic phase."

The analysis of the development of world capitalism by Belgian/German Marxist Ernest Mandel (1923-95) occupies an important place in his extensive work, his magna opera, Marxist Economic Theory (first published in French in 1962) and Late Capitalism (first published in German in 1972). Late capitalism colonizes every last vestige of traditional, non-commodified space. And the Western corporate museum is first and foremost an agent of late capitalism, functioning according to its logic. What is reinventing the museum, then, is not Terrence Riley or the MoMA trustees, nor is it Serra and his gargantuan works, but rather the logic of late capitalism just as it does every other Western institution, moving them according to its ever-changing needs. Economic forces, then, prompt art and architecture to vie for power. Within the museum this logic motivates architecture to adjust itself to artistic subversion, colonizing, containing, and disciplining it to conform to its first-world outlook. But what does all this mean? And where will it end? Will the Museum of Modern Art continue to eat Manhattan as the artworks get bigger? Or will it just create international branches a la Krens (Thomas Krens, director of the Guggenheim Museums, who has been criticized for promoting the museum as a brand name)? If the colonization of space as dictated by late capitalism is recognized as a historical inevitability, and if it is historicized, then maybe museum expansion might be seen not as an opportunity to show more works simultaneously and more appropriately, but as endangering artistic freedom of speech, wrote Shiff.

Mark Honigsbaum pointed out in The Guardian that it was not so much Krens' franchise approach to the memory of Solomon Guggenheim (1861-1949 - the mining magnate whose endowment gave birth to the original Frank Lloyd Wright museum 63 years ago) that affronted his critics so much as his commercialization of the space inside the present 88th Street ziggurat. Three years ago, for instance, Krens, 54 - who wears black and rides a BMW to work - controversially curated The Art of the Motorcycle, an ode to bike design that was sponsored by BMW, which one critic slammed as "least-common-denominator braggadocio". Another crowd-pleaser, an exhibition of Giorgio Armani sketches and frocks, was sponsored by Time Warner fashion magazine In Style, and reportedly accompanied by a gift of $15 million to the museum by the Italian designer. This interconnection among the market, expansion and survival was perfectly encapsulated in Frank Gehry's model for a new mega-museum on South Street, overlooking the East River. Some critics called Gehry's design more Disney World than art world - while a proposal to build private "sky boxes" to entice corporate sponsors appalled those who believe museums should subscribe to more democratic principles. Krens pointed out that worldwide attendance at the four Guggenheims had grown to 2.5 million, compared with 350,000 in 1989, the year after he took over. Decades earlier, McDonald's used the advertising theme of "Over A Billion Sold" on its hamburgers, which have since been identified as a main cause of obesity in the US.

"When merchants enter the temple" and "Guggenheim a gogo" were headlines of an April 19, 2001, Economist article on Kerns' quest for money. Philippe de Montebello, the director of New York's venerable Metropolitan Museum, led other museum directors in expressing concern about the impact such entrepreneurship had on the part of museums on the tax treatment of non-profit organizations that qualify for tax-deductible charitable giving. Museum shops pay an unrelated business income tax on the sale of a portion of their product line. Partly for having put the Guggenheim into financial difficulties, Krens received a public scolding from chairman Peter B Lewis who told the New York Times his $12 million bailout was contingent on the director slashing the budget: Krens could either cut expenses or look for another job, he said. Lewis admitted "complicity" in the failing fortunes of the museum he had chaired since 1998; the annual budget has fallen to $24 million, less than half its peak, and the museum is still paying $7 million a year to finance Krens' mediocre 1992 addition to Frank Lloyd Wright's Fifth Avenue landmark by a self-styled Modernist architect. The SoHo branch closed last year, new Guggenheim partnerships in Berlin and Las Vegas have not turned a profit, and the proposed $650 million Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim for Lower Manhattan has become a castle in the air above the East River amid opposition from just about every quarter. The bankrupt Enron, whose executives have been under indictment for fraud and white-collar crimes, also underwrote the Frank Gehry retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, but sank before Thomas Krens could add it to his list of major corporate supporters.

To his credit, Krens did mastermind the single-greatest museum phenomenon of the 1990s, Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao. A marketing triumph for the Basque city and for the Guggenheim itself, it remains the iconic embodiment of the late-20th-century museum boom. The Guggenheim and its partner, St Petersburg's State Hermitage Museum, had expected to ring up annual multimillion-dollar jackpots in Vegas. Instead, they have about broken even. Daily attendance, projected at 5,000, hovered around 1,750. The cavernous Guggenheim Las Vegas will go dark for at least three months, and the smaller Guggenheim Hermitage plans to take the much-traveled Norman Rockwell show. Despite these setbacks, Krens hoped to spawn yet another Guggenheim, this one a $250 million, Jean Nouvel-designed project in Rio de Janeiro. He wanted to charge Rio an additional $40 million for the Guggenheim "brand" - twice what the five-year-old Guggenheim Bilbao paid. Bilbao's financial support comes from private donors and the Basque government; the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin is funded by Deutsche Bank. In all, the Guggenheim netted $10.01 million from art sales in 1999, $4.55 million in 2000. Guggenheim officials refused to provide a list of these privately sold works, but described them as "minor and redundant", or "not [of] museum quality".

Charlie Finch wrote in under the title "It's a new dawn", "Any deal for a new Goog with the city of New York should be contingent upon Krens' resignation. Krens' 'stewardship' has consisted of pathetic direct mail pleas from actor Jeremy Irons for contributions to the Goog's operating budget; dubious international vanity shows without visual nutrition; mass layoffs of dedicated, underpaid New York museums' staffers; and dangerous, absurdist motorcycle rides in the desert.

"Plus, he's drained an incredible $23 million of the museum's endowment, almost one-third of the total. The swift departure of Krens, and his overrated, garbage-spewing sidekick Frank Gehry, would immeasurably bolster a new vision of humility, prudence and foresight for New York's battered museum world, promising a new dawn for art in New York."

The New York Times reported in May 2003 that so far the Guggenheim has received more than $2 million from Rio to work on feasibility studies for the new museum. Over the next three years the Guggenheim, the Hermitage and the Kunsthistorisches will share another $28.6 million as a kind of licensing fee for the rights to use their names and for their participation in programming. The Guggenheim has signed a 25-year agreement to help the new museum with all aspects of its operations. From 2003 to 2007, during the museum's development, the Guggenheim will receive an annual fee of $836,000. While the city of Rio will operate the museum, the Guggenheim, the Hermitage and the Kunsthistorisches will offer Rio its collections and programming. Krens said the Rio museum would also begin collecting Latin American and Brazilian art, giving it a regional as well as international presence. And just as many of the Guggenheim's traveling exhibitions will now go to Rio, some of the Guggenheim Rio de Janeiro's art will travel internationally.

During the same time, Krens has been tweaking his colleagues in the museum world by unabashedly embracing a promoter's mentality. Krens has been moving ahead in Venice, as well, where his museum already has an outpost displaying the eclectic collection accumulated by the late Peggy Guggenheim. Plans were announced for a full Venice Guggenheim Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, to open in three years in the Italian city's 17th-century Customs House, a prime location on the Grand Canal. That may be part of his logic for negotiating with the Venetian, the $1.5 billion slice of faux Italy opened by entrepreneur Sheldon Adelson last year in Las Vegas, complete with simulated canals and gondoliers.

Museums without walls
Lisa Shiff quoted Peter Buerger (Theory of the Avant-garde, 1974; The Decline of Modernism, 1992), professor of French and comparative literature at the University of Bremen: "Art in bourgeois society lives off the tension between the institutional framework (releasing art from the demand that it fulfill a social function) and the possible political content of individual works. This tension, however, is not stable but subject to a historical dynamics that tends toward its abolition."

Buerger spoke of "art into life". The historical avant-garde - Dada, Surrealism, Russian avant-garde after the October Revolution - do not reject individual artistic techniques and procedures of earlier art, but rather they reject that art in its entirety through a radical break with tradition. In their most extreme manifestations, their primary target is art as an institution such as it has developed in bourgeois society. Cubism is part of historical avant-garde because it questions linear perspective that had prevailed since the Renaissance. Buerger extrapolated his theory of avant-garde from all reaction against estheticism, detached from the praxis of life and the development of pure esthetic. Avant-garde sensitizes the recipient. He addressed the relationship between art and society, from the emergence of bourgeois culture in the 18th century to the decline of modernism in the 20th century. He argued that in questioning the formal relationship between art and life, which had dominated the 18th and 19th centuries, the avant-gardist movements of the early 20th century brought about the crisis of postmodernism. Buerger charted the establishment of literary and artistic institutions since the Enlightenment and their apparent autonomy from the prevailing political systems. However, he argued that the discovery of the target of Enlightenment - namely, barbarism - revealed the interdependence of art and society and set the scene for the avant-gardist protest against esthetic formalism.

And then there is the idea of a museum without walls, first promoted by Andre Malraux (La Psychologie de L'Art, 1947-49, three volumes: Museum Without Walls; The Creative Act; The Twilight of the Absolute). The new Modern is a museum with walls, lots of plain white walls to set off art as detached from life. While Barr originally advocated the use of plain white walls to emphasize the separation from the representational past, the use of white walls as background has evolved over the year as a means of erasing all social content. Whereas the Metropolitan Museum has recently restored the need for context for its exhibitions, with donated private collections installed in replicas of period rooms where the paintings had been hung and the installation of Egyptian, Chinese, Japanese, Islamic, Greco-Roman, Medieval and Early American wings that try to give the visitor a sense of cultural context, the Modern is still obsessed with its neutral white walls, which ironically deconstruct the abstractness of the non-objective art originally intended as statement of rejection of ornate Victorian Age ornamentations. Against a white wall, Minimalism, the effect of being quiet in a noisy room, becomes simply minimal, like being quiet in a quiet room. Against a white wall in a large room, the most mundane painting or object looks good and important.

Malraux, as cultural minister in the Gaullist government, authorized the cleaning of the Louvre and other grand facades, which was considered by many critics an act of cultural vandalism. The passage of time adds to all works of art in ways that cannot be artificially resurrected. A century-old tree will suffer irreparable damage if its ancient bark is removed to make it look young. While art preservation is a worthwhile undertaking by all cultures that value their past, cleaning facades spotless so that one can hardly tell Las Vegas reproductions from the originals is a gross misapplication of preservation principles. The cleansing of context does the same violence to art.

In 1962, the Gaullist minister Malraux visited the United States, where he met Francophile Jacqueline Kennedy, described by her husband as the woman who had conquered Paris, who had been criticized for serving only French wine in the White House at a time when US wines were coming of age and needed recognition. Malraux promised the superstar First Lady that Leonard da Vinci's Mona Lisa would be shown in the US to help improve Franco-US relations. Leonardo's painting was sent across the Atlantic on the luxury liner SS France. Almost 2 million in the US saw the famous work from the Louvre, which as everyone knows is Italian, not French.

Guernica: From Atrocity to Masterpiece

During this period, a retrospective exhibition was being suggested by the French art world to honor Picasso, who first resisted the idea, and Malraux, as cultural minister of the Gaullist government, was not enthusiastic and did not want to approach the celebrated painter. "You're mad," was Malraux's answer when he was urged by those who proposed the idea to visit Picasso, a card-carrying communist, to persuade Picasso to agree to the idea of a government-sponsored retrospective of his work. "He would leave me standing at the gate, sending word that someone was coming to open. And I'd wait there for hours while they tipped off L'Humanite" (the communist paper). The exhibition was finally opened despite Malraux's stubborn pride and was a great popular success. In Picasso's Mask (1974), Malraux referred to it as the "retrospective show I had organized", much to the dismay of the art world.

Pablo Picasso's mural Guernica, modern art's most powerful anti-war statement, was exhibited for four decades on the antiseptic white walls of the Modern. The mural was the natural outcome of what Picasso had in mind when he agreed to paint the centerpiece for the Spanish Pavilion of the 1937 World's Fair in Paris. For three months, Picasso had been searching for inspiration for the mural, but the artist was in a sullen mood, frustrated by a decade of turmoil in his personal life and dissatisfaction with the drifting direction of his work. The politics of his native homeland was also troubling him, as a brutal civil war ravaged Spain. Republican forces, loyal to the newly elected leftist government, were under attack from a fascist coup led by Generalissimo Francisco Franco, who promised prosperity and stability to the people of Spain. Yet Franco delivered only death and destruction, which raised worldwide indignation and opposition. From the US, the Lincoln Brigade, which was made up mostly of American leftists but also included Ernest Hemingway, who wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls based on the experience, was formed to help fight fascism in Spain. On April 27, 1937, a massive atrocity was perpetrated by Franco against the civilian population of a little Basque village in northern Spain. Chosen for bombing practice by an air force supplied by Hitler's burgeoning war machine, the hamlet was pounded with high-explosive and incendiary bombs for more than three hours to prove the effectiveness of air power. Townspeople were cut down by machine-guns from low-flying planes as they ran from the crumbling buildings. Guernica burned uncontrolled for three days. Sixteen hundred innocent civilians were killed or wounded.

By May 1, news of the massacre at Guernica reached Paris, where more than a million protesters flooded the streets to voice their outrage in the largest May Day demonstration the city had ever seen. Witness reports filled the front pages of Parisian papers. Picasso was stunned by the stark black-and-white photographs. Appalled and enraged, he rushed through the crowded streets to his studio, where he quickly sketched the first images for the mural he would call Guernica. Energized by a sense of universal justice for humanity, his search for inspiration from cafe nihilism was over, and indignant passion took hold. From the beginning, Picasso chose not to represent the horror of Guernica in realist or romantic terms. Key figures - a woman with outstretched arms, a bull, an agonized horse - were refined in sketch after sketch, then transferred to the room-size canvas, which he also reworked several times. "A painting is not thought out and settled in advance," said Picasso. "While it is being done, it changes as one's thoughts change. And when it's finished, it goes on changing, according to the state of mind of whoever is looking at it."

Three months later, Guernica was delivered to the Spanish Pavilion, where the Paris Exposition was already in progress. Located out of the way, and grouped with the pavilions of smaller countries some distance from the Eiffel Tower, the Spanish Pavilion stood in the shadow of Albert Speer's monolith tribute to Nazism. The Spanish Pavilion's main attraction, Picasso's Guernica, was a sober reminder of the tragic massacre in Spain. Initial reaction to the painting was overwhelmingly critical. The Nazi fair guide called Guernica "a hodgepodge of body parts that any four-year-old could have painted". It dismissed the mural as the dream of a madman. Yet Picasso's tour de force would become one of 20th century's most unsettling indictments of war, along with Francisco de Goya's 19th-century expressionistic anti-war painting of the French occupation of Spain. After the fair, Guernica toured Europe and North America to raise consciousness about the threat of fascism.

From the beginning of World War II until 1981, Guernica was housed in its temporary home at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, though it made frequent trips abroad after the war to such places as Munich, Cologne, Stockholm, and Sao Paulo, but not Spain. Although Picasso had always intended the mural to be owned by the Spanish people, he refused to allow it to travel to Spain until the country enjoyed "public liberties and democratic institutions". Speculations as to the exact meaning of the jumble of tortured images are as numerous and varied as the people who have viewed the painting. Guernica challenges the notion of warfare as heroic and exposes it as a brutal act of self-destruction. In 1973, Pablo Picasso, the most influential artist of the 20th century, died at the age of 92. And when Franco died in 1975, a movement to return the mural to Spain began. On the centenary of Picasso's birth, October 25, 1981, Guernica left the Museum of Modern Art permanently and returned to Picasso's native soil, where context is natural.

Next: Modern Art and Freedom of Expression