Marketing Modernism in Fin-De-Siecle Europe / the Popular Culture of Modern Art: Picasso, Duchamp, and Avant-Gardism / Modernity and Nostalgia: Art and Politics in France between the Wars

Article excerpt


Marketing Modernism in Fin-de-Siecle Europe

Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University Press, 1994. 376 pp. $29.95 JEFFREY WEISS

The Popular Culture of Modern Art: Picasso, Duchamp, and AvantGardism

New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995. 242 pp.; 151 b/w ills. $45.00 ROMY GOLAN

Modernity and Nostalgia: Art and Politics in France between the Wars New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995. 227 pp.; 80 color ills., 96 b/w. $45.00

If the structuralist art history of Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind Krauss has brought a theoretical sophistication to Greenbergian formalism, it has done so at a time when that critical tradition is desperately in need of fortification. For since the 1970s, critiques advanced largely by feminist and social art historians have left the formerly hegemonic status of the Greenbergian formalist paradigm greatly compromised. In the work of T. J. Clark, Thomas Crow, Serge Guilbaut, Linda Nochlin, and Griselda Pollock, for example, claims of formal autonomy have been countered with assertions of cultural and political embeddedness. In what could be seen as an Althusserian reframing of art-historical investigation and interpretation, ideology has been shown to pervade art and, moreover, its history. That is to say, insofar as both art and art history are systems of representation, differences of class, sex, gender, nationality, or race have been shown, in various socially and historically specific ways, to form a complex web of determination and meaning.

In quite particular yet fundamentally united ways, the books by Robert Jensen, Jeffrey Weiss, and Romy Golan can be seen as participating in the project of redressing the deliberate blind spots and resulting lacunae of Greenbergian modernism and its legacy. Each account significantly challenges the autonomy of Greenberg's critical teleology, whether through an assertion of commerce, mass culture, or politics. In short, Jensen looks to social structures, analyzing the economic, institutional, and ideological factors that contributed to the historical legitimation of modernism at the turn of the century in Europe; Weiss to popular culture, revealing the fundamentally symbiotic relationship between "high" and "low" culture in early 20th-century French modernism; and Golan to politics, rereading interwar French culture as inextricably bound up in an emerging political discourse of nationalism.

Jensen's comprehensive and expansive account of early modernism, Marketing Modernism in Fin-de-Siecle Europe, can be said to lay bare the foundational paradox of the formalist paradigm of modernism: the avant-garde's fundamentally dependent yet disavowed relationship to commerce. As Clement Greenberg wrote in his 1939 essay "Avant-Garde and Kitsch":

No culture can develop without a social basis, without a source of stable income. And in the case of the avant-garde this was provided by an elite ruling class of that society from which it assumed itself to be cut off, but to which it has always remained attached by an umbilical cord of gold. I Although Jensen does not allude specifically to Greenberg's "umbilical cord of gold," it is this financially nourishing cord that can be seen to structure his account.2 For it is the path of this cord that Jensen follows, tracing its movement through the institutional matrixes of a burgeoning 19th-century Parisian art market, and pursuing its trail across national boundaries to the cities and artistic institutions of Central Europe, particularly Berlin.

In Jensen's account, Impressionism, or historical modernism, is constituted, and constituted belatedly and internationally, by its financial agents, the network of critics and dealers who participated in the dissemination and ratification of 19th-century painting. In other words, it is through an examination of the exhibition practices of Paul DurandRuel or Paul Cassirer rather than the aesthetic practices of Maurice Denis or Mary Cassatt, through an analysis of the critical language of Theodore Duret or Emile Zola rather than the painterly language of Edgar Degas or Anders Zorn, that the history of modernism emerges. …