Nov. 24 - Turn off your television, take off your headphones, put
down your CD player.
Ever wonder what folks did for entertainment (or, gasp,
edification) before all that technology? In honor of 90 years of
continual reporting on the cultural life of what Henry Luce in 1941
called "the American Century," the Monitor is taking a step back
across the decades to appreciate, if just for a moment, some of the
stories from the arts and entertainment world that led up to the
chapter we're living today.
However, in deference to the multi-media environment expect-ed of
our time, a sound track is included.
CUE: "The Maple Leaf Rag," Scott Joplin's seminal composition,
published in 1899. Ragtime was the nation's first "pop" music.
FADE IN: February, 1913. New York City's Armory Show, in which
Cubism arrives on the American art scene. Dubbed by art historians,
the most important art event in American history, paintings by such
artists as Pablo Picasso and Marcel DuChamp shocked the 80,000
visitors who flocked to the controversial show.
This exhibition can be seen as the art world's official
announcement that this century demanded a new way of looking at
reality, a "modernist" outlook that included a willingness to use
whatever materials that such a new vision might require. These ideas
gave birth to Picasso's space-fragmenting cubist masterpiece "Les
Demoiselles d'Avignon," and Marcel DuChamp's "Bicycle Wheel," a
"found object" triumph in which an actual wheel was mounted as
sculpture for viewers to touch and move.
Of course, the roots for this liberation from conventional realism
came from deep in the previous century, with important predecessors
such as Impressionist Claude Monet (his late "Water-Lilies" series,
The French painter opened the way to a new abstraction which in
many ways heralded everything from architect Frank Lloyd Wright's
York City landmark, the Guggenheim Museum, to the Abstract
Expressionist drip paintings of a Jackson Pollock, the musical
reductivism of a John Cage and ultimately, the digital internet art
of a Friederike Paetzold of today.
The Armory show also pre-shadowed another significant event of
20th century American cultural life - the post World War II rise of
Before the World War I, the automobile, or airplanes, the new
middle classes, spawned by the industrial revolution, began to find
themselves with time and money to spend on art. In this era, before
consumerism and technology created a global entertainment culture,
what is now called "high art" (symphonies, museums, ballet) was
considered mainstream, popular art. After the World War II, that
began to change.
As returning soldiers settled with their families, pursuit of the
American Dream began to drive a merchandising bonanza. Soon, TV and
film spread American fads around the world. An
entertainment-oriented culture, particularly films and fashion,
occasionally drew from the fine arts; but the entertainment culture
essential overshadowed fine arts, and began to dominate. This
phenomenon has reached an apotheosis in today's vast media
conglomerates, such as Disney or Time-Warner.
Indeed, Disney's flimsy cartoon fable ("Beauty and the Beast")
gave birth to a lavish stage production. In turn, that begat several
sequels to the original story, based on a multi-million dollar
merchandising strategy. All this is certainly a late 20th century
phenomenon quite foreign to the sorts of diversions enjoyed by folks
at the dawn of this century.
Those audiences were, however, getting some hints of the future.
At the same time the Armory Show had New Yorkers up in arms,
Parisians were enjoying a glimpse of the modernist winds blowing
the century as ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky kicked up a storm in
CUE: Russian composer, Igor Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," music
for the ballet which premiered May 29, 1913.
The athletic Nijinsky may have jumped higher and hovered longer
than any dancer before him, but it was his raw sexuality that,
according to accounts of the day, sparked fist fights and even duels
in the aisles during the ballet premier. …