1936 Cubsim and Abstract Art exhibit

Alfred Barr designed this Cubism and Abstract Art poster for the 1936 exhibit. The curious thing about the poster is its intended duality for the exhibit. Barr intended for the poster to hang as an artwork with the other pieces on the wall, while additionally covering the catalogues, posters, and other promotional objects for the exhibit. As if a first effort towards branding, Barr foresaw the value of graphic art and how a piece can act as both a work with meaning and as a visual composition.

The actual piece itself further shows Barr’s approach to modern art education.  The piece is completely devoid of a legend or cultural reference. There is a timeline that guides the words on the outskirts but the piece acts as an evolution of thought. Movements become “isms” gliding with arrows in between each other. In order to understand the piece you “have to be in the know”-not unlike his questionnaire mentioned earlier for Vanity Fair. Barr often teeters between these two lines of educating art while in contrast keeping art criticism at a distance from the masses. It is almost as if he does not want to baby modern art theory too much in order to separate it from being dismissed. It needs to retain some sense of elitism in order to prove its relevance in the cliquish closed art world.

Since these are all new forms of art, there is no better time for Barr to put these phrases into conversation and take a stance as the authority that is going to organize them. He forces his own value of hierarchy onto them.

This piece was meant for the first part of the five exhibits designed to show from 1936-1943.[1] Barr had created a series of exhibits to explain the modern art aesthetics and individual movements. From his days as Wellesley, he continued to define modern art, when there was no such class in universities.

Steve Wolfe. Untitled (Cubism and Abstract Art). 1997

I found this second piece, Untitled (1926 Cubism and Abstract Art) created by Steve Wolfe in 1997, as I was searching for more information on the initial poster. This recreation by Wolfe is done as a painted book, meant to hang on a wall.[2]  I was initially drawn to this piece because of the page it was displayed on. I was interested in the way MoMA.org was presenting the art piece as a visual, information box and video supplement. Websites for museums have become increasingly interactive. Instead of researching for the history of an object, the artist’s voice, in this case Wolfe, will directly tell you his motivations for the work and his intended significance. Thus, there are multiple ways for you to interact with the work depending on how you are capable of learning. This follows the model of contemporary classrooms where different exercises are developed for the “visual learner” versus the “audio learner.”

Additionally, I found it curious how this sculpture is imitating a book imitating a poster imitating an exhibit designed to educate new movements. Where Barr initially played with the idea of high versus low art in commodifying the initial message with mass-produced posters, Wolfe is imitating this by taking a graphic reference and making it an art piece. It is kind of cool how about 60 years later, the same issues resurface and how the historical piece is used as an aid to explain old issues.


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