In ModernStarts, the first cycle of a three-part exhibition (on display until March 14, 2000) celebrating the art of the 20th century, New York's Museum of Modern Art explores the birth of modernism. Culling from its collection of works made between 1880 and 1920, and grouping them as "People," "Places," or "Things"--instead of placing them in a more traditional chronological arrangement--the exhibition and its companion book follow the three themes through their varied early incarnations and ultimate artistic legacies. For example, works by Picasso, Rodin, Matisse, and Munch illustrate the "Actors, Dancers, and Bathers" chapter of the "People" segment. Included, too, though, is a 1993 Rineke Dijkstra photo of a young man at the beach, set on a page facing Cézanne's The Bather, which he painted in 1885. The two compositions are so strikingly similar that one can't help but imagine that Cézanne's painting was on the photographer's mind as she captured her own bather more than a century later. Yet each image is distinctly a product of its creator's own vision.
"Places," as one might expect, explores locations that are both real and imagined through photos, architecture, and painting. Here again, artists practicing during the decades of nascent modernism--van Gogh, Gaugin, and art nouveau designer Hector Guimard, to name a few--are heavily represented. And here, too, later artists are mixed in to follow the trajectory of an idea: First Dream, a 1981 Bill Viola video set in the woods, is placed as a direct descendent of Eugène Atget's early-1920s images of trees in a suburban Parisian park.
"Things" is filled with objects raided from the museum's formidable design collection: Wright and Mackintosh chairs, a fireplace grille by Gaudí, a Tiffany lamp, a meat slicer designed by Egmont Arens in 1935, and Meret Oppenheim's fur-covered teacup set, along with representations of objects by the likes of Marcel Duchamp, Giorgio de Chirico, and, much later, Michael Craig-Martin. This innovative method of looking at relatively well known images will stimulate readers to rethink the artistically fertile period of the early 20th century and its continued relevance to today's art. ModernStarts is a thick volume stocked with many more artworks than can be described here--over 450 in all--and serves as an excellent record of the era in which artistic modernism found its footing. --Jordana Moskowitz [via]