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What will the new Modernism look like?

April 3, 2012
This image of the original Ballets Russes dancers shows the village maidens toeing-in instead of out, a bold new dance form. Image courtesy Wikimedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:RiteofSpringDancers.jpg

This image of the original Ballets Russes dancers shows the village maidens standing in poses completely novel to classical ballet. Image courtesy Wikimedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:RiteofSpringDancers.jpg

Everyone is familiar with the story of the riot that broke out at the 1913 Ballets Russes premiere of “The Rite of Spring.” The modernist choreography by Nijinsky introduced movements that were completely novel and strange: dancers moved heavily, turning their feet inward, pigeon-toed, instead of lightly with toes out, according to long custom. Igor Stravinsky’s clashing, dissonant music was filled with unfamiliar tempos and sounds. No wonder that the audience felt confused and challenged, having shown up expecting well-mannered dancers in tutus and tights, pirouetting to pleasant orchestral sounds.

“Nude Descending a Staircase.” Much of contemporary art still owes allegiance to Duchamp and Dada.

1913 was also the year of the infamous Armory Show in New York City, which introduced Americans for the first time to European avant-garde art. Works shown at the show included Duchamps’ “Nude Descending a Staircase,” which one outraged art critic referred to as “an explosion in a shingle factory.” Teddy Roosevelt himself declared “That’s not art!” Nonetheless, Cubism and Dada would inspire generations of artists to come. Many of the artists of the Armory Show are considered masters today: Duchamps, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Munch, Picasso, Kandinsky, Rodin and Rousseau.

Literature in 1913 was a hotbed of new ideas and innovations. James Joyce was working on “Ulysses,” T. S. Eliot was writing “the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” Proust published “Swann’s Way,” Ezra Pound was writing verse. The writers, artists, and musicians working around this time are still famous today. It was one of the greatest outbreaks of creativity in Western history.

Les Demoiselles D’Avignon was painted in 1907 by Picasso. This image confirmed the presence of an ongoing revolution in art.

We commonly assume that the 1800s ended when the 20th century began. But in reality, the Victorian era lingered on for about a decade while the new century got on its feet. The 1910s represented the true beginning of the modern 20th century, with its innovations, shocks, defiances and creativity. Out went the horses and buggies, the corsets, top hats, tea gowns and gloves. In came automobiles, the Turkey Trot and the Foxtrot, women with bobbed hair, free love, Cubism, Dada, the Fauves, free verse, freedom from all the old constraints.

2013 will be the hundredth anniversary of the Armory Show and “the Rites of Spring.” We are poised at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century. What will the new version of modernism for the 21st century look like and sound like? It’s certainly already present here around us and perceptible to those who have been paying attention. Many people believe that it will involve a blossoming forth of innovative new computer technology that will extend into the various branches of art, literature and music just like the last round of Modernism did. The Computer Age will also transform medicine and the practice of science. But can it leave as lasting an effect as Picasso, Stravinsky and Duchamp, or will it fall short? Some of us will embrace the new paradigm, but others will turn away like the elderly Victorians did at the Armory Show, waving their hands in consternation and objecting “That’s not art!” In just a few more years, the emerging patterns and trends will become clear, and that will be when the 21st century truly supersedes the 20th.

From → ideas and trends

3 Comments
  1. Worth exploring: It could be that the pervasive art of the new century surrounds us, peeks out at us from around corners and computer windows. The forms morph much quicker, the medium of light over pigments. Museums may not be the goal of “Modern” art, all art is transitory and impermanent no matter how well curated, it could be we are in a headlong rush towards the next big thing that will happen so soon we pass it by unnoticed in the pursuit of it; not so much “What is it, or what will it be?” but will we know it when we see it? Naked and nude she ascends the Möbius staircase.

  2. Exactly! It is very likely that the concept of a museum is itself an outdated Victorian holdover, and that the new art will be spontaneous and ephemeral (as opposed to corporeal) and will be preserved in hard drives instead of being displayed in galleries.

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