At its best, a bracing idea


Death of Modernism, Steven Hansen

From The New Republic:

Again and again Josipovici casts modernism in essentially oppositional terms. The artists he admires always reject and repudiate and recoil. They are inclined inexorably to disenchantment, poised to be revolted by anything easy or natural, pleasing or confident. In this Josipovici participates in a venerable tradition. Modernist artists and their celebrants have long trumpeted their allegiance to the experimental and the untried. They have insisted upon asking themselves, at every turn, what they are doing, thinking about the limits and possibilities peculiar to their medium. The preoccupation with form and medium has varied in emphasis and intensity from one modernist maker to another, but where it has been absent or incidental, the artist has been denied accreditation as a bona fide modernist.

Obviously, the commitment to the experimental, like the habit of self-consciousness, is not of itself bound to produce masterpieces. The annals of modernism are filled with tenth-rate “experiments” and pretentious, stultifyingly tedious works. And it does seem odd that Josipovici should fail in the main to concede this much as he makes his case. But then modernism was, at its best, a bracing idea. It seemed, for a time, the enemy of complacency in art and thought. It challenged the established canons of good taste and tested, by example, the belief that realism was, to a considerable degree, an exhausted idiom. It also made untenable the notion that success in art had much to do with popular acceptance or transparency of purpose, or proper sentiments, or verisimilitude. Though particular modernist works could seem unduly tendentious or obscure, or obstinately resistant to the elementary satisfactions offered by more accessible works of art, the modernist revolution did inspire several generations of artists and their audiences to think seriously about the values only to be found in art, and to try not to confuse them with values to be found elsewhere.

“After the Revolution”, Robert Boyers, The New Republic

Read the Berfrois interview with Gabriel Josipovici here