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"Modern Starts: Things"
1999-11-21 until 2000-03-04
Modern Museum of Art
New York, NY,
USA United States of America
Common and Uncommon Things
In the period from 1880 to 1920, the concern with objects both in and as art, and the
concept of artworks as objects, led to some of the most ambitious artistic creations of the
time and had obvious repercussions in the creation of actual objects. The relationship
between objects and space engaged the thinking of designers and artists alike. Designers
increasingly avoided imitating historical styles, which was so common throughout the
nineteenth century, and designed with concerns similar to those of artists. With mass
production in mind, designers used modernist ideas of abstraction and form, fundamentally
redefining the practice of design.
In painting, the still-life genre, with its focus on the representation of objects, experienced a
renewed interest. Beginning with Paul CÚzanne, artists began to experiment with the spatial
relationship between the representation of three-dimensional objects on horizontal planes
and the actual two-dimensional surface of the canvas. By rendering tilting tabletops or
floating objects in undefined spaces, and by combining different points of view, artists like
Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Juan Gris, to name only a few, challenged
the traditions of perspective and the relationship between object and ground.
Piet Mondrian and Paul Klee also experimented with the abstraction and flattening of
three-dimensional objects. Through the gradual elimination of recognizable subjects in favor
of the rhythmic interplay of line and color, the flattened surfaces of their paintings assert
their presence in relation to their support, as objects on the wall. Constantin Brancusi's
artworks result from a similar search for the abstracted and objectified form in the realm of
sculpture. In photography, a trend toward abstraction can be observed in the work of Paul
Strand or Edward Weston, who investigated ordinary objects for their visual quality and
interpreted them as isolated, purified shapes.
The introduction of real objects into painting and sculpture through collage and assemblage
in the work of Picasso or Kurt Schwitters radically transformed the genre. Their works are
both objects in and of themselves and are also representations of objects. Picasso and
Schwitters made art by integrating real objects, while Marcel Duchamp declared the object
itself to be art, legitimizing the Ready-made as an art form by the context of its
presentation. For Duchamp, as with other artists in this section, spatial relationships are at
the core of experimentation, but in Duchamp's work, an object is often presented rather
The individual installations in Things explore the importance of the object, both real and
depicted, and follow the emergence and development of the object in art and its
interrelationship to the concrete world.