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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 than represented.

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.


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