I thought the the intro and first two chapters of A Very Short Introduction to Modern Art did a great job of associating broader or related social systems, technologies and historical events with the changes in, and increasing popularity, of modern art over time. I thought the tension the author laid out between modern art and consumerism were particularly interesting. With this in mind I would say that three works stuck out to me: My Bed, Bottlerack, and Monogram.
My Bed was one of the first works I looked up when doing the reading and it was exactly what “modern art” conjures in my mind, which is why the author was using it to make a point. However as I kept reading I thought back to this work and how it clearly fits into the cannon that the author describes. It certainly seems to challenge “the public” with the idea as art itself and operates a sort of collage of mass produced human comfort goods (in a kind of iconoclastic way). Given that the work refers to a period when the artist was very depressed I thought the author’s notion that in “modern art”, “the complacent tyranny of ‘reason’ could be challenged and the floodgates opened to those unconscious drives whose acknowledgement … could make modern human beings whole”, applied nicely.
I had seen works by Marcel Duchamp before, definitely “fountain”, but this stuck out for me because I hadn’t really considered this kind of work in the context it was created. One perspective I’d never really thought about is interaction between formalist or naturalistic painting and the emergence of photography. I had always heard the story of industrialization told from the perspective of a shoemaker, or some other craftsperson, who transitions from their craft to working on an assembly line in a related factory – I understand now that a similar transition occurred in the arts. Bottlerack now makes me think of a modern artist as something like a worker on an assembly line, attaching discourse or meaning to the objects that come before them. Reading further that the original was “mistaken as garbage” but that “replicas resi[de] in prominent museums” also seems to further the idea that “‘modern art is more a product of its discourses than of its vulgar artificers”.
Lastly, monogram. Monogram is different from My Bed, or bottlerack in that it doesn’t really flaunt ordinary consumer goods in the same way. Instead it seems to be focused more on its own highly specific (or unique) objecthood. However, I think that the scarcity of works like this still has interesting economic implications. In a market comprised of wealthy patrons and often intentionally esoteric and singular works it’s not hard to understand why critics would be concerned with avant garde art as sort of “theme park”.
Modern Art: A Very Short Introduction – David Cottington