Modern Art and the Appreciation Machine – The New Yorker | Candle Made Easy

The abolition of the modern art tariff made it much easier for American galleries to exhibit and sell contemporary European paintings. Most of the works in Stieglitz’ Picasso show 291 were drawings because they were valued lower than paintings. It was too expensive to bring paintings over from Europe.

Quinn didn’t just collect for himself. He was on a mission. As Eakin puts it, he wanted to “bring American civilization to the forefront of the modern world.” He was thus effectively operating as a one-man art world. He subsidized New York art galleries and often bought many of the works on display. He was a key figure behind the 1913 Armory Show, where audiences could see more than thirteen hundred works of modern art and where Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” became a scandal.

When modern art was attacked for undermining American values ​​– the Times called the Armory Show “part of the general movement evident around the world to disrupt and degrade, if not destroy, not only the arts but literature and society” – Quinn worked for the press and gave New York newspapers interviews in which he described unsigned attacks like this as “Ku Klux criticism”. Over time, he built up a vast collection of modern European paintings and sculptures, which he kept in his ninth-floor apartment in Central Park West.

The apartment was a rented apartment. Quinn was rich, but he wasn’t JP Morgan rich. Morgan spent approximately sixty million dollars on art, most of which he donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, of which he was chairman. Quinn didn’t have that much money. On the other hand, Morgan was buying old masters (he was the driving force behind the 1909 tax exemption for “historical art” bill that Quinn had rewritten), while Quinn was buying works that almost nobody else wanted. From the perspective of the American art world, the incredible collection he amassed, which included works by Brâncuși, Braque, Duchamp, Gris, Matisse, Picasso, Rousseau, Seurat, van Gogh, and Villon, among others, was all but worthless when he died. No American dealer could sell it, and no American museum wanted to hang it.

Knowing this, Quinn ordered in his will that his collection be auctioned, with the proceeds going to his sister and niece, who were his only heirs. (Quinn never married, but he had relationships with a number of notable women; at the time of his death his partner was Jeanne Robert Foster, the daughter of a lumberjack, a stunningly beautiful and gifted woman who was closely involved in his search for new art.) Not wanted by the Americans, much of Quinn’s collection of European art eventually went back to Europe.

Handy for Eakin’s story arc, Alfred Barr, then a young art history professor at Wellesley University, was able to see part of Quinn’s collection before it was disbanded, allowing Eakin to suggest one of Barr’s aspirations when he became director of took over MoMA three years later the Quinn collection would be reassembled and brought back to America. Of course that was impossible. The pieces were in too many hands now. but MoMA effectively became Quinn’s museum, and Quinn’s canon (plus photography and a few artists such as Klee and Kandinsky, whose work Quinn did not collect) became Barr’s canon.

And it still is MoMA‘s canon. If you go through the fifth floor MoMA Now exhibiting art owned by the museum and produced between 1880 and 1940, you’ll closely examine the works whose adventures in the art world are the subject of Eakin’s book.

Hundreds of people probably walk past these works every day, and none of them seem disgusted, not even by Picasso’s eight-foot-tall Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, painted in 1907 – five nude women in a brothel, rendered cubist, two with faces like African masks aggressively confronting the viewer. (You have to be very close to the screen to get the right effect, although almost nobody does.) The shock of the new has worn off. This probably wasn’t the kind of public acceptance Quinn and Barr had in mind. But as Gertrude Stein once said, “You can be a museum or you can be modern, but you cannot be both.”

Eakin’s story also has a Parisian side. Here, too, two figures are the main focus: the gallery owners Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler and Paul Rosenberg. (A third operator, a sort of freelance trader and womanizer named Henri-Pierre Roché, who referred to his penis as “mon God” and who kept Quinn on the lookout for business, plays a colorful role in the story.)

Caricature by Will McPhail

Geopolitics played no more important role in the circumstances to which culture industries must adapt in the first half of the 20th century. Kahnweiler did not sell his artists’ work in France, although his gallery was in Paris. His collectors were in Germany and Russia, countries where modern art was created and understood. But World War I and the Russian Revolution closed these markets. As a German citizen, Kahnweiler even suffered the confiscation of his collection by the French government.

A decade later, the coming to power of Stalin, and then Hitler, made conditions much worse. The governments of both leaders made modern art a political target. (The Nazis referred to modern art as Art Bolshevism– Bolshevik art – although it was equally anathema in the Soviet Union.) Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union didn’t just censor modern artists and writers. They locked her up and killed her. After 1933, the year that Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany, the United States suddenly became attractive as a place where modern art could be safely displayed. Hitler and Stalin gave tailwind to Quinn and Barr’s mission to modernize American tastes.

Kahnweiler and Rosenberg are key to Eakin’s story because both men represented Picasso and Eakin believes Quinn and Barr were determined to make Picasso the face of modern art in America. He says that Barr saw Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in particular as a painting that could define MoMA‘s entire collection.

But Barr struggled to persuade his board of trustees to actually buy art instead of lending it to exhibitions. The museum held highly successful Matisse retrospectives in 1931 (36,000 visitors) and van Gogh in 1935 (a box office hit and truly the show that established an audience for modern art in the United States), but the trustees declined to purchase the individual work by Matisse, and they passed down van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” an image that would one day grace countless coffee cups.

MoMAThe effort by to acquire Les Demoiselles is a good example of the twists and turns in the journey from artist to audience. When Picasso finished the painting, he let a few people see it in his Paris studio, where it achieved what Eakin calls “cult-like status.” But the work was rarely exhibited publicly. Picasso liked to hold onto his best pieces and kept Les Demoiselles rolled up for years. In 1924 he sold it to Jacques Doucet, a fashion designer. (Doucet’s wife wouldn’t let him hang it in her living room. The new thing still came as a shock to her.) Doucet paid twenty-four thousand francs—about twelve hundred dollars at the time.

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