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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Museum Review: *Calder to Warhol* Introducing the Fisher Collection @ The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Andy Warhol-Triple Elvis
Triple Elvis by Andy Warhol (1963): Modern Art Triumph.

From Calder to Warhol:
Introducing the Fisher Collections
@ The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)


   This exhibition is notable because it acknowledges a collection accumulated in a single "person," "Donald Fisher."  It's important to observe in passing that "David Fisher" likely represented a combination of four or more people, the Donald Fisher, his wife, their agent and the museum itself.  The market for fine art is cultural economics 101:  high level of interest in the audience, high level of attention from specialists, and, most importantly, a s*** ton of money.  What is it about the successful capitalists' soul that he or she seeks solace in painting, sculpture and architecture?   Historically, "art" was limited to those three subjects.   If you are talking about fine art subjects, it's important to recognize that the discourse for the three subjects has developed in tandem.  It is proper to speak of the philosophy and history of art being wholly concerned with painting, sculpture and architecture.

    It is well known that the original use of "post modernism" was in the field of architecture.  It was a term that was developed, by the artists and critics of architecture, to describe specific groups of buildings built in the twentieth century.  From architecture, it's use spread to anthropology, sociology and the other social sciences.  From those disciplines, it spread through college education to the general public.  Post Modernism represents what you might call a "Kuhnian Paradigm Shift" that goes MODERNISM---POST-MODERNISM.  Now, after a generation of post modern everything, perhaps it's appropriate for a shift back to MODERNISM or an updated version.

   If one was looking for institutions to participate/lead in this shift BACK to Modernism, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is a good place to start.  First of all, it has "Modern Art" in the title.  Second of all, it showcases other fine arts and is itself an interesting example of architecture.  Therefore, it is a place where a total discourse about art and meaning can occur.  Donald Fisher founded the GAP, and as such he represents a later day Medici or Pope, using his vast resources to accumulate large quantities of fine art.  Much of this work is painting, but the presence of Alexander Calder as a major feature brings sculpture into the mix.

  Although most of Calder's corpus precedes World War II, everything else in the collection is post War World II paintings, starting at abstract impressionism and running strongly through pop (the triumphant "Triple Elvis" that anchors the last room of the exhibition is a true stunner.)  It left me with a distinct sense of what was in and outside the canon of Modern Art/Painting.  The presence of so many Alexander Calder mobiles left me craving a little space between the works.  It's hard to really observe a three dimensional Alexander Calder mobile when there is another one right behind it.  The exhibition notes mentioned that Fisher has about 50 of these mobiles which brought to mind the car warehouses of comedians like Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld.  I'm sorry, is that like a mental disorder or something with these rich guys?  Are they "proud" of buying so many objects?  If you can figure that psychology out you should be able to become rich.

   But I think the most important to take into the Fisher collection is some well collected thoughts about the relationship of the artist, collector, critic and museum and how they interact to create the experience you have as you view a Roy Lichtenstein painting a the SFMOMA.   Such observations are particular valuable to those who work in the popular cultural arts world.  While it is no longer accurate to talk about "high" and "low" art (how bourgeois can you get?) the distinction between "fine" and "popular" art markets is, if not a full dichotomy, an easily described continuum.  On the one end you have: painting, sculpture, architecture, on the other end:  advertising, commercial signs, consumer product design.  In the middle, movies, music, literature.  You can use the same disciplines to talk about all of them: history, art criticism, economics and they share a common critical vocabulary.

1 comment:

cantueso said...

Good, that classification, very good.

I think that most abstract art owes its success to the needs of banks, lawyers, and administrators of public premises like hospitals and universities everywhere, and small town politicians in countries like Spain afraid to be seen as backwards looking. All these people need art that does not say too much and that looks dynamic, arrogant, technologically fast.(I do suspect there is a tendency to bow to arrogance...not just in art).

However, go and look at the 19th centuries marvels of know how in oil painting. Lots of it is crap, just as lots of recent art is bluff or cynical.

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