Another Reason to Celebrate Modernism

I had not known the work of the architect Charles Gwathmey until I read his obituary in the NY Times.The photograph of the small house he designed for his parents in 1966 is breathtaking and reminds one of the aesthetic power of the Modernist vision, in architecture, which I know only casually, and in poetry, which I know professionally. Things have changed, of course; Modernism has been replaced by the hodge-podge amalgam of post-modernism. The Times quotes a friend of the architect: “‘A lot of people jumped ship, but Charlie was loyal to Modernism’, said Peter Eisenman, the architect and theorist.” Given my preference for pluralism over any form of authoritarian Tradition, I should be happy about the passing of Modernism, but it produced so much great art that I not so secretly long for a return to the vision quest of the Modernist project, to put something together out of the fragments of the past as it has come down to us, though I have perhaps a more catholic appreciation for and acceptance of the sort of fragments that might be useful than the old Modernists.

James Ensor

There’s a show at MOMA I’d like to see, of James Ensor’s proto-modernist paintings. I find my own aesthetic roots in the period of western art and literature that runs from the end of the 19th century through the First World War — the period of what is sometimes called High Modernism. The NY Times reviewer, Holland Cotter, calls Ensor “an aggrieved traditionalist with a pop culture itch,” words that I might apply to myself. Ensor also labored all his life away from the centers of culture where artistic reputations were made. Ensor strikes me as paradigmatic of modernism in his combining of high and low culture and his subversion of technique by technique. [A barely adequate Wikipedia entry here; Google image results here.] One loves the old modes and methods even when they are no longer viable and one is reduced to parody and pastiche.

Something Like Spring

Haven’t been paying much attention to things online because there has been a lot going on offline. Carole left for Pictoplasma in Berlin today and will be gone a week. I’m only a month away from leaving for Vietnam and I’ll be gone six weeks. And the weather has been (slowly) improving, so there have been more dog walks and even a bit of time out on the deck, which faces south, enjoying the spring sun, though the air is still pretty cold and there are no leaves on the trees. Still a few patches of snow in the hollows, but the last of the ice has melted off the river. I’ve been reading a lot of fiction, as well as some things about Modernism, so I think I’ll have some notes to post here and at The Plumbline before long.