The Avante-Garde in Exhibition.Thomas McEvilley
It seems to me characteristic of the '90s (so far, anyway) to view curators as in some ways as important to art history as either artists or critics. Exhibition strategy, as much as art-making (or critical writing), has come to be perceived as relentlessly ideological. Curators not only choose the works that will be seen, but, even more, they aim at the viewer's receiving apparatus with a certain underlying agenda.
Bruce Altshuler's The Avant-Garde in Exhibition is an obvious book to write at this moment, and by calling it obvious I don't mean to put it down but to say that it's exactly what's needed. Other recent books on museology mu·se·ol·o·gy
The discipline of museum design, organization, and management.
muse·o·log , such as the Smithsonian Institution Smithsonian Institution, research and education center, at Washington, D.C.; founded 1846 under terms of the will of James Smithson of London, who in 1829 bequeathed his fortune to the United States to create an establishment for the "increase and diffusion of Press' 1992 essay collection Museums and Communities, have tended to be heavier on theory and more committed to previously margin-alized social arenas and their emergence into international discourse than to the Western so-called mainstream. Altshuler, though, has focused on the late-Modernist white-skinned Western-male historically-self-conscious avant-garde. At the same time, with one of the shifts of viewpoint characteristic of post-Modernism, he has focused not on sequences of artists and artworks--the conventional, Janson-type art history--but on a classic, even iconic, sequence of exhibitions that he argues marks the defining moments in the history of this art's reception.
In Altshuler's book these exhibitions seem like chains of islands here and there poking above water and, among themselves, seeming to delineate a direction to the eye. The Paris Salon d'Automne In 1903, the first Salon d'Automne (Autumn Salon) was organized by Georges Rouault, André Derain, Henri Matisse and Albert Marquet as a reaction to the conservative policies of the official Paris Salon. of 1905; the Blaue Reiter exhibition in Munich in 1911; the salon of the Section d'Or The Section d'Or ("Golden Section" in French), also known as Groupe de Puteaux or Puteaux Group and based in the Paris suburb of Puteaux, was a collective of painters and critics associated with an offshoot of Cubism known as Orphism. in Paris in 1912; the New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of Armory Show Armory Show, international exhibition of modern art held in 1913 at the 69th-regiment armory in New York City. It was a sensational introduction of modern art into the United States. of 1913; the First International Dada Fair in Berlin in 1920; "Entartete Kunst," the exhibition of degenerate art Degenerate art is the English translation of the German entartete Kunst, a term adopted by the Nazi regime in Germany to describe virtually all modern art. in Munich in 1937; Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century gallery and the "First Papers first papers
The documents first filed by one applying for U.S. citizenship. of Surrealism" exhibition, which opened within days of each other in New York in 1942; the "Ninth Street Show" in New York in 1951; Yves Klein's "Le Vide" (The void) and Arman's "Full-Up," both in Paris, in 1958 and 1960 respectively; "Primary Structures," New York, 1966; "When Attitudes Become Form," Bern, 1969--each of these defined a moment in Western avant-garde selfhood self·hood
1. The state of having a distinct identity; individuality.
2. The fully developed self; an achieved personality.
3. . Altshuler also includes an informative and welcome chapter on the exhibitions of the Gutai Art Association of 1955-57 in Japan, but that's about it for the non-Western--and these shows are there because they bear an obvious relation to Western Modern art.
Though one senses that Altshuler loves this material in a life-involved way, he does not burden the reader with his emotional projections upon it. My principal disappointment--and it is a compliment, really--is that there's not more of it: specifically, that the book doesn't cover certain pivotal events post-1969. Still, I've found that a lot of gaps and uncertainties in my awareness of the subject matter were easily and fluently filled in by this readable book, and I wouldn't be surprised if others did too.