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ARTH408: Contemporary Art

Unit 1: Modernism in the Sixties   *In this unit, we will start by exploring the New York art scene and looking at why a majority of artists and the general public came to feel distanced from modernism in the 1960s, perceiving it as a reductive artistic style completely removed from life.  In order to understand this change, we will examine broadly the context by looking into the way the Cold War’s ideological battle had come to use modernist art as a propaganda tool, why the term “white cube” was related to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and what was happening with the art market at that time.

In the second part, we will continue by exploring the modernist canon in the 1960s by looking at the work of the American art critic Clement Greenberg and his definition of formalism (Greenbergian formalism).  We will continue by analyzing post-painterly abstraction, one of the movements Greenberg advocated in the 1960s, concluding with the work of Helen Frankenthaler, an artist associated with this movement.  *

Unit 1 Time Advisory
This unit will take you approximately 14 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 1.1: 4 hours

☐    Subunit 1.2: 5 hours

☐    Writing Assignments: 5 hours

Unit1 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:
 

  • Discuss the ways in which Cold War politics influenced art and culture.  
  • Discuss the role and global influence of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
  • Identify and discuss the role of the art market.  
  • Explain the reasons why modernism became difficult and remote for many.
  • Identify the works of Clement Greenberg and his definition of formalism.
  • Explain the main characteristics of the modernist canon in the 1960s.
  • Discuss the way Greenberg’s ideas defined post-painterly abstraction.
  • Identify and discuss the work of the main representatives of post-painterly abstraction.

1.1 Context: History, Museum, and Art Market   1.1.1 History: Art as a Propaganda Tool   - Reading: The New Yorker: Dr. Louis Menand: “Unpopular Front” and Boston University: Eva Cockcroft: “Abstract Expressionism, Weapon of the Cold War” Links: The New Yorker: Dr. Louis Menand: “Unpopular Front” (HTML) and Boston University: Eva Cockcroft: “Abstract Expressionism, Weapon of the Cold War” (PDF)

 Instructions: Please read Dr. Menand’s entire article, which
provides you with an overall, contemporary introduction to the way
art and culture became involved in an ideological battle during the
Cold War. For Cockcroft’s article, please click the “Cockcroft.pdf”
link and then read this entire PDF, which gives you a more specific
view of the way art was used as an ideological tool during the Cold
War.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpages above.

1.1.2 The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) – New York   - Reading: MoMA: Amy Horschak: “An Interview with Jay Levenson, Director, International Program, The Museum of Modern Art”; Michigan State University: Christoph Grunenberg: “The Modern Art Museum”; and E-Flux: Simon Sheikh: “Positively White Cube Revisited” Links: MoMA: Amy Horschak: “An Interview with Jay Levenson, Director, International Program, The Museum of Modern Art” (HTML); Michigan State University: Christoph Grunenberg: “The Modern Art Museum” (PDF); and E-Flux: Simon Sheikh: “Positively White Cube Revisited” (HTML)

 Instructions: For Horschak and Sheikh, please read these entire
webpages. For Grunenberg’s article, please click the link in the
“Tuesday, April 20” section and then read this entire PDF. Horschak
offers a short interview that specifically addresses the role the
museum had during the Cold War, while the other readings explain why
the MoMA was perceived to alienate its public by creating the
so-called “white cube” experience (i.e., a completely artificial and
sanitized environment that reduced art to a dead object).  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpages above.

1.1.3 Leo Castelli and the Global Market for Art.   - Reading: Dr. Julie Verlaine: “Pride and Prejudice: French Art Dealers and American Artists in the Fifties and Sixties” and the Smithsonian Institution: Archives of American Art: Barbara Rose: “Oral History Interview with Leo Castelli, 1969 July” The Saylor Foundation does not yet have materials for this portion of the course. If you are interested in contributing your content to fill this gap or aware of a resource that could be used here, please submit it here.

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  • Lecture: iTunes U: Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts: Dr. Annie Cohen-Solal: “Leo Castelli: A Global Gallerist Anchored in Renaissance Italy” Link: iTunes U: Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts: Dr. Annie Cohen-Solal: “Leo Castelli: A Global Gallerist Anchored in Renaissance Italy” (iTunes U)

    Instructions: Please scroll down to the lecture dated 2/4/11 and then listen to this entire lecture (approximately 55 minutes) for an introduction to the work and role of Leo Castelli, one of the most influential gallerists in the second half of the 20th century.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Activity: Cold War Art Propaganda Link: Boston University: Susan Alvarez: “Art Proliferation: Propaganda and Patronage during the Cold War” (HTML)

    Instructions: Please read this entire webpage.  Write a one-page commentary focusing on why art became such an important propaganda tool during the Cold War.  Then, write a two-page essay about what you have learned about art in Cold War propaganda.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.2 Modernist Art Canon in the 1960s: Critic, Movement, and Artist   1.2.1 Art Critic: Clement Greenberg’s Formalism (Greenbergian Formalism)   - Reading: Sharecom’s “Greenberg: Modernism” Link: Sharecom’s “Greenberg: Modernism” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read the linked reading on Greenberg’s modernist approach.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Lecture: iTunes U: Smithsonian Institution: The National Portrait Gallery: “Clement Greenberg Portrait” Link: iTunes U: Smithsonian Institution: The National Portrait Gallery: “Clement Greenberg Portrait” (iTunes U)

    Instructions: Please scroll down to the lecture dated 3/10/10 and then listen to this entire lecture (approximately 33 minutes total) for an introduction to Greenberg’s work.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Reading: The Art Story: Justin Wolf’s Modern Art Concept: Formalism” and The Art Story’s “Art Critics Comparison: Clement Greenberg vs. Harold Rosenberg” Links: The Art Story: Justin Wolf’s “Modern Art Concept: Formalism” (PDF), and The Art Story’s “Art Critics Comparison: Clement Greenberg vs. Harold Rosenberg” (PDF)

    Instructions: Please read the first page as an introduction to Modernism, Abstract Expressionism, and Clement Greenberg. After you have finished reading the page, make sure to click the link at the bottom of the page to view “Major Works” and read the accompanying text to learn about how Greenberg and others approached these works. Then read the second page that compares Clement Greenberg’s approach to mid-twentieth century painting and that of his chief rival, Harold Rosenberg.

    Terms of Use: The linked material above has been reposted by the kind permission of the The Art Story and can be viewed in its original form here (Formalism) and here (Greenberg vs. Rosenberg).  Please note that this material is under copyright and cannot be reproduced in any capacity without explicit permission from the copyright holder.  

1.2.2 Art Movement: Post-Painterly Abstraction   - Reading: The Art Story: Justin Wolf: “Post-Painterly Abstraction” Links: The Art Story: Justin Wolf: “Post-Painterly Abstraction” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Please read the entire article for an introduction to a particular form of art that Greenberg advocated in the 1960s.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpages above.

  • Reading: Sharecom’s “Greenberg: Post Painterly Abstraction” Link: Sharecom’s “Greenberg: Post Painterly Abstraction” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Please read the essay on Clement Greenberg’s abstraction in full.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.2.3 Artist: Helen Frankenthaler and Post-Painterly Abstraction   - Reading: The Art Story: Jessica Shaffer: “Helen Frankenthaler” Link: The Art Story: Jessica Shaffer: “Helen Frankenthaler” (PDF)

 Instructions: Please read this entire webpage for an introduction
to Helen Frankenthaler’s work.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Activity: Helen Frankenthaler and Post-Painterly Abstraction Instructions: Please write an essay examining the 1960s work of Helen Frankenthaler in reference to Greenberg’s formalist ideas. Please use material from this unit to complete this assignment.