From The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, collection of the Salon de Fleurus, New York
Museum of Modern Art, collection of the Museum of American Art, Berlin
50 Years of Art in the United States, collection of the Museum of American Art, Berlin
“Art is defined only within the story called Art History.
Artifacts shown at this exhibition are not works of art.
They are rather souvenirs, selected specimens of our collective memory.”
One day, long long ago, when young Alfred Barr, Jr. was in Paris, he visited Gertrude Stein in her Salon. During the conversation, he told Gertrude about his plans for establishing the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Puzzled, she looked at him with a smile: “That’s nice, but I don’t understand how it can be both a museum and modern.”
Clearly, the name Museum of Modern Art was an oxymoron, and Barr almost certainly did not have a ready answer. It took him several years of a bumpy ride on the “Torpedo in Time” to realize what the Museum of Modern Art was going to be. It was the 1936 exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art and the now-legendary diagram on the cover of the catalogue that showed Barr the way.
The exhibition represents the first historicization of 20th-century Modern Art. Both the exhibition and the diagram, which were based on international movements, also represent a departure from the 19th-century concept of art history narrative based on national schools, as introduced by Dominique Vivant Denon in Le Louvre. Roughly speaking, Modern Art before WWII could be seen as art within Denon’s field and post-war Modern Art within Barr’s field.
It so happened that New York artists, while visiting the Museum of Modern Art, had their first chance to see and experience this new paradigm. Those who understood its meaning and acted accordingly became known as Abstract Expressionists and had the chance to show their works in the series of “American” exhibitions curated by Dorothy Miller in the ’50s.
Bringing together three exhibitions as tales, Les fleurs américaines revisits the development of the narrative known as the history of modern art, from its origins at the beginning of the 20th century to its recognition as a dominant narrative in the 1950s. By juggling with the established categories of the original and the copy, history and fable, signature and anonymity, painting and conceptual art, Les fleurs américaines sets in motion the facts and strategies which helped to define 20th-century art. In this sense, it is not an exhibition of modern art, but a contemporary exhibition about the construction of the history of modern art and the way it still defines today’s art criteria.
Conception of the exhibition: Elodie Royer and Yoann Gourmel with the Salon de Fleurus, New York, and the Museum of American Art, Berlin.
The exhibition is realised in partnership with the Haute école des arts du Rhin and the Ecole supérieure d’art et design de Saint-Etienne.
*The exhibition space will be closed from December 22, 2012 to January 6, 2013, and on bank holidays.