The Power of Display: A History of Exhibition Installations at the Museum of Modern Art

Mary Anne Staniszewski, Author MIT Press (MA) $95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-262-19402-0
""I deal with an aspect of modern art history that has been... officially and collectively forgotten,"" writes Staniszewski in this maverick analysis of exhibitions mounted by New York's MoMA since its founding in 1929. For Staniszewski, a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., works of art do not stand alone but get a significant amount of their meanings from the contexts in which we view them. MoMA makes an excellent historical focal point for her study, Staniszewski notes, given its innovative approach to displaying art and its near-obsessive self-documentation (she has drawn most of her 204 often fascinating photos and plans of actual exhibitions from the museum's archives). Among the many influences on MoMA's revolutionarily ""aestheticized"" installations--their sparsely hung works, pale walls and modern framing were a big break from bunched-up, gilded, ""salon-style"" exhibitions--were the museum's ties to the international avant-garde (surrealism, the Bauhaus), the tremendous influence of founding director Alfred Barr and the MoMA's pro-democracy ""National Covenant"" during WWII. Following the rise of conceptual art in the 1960s, the museum became more pedagogical, often ""addressing the visitor directly in wall statements and texts that were popular examinations of everyday life."" Staniszewski expresses disappointment with the turn she sees MoMA exhibitions taking after 1970, asserting that the exhibitions make art seem too ""autonomous"" in relation to culture. Throughout, her analyses are cogent, but highly academic and somewhat jargony. While it is unlikely to draw converts to the ""forgotten"" field, the book will enrich any museum-goer's understanding of the often hidden ideological side to the cultural, administrative and aesthetic media through which art is presented. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 11/30/1998
Release date: 12/01/1998
Paperback - 400 pages - 978-0-262-69272-4
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