Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism

T. J. Clark, Author, Timothy Clark, Author Yale University Press $70 (464p) ISBN 978-0-300-07532-8
No two social or aesthetic movements have been as agonizingly debated and lamented as Modernism and Socialism. Both arose in the wake of the French Revolution, and both were deemed untenable by the late 1980s. In this career-defining work, a collection of seven ruminative essays on the ""co-dependency"" of these concepts, eminent art historian Clark offers not so much a summation as an archeology, working through ""limit cases"" in the long and tortured relationship of art and politics, from David's shrewd positioning of his portrait of Citizen Marat within the fervor of the French Revolution to the perceived ""anarchism"" of Pissarro's laboring field women and the social meanings of Jackson Pollock's post-War drip paintings (Clark reads them in two intriguing contexts: first, as an expression of ""lordly,"" aristocratic attitude, dismissing content in favor of form; and secondly, in terms of their use as backdrops for a 1950 Vogue magazine photo shoot). He writes about politics and art without cynicism, speaking often in the direct, if melancholy, voice of one who wants something to have been, so that it might still be. Clark's is a reclamation project: he seeks to return agency to the artists and paintings that gave face to modernity, and to steer us, as readers and interpreters, away from facile historicism on the one hand, and formalism on the other. The essays in this volume are always historically nuanced, aglow with Clark's deep learning and masterful prose; they will doubtlessly elicit much praise and be the subject of much debate. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/08/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
Paperback - 460 pages - 978-0-300-08910-3
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