MAKING AND EFFACING ART: Modern American Art in a Culture of Museums by Philip Fisher
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MAKING AND EFFACING ART: Modern American Art in a Culture of Museums

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A brilliant, intricate interpretation of modern art's progress as it reflects the dictates of the museum, by a Harvard professor of English. Fisher casts the art museum as the major interpreter of industrialized culture, countering the pull of mass production by designating what is unique and ""irreplaceable""--what counts as art. Indeed, the museum has changed the way we look at objects--crucifix and Greek vase alike--by extricating them from their cultural context, ""effacing"" their intended meaning, and rearranging them in a time-line of art history. In Fisher's provocative view, the ""natural art"" for ""museum culture"" is abstract art, its ""essential subject matter"" the ""linear ordering and the cancellation of content,"" each museum functions. Jasper Johns and Frank Stella aim their art at the museum, their ambition to make it ""the future's past."" Johns's paintings go so far as to mimic the museum, effacing our own cultural symbols--numbers, letters, and the American flag--of their meaning and reworking them as shards and as art. The ""knowing and sophisticated"" Stella paints in ""series"" ""ready to be swallowed whole by art history."" Fisher grounds what is complicated and narrowly focused but exceptionally accessible academic theory in Clement Greenberg, Michael Fried, and Meyer Shapiro, animating it with observations that stick: that all modern painting is about ""the stranger""; that ""it is memory rather than realism that photography drained from painting and sculpture""; that Degas conceals his shocking industrialization of the body by seeming to seize a bather's momentary pose; that our perception of the Parthenon frieze changes forever when fragments are brought down from their original elevated location to eye-level in a gallery. A ringing affirmation, in the company of Arthur Danto's Encounters and Reflections and Robert Hughes's Nothing if Not Critical (both 1990), that today art criticism is often contemporary art's moat interesting aspect.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1991
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press