John Goodrich reviews the recent exhibition Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Goodrich's review considers the cost of "combining major and decorative arts." He writes: "Some exhibitions have featured conscious pairings of 'high' and 'low' art. Many have contextualized masterpieces with examples of decorative arts. This is the first museum installation in memory, however, in which great works of art serve as the accessories to trends in the decorative arts. If, in the wake of the McQueen exhibition (the Met’s most-visited installation ever), we have a new paradigm—blockbusters of great art organized by fashionistas-cum-curators, we have truly sold our souls… Speaking for themselves, the best paintings here make a different argument: that painting is a major art, in which artists prove their own character in attempting to commit to canvas, in the language of paint, an understanding of the visual world. By these lights, only the lesser artworks rely heavily on the social dynamics of fashion, a field in which no one knows why a hemline need to be high or low, or a brushstroke fine or coarse, yet everyone recognizes a hot trend. The issue resonates in our time, because this very dynamic—of few being able to define ultimate values, yet everyone recognizing a successful career—seems to increasingly to define today’s artworld. Rather than battling this trend, academia sometimes encourages it, treating painting as a “low” art—an evocative craft on the order of basket-weaving—to be elevated by the criteria of their own disciplines, which are liable to deal with encodings and significations. As one cynic claimed, cutting-edge art has become the marriage of convenience between fashion and academe, with fashion supplying the thrills, and academia the justification."