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Inventing Abstraction: 1910 – 1925

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Blake Gopnik previews the exhibition Inventing Abstraction: 1910 – 1925 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, on view from December 23, 2012–April 15, 2013.

In addition to a slideshow of works from the exhibition, Gopnik posts: "At this moment we are officially in the middle of yet another abstract-art revival, according to dealers and certain writers. But the urgency that once came with abstraction has clearly disappeared. The nonfiguration that’s attempted today inevitably seems like a rehashing of the abstraction of old, or a footnote to it and ironic poke at it, or some kind of retro revisitation, akin to the Mad Men suits on today’s businessmen. It’s almost impossible to see today’s abstraction as mattering much for tomorrow’s art…"

He continues: "But it could be that to note the passing of abstraction as a form of current art is to misunderstand what mattered most about the abstract revolution in the first place: it may have been less about the 'abstract' than about 'revolution.' Its impact didn’t depend so much on the gorgeous works of art it led to as on the fact of leaving so much behind. Abstraction was the model, the test case, for art as innovation, so that almost all the radical art that came later had its roots in that moment in 1912. Readymades and monochromes, text-based art and performance, happenings and purely conceptual gestures, all depend on abstraction’s pioneering rejections of business-as-usual art. 'Abstraction unsettles more than just the fact of depiction,'says [exhibition curator Leah] Dickerman-it establishes the act of unsettling as the sign of modern thought."

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