To say the 20th Century saw immense changes in art would perhaps be an understatement. The Modern Two’s exhibition ‘Decades: The Art of Change’ transports us through the world of art from 1900 to 1970. Although all the artistic developments are indeed innovative and transformative, the developments all seem to be understandable and explainable.
In the first room, viewers are met with radical, spell-binding forms of art: the dynamic colours of works of the Fauves. the disorientating, unreal qualities of the Cubists, the distortion, even harshness of Die Brücke movement and the Orphist style merging elements of Cubism whilst retaining the Fauvist interest in colour. What all these artists have in common is their intention to set about creating entirely new artistic methodologies. The communication between them feels as though it is emanated in whispers in the room, not just by means of inspiration but also as artists were responding to and reacting against each other.
Next, the viewer is led through doors into a room, almost as if entering into another realm. The dim lighting so perfectly encapsulates the poignant and haunting spirit of the Surrealist works displayed in it. These artists embraced creativity, fostering a style which stifled conscious control over the artistic process by allowing the unconscious mind and intuition to guide the work.
The influence of Cubism on abstract art is clear. However, the abstract artists of the 1930’s seemed deconstruct their works even further, to break completely with tradition and seek an uncorrupted simplicity. Yet, with the torment of WWII, art became bleaker and even disturbing, and a penetrable gloominess is evoked. Artists in the 1940s sought to express the brutality in the world at this time, as seen in Bacon’s painting, which suggests a human figure but does not feature it, seemingly intimating a lack of humanity.
Moving on to the 50s, abstract art continued to develop, taking on a political significance. In the face of totalitarian, fascist regimes, abstraction pertained to liberalism and individualism. Dubuffet’s painting is almost reminiscent of Basquiat’s urban style characterized by the use of graffiti. This is surprising given that Basquiat emerged nearly 30 years after the 50s, but it reiterates the important, long-lasting influence of abstract art.
The artworks of the 1960s seem to exemplify the commodification of the modern world. The room exhibiting works from the 1970s accentuates the minimalist style that artists began to flirt with through the lack of colour. The blank, torn paper stuck on canvas by LeWitt, I might have previously overlooked, I am now fascinated and entranced by. It’s in many ways a work of self-reflection; viewers are not guided towards meaning, instead it embodies how we interact, respond and interpret art, and also highlights our role as a spectator, a voyeur, which feels an uncomfortable part to play.
Forgetting that the exhibition finishes with the 70s, I ask one of the Modern Two employees “Where’s the room for the 80s”. She replies that the exhibition ends here. What a whirlwind I had been taken on, I felt like I needed to see more, that the timeline the exhibition details is unfinished. I’m left on a cliffhanger, wanting to know what comes next. But perhaps, this disappointment captures what the journey of art is all about radical surprises, unexpected twists, and ultimately its inconclusive nature.
Image via Lolo Schaw Miller.