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Modernism's History: A Study in Twentieth-Century Art and Ideas

Modernism's History: A Study in Twentieth-Century Art and Ideas (Hardback)

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Synopsis

The history of 20th-century visual arts can no longer be written as a succession of avant-garde movements, contends art historian Bernard Smith in this book. He argues that a return to the concept of period style is inevitable and that modernism - the dominant style of art that emerged at the end of the 19th-century and continued through to the 1960s - deserves recognition as a period style. Smith renames this period Formalesque since it is no longer modern and since it emphasizes the formal values of art more than any previous period. In a wide-ranging reformation of art history in the 20th century, the author defines the nature of Formalesque - an avant-garde style that arose between 1890 and World War I, was institutionalized between the world wars, and flourished anew between 1945 and 1960. Identifying the Formalesque period, says Smith, makes it possible also to identify dialectical adversaries, such true oppositional avant-garde styles of the 20th-century as Dada, Surrealism, and the Neue Sachlichkeit. These constitute the formative elements of the modernism - now called Postmodernism - that became increasingly dominant after 1960.

The author locates 20th-century artistic movements and developments in a broad cultural context and concludes with an examination of the relation between the Formalesque and European and American cultural Imperialism.

Bernard Smith is president of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. He is the author of European Vision and the South Pacific and Imagining the Pacific: In the Wake of the Cook Voyages and coeditor of the three-volume set The Art of Captain Cook's Voyages, all published by Yale University Press.

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