Saturday, November 8, 2014

the last book I ever read (Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word, excerpt four)

from The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe:

So Modern Art enjoyed a tremendous social boom in Europe in the 1920s. And what about the United States? A painter, Marsden Hartley, wrote in 1921 that “art in America is like a patent medicine or a vacuum cleaner. It can hope for no success until ninety million people know what it is.” Bitter stuff! In fact, however, he couldn’t have gotten it more precisely wrong. Modern Art was a success in the United States in no time—as soon as a very few people knew what it was, the 400, as it were, as opposed to the 90 million.

These were the New Yorkers of wealth and fashion, such as the Rockefellers and Goodyears, who saw their counterparts in London enjoying the chic and excitement of Picasso, Derain, Matisse, and the rest of Le Moderne and who wanted to import it for themselves. This they did. Modern Art arrived in the United States in the 1920s not like a rebel commando force but like Standard Oil. By 1929 it had been established, institutionalized, in the most overwhelming way: in the form of the Museum of Modern Art. This cathedral of Culture was not exactly the brain child of visionary bohemians. It was founded in John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s living room, to be exact, with Goodyears, Blisses, and Crowninshields in attendance.

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