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Jean Droit
Paris Olympics poster
1924
Collection of Jack Rennert, New York
"Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy and Germany, 1918-1936"
Guggenheim Museum
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WHAT’S SO CLASSY ABOUT MODERN CLASSICISM
by Donald Kuspit


The Guggenheim Museum’s "Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy and Germany, 1918-1936," is a strangely discombobulated, unfocused exhibition. At one extreme, there are works by Willi Baumeister, Charles-Edouard Jenneret (Le Corbusier), Henri Laurens, Fernand Léger, Jean Metzinger, Amédée Ozenfant and Pablo Picasso, known for their avant-gardism, more particularly, their abstract innovations. Here we see them "classicizing" themselves, as though acknowledging that their experimental days are over -- that their best art belongs to the past, and is now "classical." For them to classicize meant to clarify, reify, and historicize themselves, suggesting a certain self-satisfaction, a complacent looking back to the glory days of their creativity, as though to deny their uncertainty about whether they had any creative juice left in them. They were once ahead of their times, but now they seem frozen in time. They’ve turned their backs on their past by giving it "classical" form, in effect idealizing it by mummifying it.

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