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Course Catalog > Courses: Summer

IN-PERSON: Modern Art and The Exotic, 1870-1930   

**This class will be taught In-Person**

The art of ‘exotic’ and ‘primitive’ cultures assumed a new importance for European artists in the closing decades of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th. The search for new ways of representing the world coincided with the decline of the academic art system and the sense of living as an alien in an increasingly controlled and mechanistic society. Non-European art forms seemed to offer a path out of this dilemma and into a brave new visual world unshackled from crippling precedent and open to a new freedom of expression appropriate to the expanding horizons of modernity.

Week by Week Outline

 
  1. PRECEDENTS, JAPONISME AND IMPRESSIONISM: 

Predecessors in exoticism, followed by the impact of Japanese prints on Impressionist painters.

First, artists who from Rembrandt to Boucher, Delacroix to Courbet, represented, copied or incorporated elements of exotic cultures into their art. Second, Japonisme and Impressionism, including the call of North Africa, the dissolution of compositional rules, the liberation of color and the flattening of the spatial relations of 3-D linear perspective. 

 
  1. SYMBOLISM IN BRITTANY & TAHITI: 

Gauguin seeks primitive cultures first among the peasants of Brittany and then among the inhabitants of France’s South Seas colonies.

Gauguin seeks the Primitive first among the peasants of Brittany with their exotic costumes, pre-Christian rituals, guileless faith and detachment from modernity (or so he believes). While his companion Maurice Denis writes a manifesto on flatness, Gauguin, demanding deeper immersion, decamps to the French Colonial South Seas, where he takes his own lessons from Japonisme and Manet, mythologizes indigenous cultures, and devises unprecedented art forms with debts to Paris, Edo, Borobudur and Ancient Egypt.

 
  1. EXPRESSIONISM IN FRANCE AND GERMANY:

Van Gogh’s breakthrough is followed by the Fauves in France, and in Germany Die Brücke (The Bridge) and Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider).

Van Gogh’s humane and painterly, passionate expressionism sees no Primitives in Provence, which for him is Japan—he sees only subjects for his Modern Portraits. The Fauves, inspired by Van Gogh and African sculpture and led by Matisse, launch themselves into an unprecedented intensity of flat color relations tied both to modernity and to classical arcadia. The German expressionists look to the exotic and the alienation of city life, calling on their own Gothic history, on their Pacific island colonies, on African sculpture and the bodies of living Africans on display in Dresden. The Blaue Reiter also looks to Russian folk imagery and church art. 

 
  1. CUBISM: AFRICA, ANCIENT IBERIA AND CÉZANNE: 

Cubism emerges from a combination of influences from African and Iberian sculpture and the multi-faceted, revolutionary art of Cézanne.

Picasso’s deployment of African masks and prehistoric Iberian sculpture in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) both draws on the intersecting planes and voids of Cézanne’s late work and projects it in violent tensions toward the culminating oppositions of analytical cubism. Here single-point perspective is exploded, then partially recuperated, only to be fundamentally compromised in the layered two-dimensionality of a collage technique which relies not on imitation and representation through the western tradition of Aristotle’s mimesis, but on real elements pasted together to signify the external world.

 
  1. SCULPTURE: CUBISM, VORTICISM, PRIMITIVISM: 

Cubism and primitivism impact a generation of modernist sculptors including the Vorticists, Archipenko, Lipchitz, Zadkine and Brancusi.

Wyndham Lewis’s short-lived Vorticist movement, the only modern art movement to come out of England before WWI, paralleled developments in cubism, and in the sculpture of Gaudier-Brzeska and Jacob Epstein drew powerfully on Primitive sources. Similar preoccupations drove the sculpture of Archipenko, Lipchitz, Zadkine and Brancusi, combining cubist with totemic and expressive elements, each with their own roots and sensibilities.

 
  1. PRIMITIVISM, AUTOMATISM, DADA AND SURREALISM: 

Primitivism in Dada and Surrealism is used ironically to critique Eurocentrism and to suggest a rebirth through the ‘automatic’ creativity of the unconscious.

Dada’s collage and photographic montage draw on cubist precedent in form, social and political content. Primitivism is used ironically in the work of Hannah Hoch, who references the ethnographic museum in her trenchant critique of Eurocentrism. In Hugo Ball’s performance poem, Karawane, ‘primitive’ language is used both to critique what are seen as the decadent traditions of European literature and to suggest the possibility of a phoenix-like resurrection.  Surrealism takes up this challenge, linking the primitive to the unconscious and to ‘automatic’ processes of writing and painting.

 
  • IN-PERSON: Modern Art and The Exotic, 1870-1930
  • Fee: $125.00
    Dates: 6/3/2024 - 7/8/2024
    Times: 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM
    Days: M
    Sessions: 6
    Building: Downtown Campus; 160 Spear St
    Room: 505
    Instructor: Simon Kenrick
    Seats Available: 24
    **This class will be taught In-Person**

    The art of ‘exotic’ and ‘primitive’ cultures assumed a new importance for European artists in the closing decades of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th. The search for new ways of representing the world coincided with the decline of the academic art system and the sense of living as an alien in an increasingly controlled and mechanistic society. Non-European art forms seemed to offer a path out of this dilemma and into a brave new visual world unshackled from crippling precedent and open to a new freedom of expression appropriate to the expanding horizons of modernity.

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