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Dust jacket of 'Cubism and Abstract Art', 1936

Alfred H. Barr, Jr. (1902-1981)

[exh. cat. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2 March -19 April 1936]. 
New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1936. 
Archivo Lafuente 
© 2019. Digital image Whitney Museum of American Art/Scala

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In 1936, the Museum of Modern Art in New York inaugurated the exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art. The dust jacket of the catalogue included this diagram, designed by Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the founder and then-director of the museum. Adopting a schematic approach, Barr drew up a map in which he traced the origin of abstract art, taking as his starting point its stylistic evolution from the end of the 19th century onwards.

 

The museum’s director wrote, in black upper case letters, the names corresponding to different artistic movements. In lower case we can read the names of the artists whose advances led to a turning point, or whose influences included works that did not form part of the European tradition. And in red are the names of those other works that were far removed from the Western tradition, and which influenced the history of the plastic arts at the start of the 20th century: for example, the aesthetic of the machine.

 

These words are in chronological order, as indicated by the dates in both margins. The interweaving of the lines evokes the way in which those artists drew inspiration from a number of different sources and fed off one another, thereby creating a new type of art: abstract art.

 

This point marks the start of the second part of the exhibition, where an attempt has been made to construct, in visual terms, Barr’s famous diagram. At the time, this diagram was one of the boldest attempts to narrate the history of abstract art, and to do so by using an exhibition in a museum rather than a book.

 

The updated version we present here comprises a careful selection of works of art, design, architecture, photography and film, from the majority of the artists who were invited by the director of the Museum of Modern Art to take part in the legendary exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art.