Poor Fernand Léger. He is a man trapped in sociology. His paintings aren’t looked at for their own sake anymore but for what they show us about city life in the early 20th century.

“Léger: Modern Art and the Metropolis.” Through January 5, 2014. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

You can see why Léger’s art is approached sociologically when you look at his most famous painting “The City,” painted in 1919. “The City” is owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The current exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum, “Léger: Modern Art and the Metropolis,” features “The City” as its central work. It is because of this painting that Léger is often called “the painter of the modern city.”

Morgan Meis has a PhD in Philosophy and is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written… More…

Sol LeWitt was fond of cubes. Sometimes, he would make sculptures that were nothing but cubes, cubes within cubes upon cubes. In the early 1970s, LeWitt produced works like “Cube Structures Based on Five Modules.” The title captures the essence of the work. LeWitt took a bunch of open cubes made of wood, painted them white, and arranged them in various geometric structures. He just liked the cubiness of cubes.

“Dead or Alive.” Through October 24. Museum of Art and Design, New York.

This led a number of critics to think of LeWitt as a formalist. All the geometry spoke for itself. This was an artist of Cartesian spaces and strict rationalism. LeWitt was showing us something about the austere beauty of form. His white lattices were supposed to be an abstract representation of Mind… More…

It’s been more than 30 years since Jean-François Lyotard closed the historical door on Modernism. It was 1979, to be exact, when Lyotard published The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Rumors of the death of Modernism had been swirling for years. But death comes in stages, especially when the mortally wounded is a “movement” or an “age.” Lyotard’s book managed to tie all those rumors together and then package the result as “Postmodernism,” the new next thing.

Reality Hunger: A Manifesto by David Shields. 240 pages. Knopf. $24.95.

Lyotard focused on the idea of narratives. Past periods, Modernism in particular, had been fond of what he called “meta-narratives,” all-inclusive narrative frameworks that explained everything, more or less. Think, for instance, of Marxism and the way that class struggle drives every other part of the story. Look at the… More…

 

“Mannerism” sounds stupid. One immediately associates it with manners. And “manners” are not in the highest regard these days. Mannerism would seem to be a movement of affected and empty gestures, of style over substance.

That’s what many do mean when they use the term. Mannerism has come to refer, primarily, to the group of Italian artists working just after the close of the High Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci died in May 1519; you could say, then, that Mannerism started in early June of that same year. The Mannerists, left with nowhere to go by the transcendent greatness of the High Renaissance artists, had no choice but to become decadent and unhinged.

Mannerist artists like Jacopo da Pontormo thus wasted little time in screwing up the Renaissance. Pontormo painted his figures in crazy contorted poses that would have… More…

 

Robert Rauschenberg died last week. That makes it, I suppose, the end of an era. There’s no question that Rauschenberg changed art — the way it’s practiced, the way it is received, the things you can do and still call it art. Contemporary art is Rauschenbergian. Even Warhol, the other father of contemporary art, owes the man a massive debt.

The simplest way to explain what Rauschenberg did is to say that he made the canvas three-dimensional and worldly. Or to put it another way, he thought of the canvas as something you could walk inside and inhabit. There’s a famous quote that has come to define Rauschenberg’s practice. It goes, “I operate in the gap between art and life.”

There’s a piece by Robert Rauschenberg that now lives at the MoMA. It’s called “Bed” (1955). It isn’t… More…

 

It’s more like entering a fun house than an art exhibit. There’s so much going on. The clutter gives the impression of people with too little time and too much they want to show you. Lights twinkle and blink. A spiraling green design winds down the central corridor to a slight dizzying effect. Electronic maps chart and track all manner of things in color and sound. In the central room, a huge expanding and contracting metal sculpture (Emergent Surface by Hoberman Associates) moves with a vaguely organic slowness into a new position.

It is not your father’s design exhibit! A design exhibit at MoMA 50 years ago would have been a study in restraint. This one, “Design and the Elastic Mind,” is more like a study in exuberance. It is also massive, essentially infinite, in scope. The entire… More…