From The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, collection of the Salon de Fleurus, New York
Museum of Modern Art, collection of the Museum of American Art, Berlin
50 Years of Art in the United States, collection of the Museum of American Art, Berlin.
Conception of the exhibition: Elodie Royer and Yoann Gourmel in collaboration with the Salon de Fleurus, New York, and the Museum of American Art, Berlin.
“Art is defined only within the story called Art History.
Artifacts shown at this exhibition are not works of art.
They are rather souvenirs, selected specimens of our collective memory.”
“Once upon a time there was a history known as the history of modern art…” The exhibition Les fleurs américaines might begin like a tale whose leading characters would be the various artists, curators, historians, and collectors at the hub of 20th century art, not forgetting works, exhibitions and institutions.
This exhibition brings together three exhibitions, revisiting the development of the narrative known as the history of modern art, from its origins at the beginning of the 20th century to its recognition as a dominant narrative in the 1950s. Its aim is to question the bases and heritage of modern art while at the same time, by way of copies and anonymity, short-circuiting the criteria of artwork originality, uniqueness and authenticity that still prevail today.
But if all the works on view in the show are reproductions, they are not, for all that, seeking to hide their status as copies: their dates of creation are inaccurate and it seems their producers have in no way tried to repeat the material quality of the originals. What we see here are not so many individual artworks but series of artifacts organized as stories. These are memories of works playing a special part in what has helped to define the “history of modern art”.
The first of these three stories brought together in Les fleurs américaines starts at 27 rue de Fleurus in Paris, between 1905 and 1913. Titled From The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, after Gertrude Stein’s eponymous book, it is a recollection of the famous Salon de Fleurus, housing the American author’s modern art collection which would greatly inspire, some thirty years later, the decisions and choices of the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, Alfred Barr, Jr.
The second part of the exhibition, Museum of Modern Art, includes 46 iconic works by European artists dated between 1990 and 2035 and presented on the basis of Alfred Barr Jr.’s diagram reproduced on the cover of the catalogue of the exhibition “Cubism and Abstract Art” held at MoMA in 1936. In replacing in particular the notion of “national schools” by that of “international movements”, this exhibition as well as the exhibition “Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism”, also held the same year at MoMA, formulated an American interpretation of European art, as Barr had represented it through his chronological “evolutionary tree”. They thus played a decisive role, forming the loam in which American art duly developed a few years later, and so contributed to this latter’s gradual domination on the international scene after the Second World War.
It was in fact only after the war and the emergence of the generation of Abstract Expressionists that the MoMA started to include and incorporate American artists in its narrative of modern art, by situating them in the continuity of the European avant-gardes and promoting them abroad through its international program. As the last chapter of our story, the travelling exhibition 50 Years of Art in the United States (presented at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, in Paris, in 1955) is evoked here through paintings reproducing archival documents and pages from the exhibition catalogue, mixed with copies of some of the pictures on view in this latter. Today regarded among other travelling MoMA projects as a form of cultural propaganda, which contributed to the artistic supremacy of the United States, this exhibition nevertheless marked a new stage in the writing of this history by legitimizing the place of the most recent American art under the aegis of a new “international” style.
By juggling with the established categories of the original and the copy, history and fable, signature and anonymity, painting and conceptual art, Les fleurs américaines sets in motion the facts and strategies, which helped to define 20th century art. In this sense, it is not an exhibition of modern art, but a contemporary exhibition about the construction of the history of modern art and the way it still defines today’s art criteria.
Elodie Royer and Yoann Gourmel
Third chapter of a series of exhibitions devised by Elodie Royer and Yoann Gourmel, guest curators for the 2011‐2013 season, the exhibition is made in collaboration with the Salon de Fleurus, New York and the Museum of American Art (MoAA), Berlin, an educational institution dedicated to assembling, preserving and exhibiting memories primarily those on prewar Museum of Modern Art (MoMA, NYC) and its circulating exhibitions of modern American art shown in Europe during the 50’s. The exhibition is made in partnership with the Haute école des arts du Rhin, Strasbourg and the Ecole supérieure d’art et de design, Saint-Etienne.