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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mapping of the essay The Museum of Modern Art as Late Capitalist Ritual: An Iconographic Analysis by Carol Duncan and Alan Wallach

Thesis statement: As an institution, MoMA (Museum of Modern Art, New York) appears to be a refuge from a materialistic society: a cultural haven, an ideal world apart and yet, it exalts precisely the values and experiences it apparently rejects by elevating them to the universal and timeless realm of spirit.

1)      Topic sentence: In recent years art historians have become increasingly interested in understanding works of art in relation to their original physical settings-the churches, palace rooms or temples for which they were made.

Supporting sentence: Like the church or temple of the past, the museum plays a unique ideological role.

2)      Topic sentence: Museums, as modern ceremonial monuments, belong to the same architectural class as temples, churches, shrine and certain kinds of palaces.

Supporting sentence: Although all architecture has an ideological aspect, only ceremonial monuments are dedicated exclusively to ideology.

3)      Topic sentence: The museum, like other ceremonial monuments, is a complex architectural phenomenon that selects and arranges works of art within a sequence of spaces.

Supporting sentence: This totality of art and architectural form organizes the visitor's experience as a script organizes a performance.

Key words: Rituals- form and content

4)      Topic sentence: In the museum, painting and sculpture play the same role as in other types of ritual architecture.

Supporting sentence: Monumental iconographic programs frequently evoke a mythic or historical past that informs and justifies the values celebrated in the ceremonial space.

Key words: Decorations-articulate and enlarge- meaning of the activities   

5)      Topic sentence: The images of John the Baptist that often decorated the walls of baptisteries gave meaning to the ritual of baptism.

Key words: Space- reliefs- meaning to pilgrim's walk

6)      Topic sentence: The museum serves as a ceremonial monument; its space and collection present an ensemble of art objects that functions as an iconographic program.

Supporting sentence: Museums almost everywhere sanction the idea that works of art should, above all, be viewed one-by-one in an apparently ahistorical environment.

7)      Topic sentence: Museums, like medieval abbey churches, town cathedrals and palace chapels tend to conform to one of a few well-established types, the two most important in the West today being such traditional state or municipal museums as the Metropolitan Museums of New York and such modern art museums as New York's Museum of Modern Art.

Supporting sentence: The iconographic program of any particular museum is almost as predictable as that of medieval church and is equally dependent on authoritative doctrine.

8)      Topic sentence: The Museum of Modern Art in New York City (MoMA) in its way represents the Charters of mid-twentieth-century modern art museums.

Supporting sentence: More than any other museum, MoMA developed the ritual forms that translated the ideology of late capitalism into immediate and vivid artistic terms- a monument to individualism, understood as subjective freedom.

9)      Topic sentence: A visit to MoMA begins with the façade.

Supporting sentence: When new, the clean, purified forms of MoMA's gleaming steel and glass façade announced the coming of a new aesthetic-a future of efficiency and rationality.

10)  Topic sentence: MoMA belongs to the age of corporate capitalism.

Supporting sentence:  It addresses us not as a community of citizens but as private individuals who value only experience that can be understood in subjective terms.

Key words: Ideal community- separation of public and private, external and internal

11)  Topic sentence: By employing the conventional rhetoric of public buildings, such traditional museums as the Metropolitan Museum of New York or the National Gallery of London dramatize the moment of passage from exterior to interior- from the everyday world to a space dedicated to the contemplation of higher values.

Supporting sentence: Here, too, the architecture asserts the existence of a community.

12)  Topic sentence: The ground floor (at MoMA) is an open, light-filled space.

Supporting sentence: On MoMA's ground floor you experience a heightened sense of individual free choice- a major theme of the building as a whole.

13)  Topic sentence: A museum, like a temple or church, serves different people in different ways.

Supporting sentence: The space of MoMA's ground floor creates a tension that later stages of the architectural script will eventually resolve.

14)  The entire paragraph talks about the way around the museum and the sense of bewilderment due to spatial disorientation by a newcomer.

15)  Topic sentence: The aura surrounding MoMA's permanent collection is unmatched by any other collection of modern art.

Supporting sentence: From the time of its founding, MoMA's trustees, led by the Rockefellers, promoted an image of glamorous modernity and liberalism that contrasted sharply with older types of museums and their nineteenth-century ideologies. 

16)  Topic sentence: The professionals who built the Museum's collection during the 1920's and the 1930's held their definite views about modern art and its historical development and sought out works accordingly.

Supporting sentence: The works of MoMA acquired express with extraordinary fullness and imagination of values, above all a belief in a certain kind of individualism.

17)   Topic sentence: Nineteenth-century art contained individualism within the representational conventions of naturalism.

Supporting sentence: The more subjective and abstract the visual language, the more unique and individualized the artist's consciousness.

Key words: Visual language- "real" and "objective" external world

18)  Topic sentence: As you walk through MoMA's permanent collection, you are aware of seeing a succession of works by artists whose uniqueness has been established in the authoritative literature and whose distinctive stylistic traits are easily recognizable.  

Supporting sentence: Individual artists acquire significance- art-historical importance- according to how much they contributed to the evolution of the total scheme.

19)  This paragraph talks about the directions in the museum.

20)  Topic sentence: As you advance along the prescribed route, the iconographic program emphasizes the principal moments and turning points of this history (of modern art).

21)  Topic sentence: In brief, that history records the increasing dematerialization and transcendence of mundane experience.  

Supporting sentence: The highlights of the route, which frame and define the history of modern art, are Cubism, Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism.

22)  Topic sentence: The structure of MoMA's ritual conforms to the archetypal labyrinth experience.

23)  Topic sentence: The labyrinth, a basic image in world cultures, appears in literature and drama as well as ceremonial architecture and other ritual settings.

24)  Topic sentence: Passage through the labyrinth is an ordeal that ends in triumph- a passage from darkness to light and thus a metaphor for spiritual enlightenment, integration, rebirth.

Supporting sentence: The ancient labyrinthine structures in palaces and temples, as well as those described in primitive myths, were associated with the earth and the Great Mother Goddess and were often located underground.

25)  Topic sentence 1: MoMA's labyrinth, however, lies above the earth.

Supporting sentence 1: It is impossible to guess what lies behind it.

Topic sentence 2: MoMA's Bauhaus-inspired design signaled progress, science and rationality.

Supporting sentence 2: But, in effect, it is a rational cover wrapped around an irrational core, and, as one critic observed, even the rational-looking exterior does not correspond to the division of space inside.

Key words: Labyrinth- ritual activity

26)  Topic sentence: In MoMA you wind through a series of narrow, silent, windowless white spaces.

Supporting sentence: You are in a "nowhere", a pristine blankness, a sunless white womb/tomb, seemingly outside time and history.

Key words: Ritual- internal drama

27)  Topic sentence: As you pass through MoMA's white, dream-like labyrinth, the gaze of the Great Mother finds you again and again.

Supporting sentence: She personifies the dangers of the route first run by artists themselves.

Key words: "breakthroughs", domination

28)  Topic sentence: The labyrinth emphasizes the terrible aspects of the goddess, her power to engulf, ensnare, petrify, castrate. But in the garden outside, amidst trees, waters, animals and earth, her power will be celebrated as a positive force, expressed by the swelling volumes of her massive body.

29)  Topic sentence: Inside the labyrinth the principle of creativity is defined and celebrated as a male spiritual endeavor in which consciousness finds its identity by transcending the material, biological world and its Mother Goddess.    

Key words: Salvation- spirit, light, intellect

30)  Topic sentence: In the labyrinth the pictures lead you along a spiritual path that rises to ever higher levels of transcendence.

Supporting sentence: The increasingly dematerialized and abstract forms as well as the emphasis on such themes as light and air proclaim the superiority of the spiritual and transcendent while negating the world of human emotions and needs. 

Key words: Spiritual enlightenment, "mundane" and "vulgar"- suppressed- "aesthetic detachment"

31)  Topic sentence: Enlightenment in the labyrinth means detachment from the world of common experience and material need.

Supporting sentence: But the logic of renunciation is relentless. It leads to final revelation: The ultimate value of nothingness- the transcendent void.   

Key words: Renounce- history and myth- underlying human condition

32)  Topic sentence: The triumph of Abstract Expressionism, then, is the triumph of spirit.

Supporting sentence: In the ideology of modernist art, as embodied in MoMA, it takes the form of aesthetic detachment- the ultimate value in artistic experience- overpowering sense of liberation and elevation.

33)  Topic sentence: The everyday world, ostensibly banished from consciousness, nevertheless haunts the labyrinthine way.

Supporting sentence: The labyrinth ritual glamorizes the competitive individualism and alienated human relations that characterize contemporary social experience- reconciles to pure subjectivity by equating it with "the human condition."

34)  Topic sentence: Thus, MoMA would reconcile you to the world, as it is, outside.

Supporting sentence: MoMA's ritual is a walk through a hall of mirrors in which isolation, fear and numbness appear as exciting and desirable states of being.




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