Robert Storr spoke at LACMA as part of their ancillary events for the Two Germanys exhibit. Part of my interest in attending was due to Storr’s history as a curator at MOMA, dean at Yale, and more vividly, instigator of the most recent cluster-muck that was the 2007 Venice Biennale. His novella-rant in the pages of Artforum, refuting point-by-point the cadre of critics the magazine had report back from Europe briefly slowed down the art world, like an OCD accident on the side of the freeway. In his own introduction at LACMA he pointed out that he was the first American 'Volk' to curate the Bienalle, though it could also be said he was the second of America's 'Bevölkerung'.Life in Vence: Robert von Storr
Talking very quickly, he laid out the old saw of modernism—book ended by Cubism on one end and Pop at the other—shifted as war and economic fortunes moved the art world from Paris to New York. Storr rightly points out that the transformation from art that doesn’t look like anything to art that looks like any thing except art only tells part of the tale. The NY-Paris axis can be seen as propaganda of the Washington-Moscow axis. At the same time, post-war Ab-Ex painters (and some painters today) attempt to wiggle away from the political, seeing it as a lesser form of art because it serves an agenda. Storr points out that any attempt to create value-free art is also framing a political position.
The allies' division of Germany and Berlin into four sectors quickly became the false dichotomy of East/West and left/right. In reality, various streams of art were made on both sides of the wall, and made in the context of this shifting political backdrop. In both Germanys, photographers were creating social critiques; abstract and representational artworks were being made. On the Rue Visconti in Paris, Christo created a barrier of used oil barrels several months after the Berlin wall was erected. In case art viewers weren’t able to make the connection between the impromptu street intervention and its political context, the work was called Iron Curtain.
For me, there was an interesting shift on BCAM's second floor, moving from the most bifurcated display of the whole show (in the second gallery) with one wall of abstract painting from the FRG and another wall of social realism from the GDR. Turning the corner into the next room and era (art from the 60’s and 70’s) one can re-read the infusion of Pop art sensibility as a transformation of social realism to capitalist realism.Christo's Iron Curtain
Getting back to Storr’s point about reading New York’s abstraction as an attempt to move away from the political (or inversely—in the telling by Hans Haacke—German abstract art’s pointed political position): part of what this all comes down to is the question of how much agency an artist had in the reading of their work. Storr seems to be at the far end of the spectrum, pointedly noting the minutia of each artist’s life, party affiliations, and circumstances, confabulating an environmental matrix that poops out the artist (it is no small irony that when similar circumstantial evidence is used to critique Storr's curatorial practice, he refutes it in the pages of Artforum as ad hominem arguments).
Storr's contextualization can be problematic. As Elaine paraphrased Willem de Kooning, “One can hardly expect a work of art to do anything in the world when it is trivialized as a scrap of evidence pertaining to its maker’s eccentricity. You make a painting about a crazy world, and they say it was made by a crazy artist. That’s a loser’s game.” My recent post on the Guggenheim’s misleading presentation of FG-T is another example.