Jensen claims that Pop art is the greatest challenge to the avant-garde movement, a somewhat fuzzy term used to describe early Modernism. Pop art, in its direct link to commodification, recognizes that the “ideal market-audience the avant-garde has always sought” cannot or will not ever exist. As Modernism persistently tried to transcend the role of painting as a commodity, it has perpetually failed. This is a major challenge to the fundamental conceptual ideals of Modernism.
An extremely significant challenge to Modernism occurred in Berlin in. In the 1920s, with Hitler’s rise to power and the country’s fervent antisemitism, came shifting attitudes toward contemporary art, as many key players within Berlin’s contemporary art scene were Jewish. The war presented an enormous challenge to the city’s modern culture, making it difficult to sustain art activity.
In Aaron Sheon’s “1913: Forgotten Cubist Exhibitions in America,” the 1913 Armory Show is discussed. Although the show made Americans aware of Cubism, the public’s initial reaction was negative. This was not a major challenge as it was only a minor issue and was quickly rectified, however, the situation sheds light on how the public plays a huge role in the establishment of a movement.
Susan Noyes Platt writes in “Modernism, Formalism, and Politics: The ‘Cubism and Abstract Art’ Exhibition of 1936 at The Museum of Modern Art”: “Cubism and Abstract Art together with the widespread dissemination of its influential catalogue, established Cubism as the central issue of early modernism, abstraction as the goal. It made Cubism and what it characterized as its descendents into a completed history.” Alfred Barr, the curator of this significant show, was a major player in the establishment of Modernism. In the catalogue, Barr systematically and factually laid out the history of Cubism, emphasizing the development of styles in modern art rather than on the artists themselves. Platt writes, “… Barr provided the first compelling model of formalist discussion and stylistic ordering for early-twentieth-century art… [Barr created] such a durable model of the history of modernism and its major monuments…”
In “The Avant-Garde and the Trade in Art,” Jensen discusses the significant role the dealer played in the establishment of the career of Picasso during his Cubist period. Art dealers Vollard, Uhde, and Kahnweiler were, Jensen writes, “an audience intensely aware of the recent developments in French painting and its potential commercial value. This was an audience who believed, based on the powerful example of the delayed, yet bountiful, market and prestige success of Impressionism, that historically significant art depends on the creation of new aesthetic modes, that art is a progressive enterprise in which one great artist builds on the work of his immediate predecessors…” These dealers, then, helped to establish modernism, as they supported Picasso’s career and aesthetic, stylistic development.
Major players also include the Futurists who attempted to “find new formulas to express the poetry of modern life.” These artists heavily contributed to creative activity in Paris between 1910 and 1914.
The 1913 Armory Show was a major player in making Americans aware of Modernism.
According to Jensen, the “19th century produced an essentially two tiered profession divided between an internationally recognized group of elite artists and a much larger artistic ‘proletariat’.” After 1900 the Impressionist exhibitions provided an alternative to the Salon, proving that history and the marketplace could redeem neglected or reviled artistic movements. This paved the way for the post-19th century theme of tortured, burdened artist as an essential cog in the marketplace. In “Selling Martyrdom,” Jensen discusses Egon Schiele’s artistic image to explore this role of the artist as tortured martyr as an opportunistic, self-promotional tactic. Though the role of tortured artist existed years and years before Schiele’s arrival to the art scene, never before was the suffering, iconoclastic artist so directly capitalized on, especially by commercial galleries.