MODERN MAN

Byline: Aaron Balkan

NEW YORK — Charting the evolution of 20th-century art for his first large show as curator of the Guggenheim, art historian Robert Rosenblum had an obvious starting point: the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris, which exhibited over 6,000 works of art from 29 countries.
But a hundred years later, says Rosenblum, what’s most interesting about the Fair was what was left out.
“Because the show was in 1900,” he says, “you can’t help but think you’re between two worlds, when, of course, it’s just a number, a transition. On one hand you have everyone gathered in Paris at this critical date to launch the balloon of the future. On the other hand, in terms of art, it’s really a period that often falls between the cracks.”
When “1900: Art at the Crossroads” opens May 18, Rosenblum hopes people will begin to look at modern art in a different way.
“I think we get brainwashed with our catechisms — of going from Post-Impressionism to Fauvism to Expressionists, etc., — and if things don’t fit into the sequence, we don’t classify them, and as a result we don’t look at them. Now, as it turns out, there are countless artists you do want to look at.”
The 1900 World’s Fair, says Rosenblum, was remarkable not only for mapping out modern Paris — Hector Guimard’s Art Nouveau Metro was built for the occasion, as was the Gare d’Orsay (now the Musee d’Orsay) — but also for bringing avant-garde artists from outside of France to the attention of the French public.
“Much of the work has a tinge of modern science,” Rosenblum says. “Darwin is very much apparent, as is Freud. Freud was unknown to many of these artists, but there was such a synchrony of experience; so many artists wanted to plumb deeper.”
And yet many of the masters included in the Guggenheim exhibit — Degas, Rodin and Monet among them — were all but left out of the Paris show.
“France and England, at that time, seemed to have very stuffy juries, so the younger, more adventurous styles were excluded. But other countries were eager to promote what was new.”
Rosenblum, who has penned several classic works of art criticism, recalls how as a child, everything he dreamed about was enshrined on West 53rd Street, at MoMA.
“It took me a long time to get to like what they had up at the Frick collection and the Met. I had to be educated, expanded into liking pre-20th century art.”
Perhaps his desire, then, to “shuffle the deck a little,” as he puts it, should come as no surprise.
“There are a lot of terrific pictures in this exhibition that could not have been assimilated before,” Rosenblum says.
“I don’t know what the new patterns are going to be, but what I really want to do is show the material — a hundred years later — and make new spectators and art historians think of how to tell the story in a different and more truthful way.”