Modernism: 1900 to Present

Overview and reaction to Artistic Pluralism as reflected in Modern Art and in Life

Location: The Tate Modern Gallery (Bankside), London, UK.

Modernism and the social, political and economic events that occurred from 1900 to the present affected artists and modern art was the resounding theme throughout my visit to The Tate Modern. Wars, like World War I, World War II, the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Korean War, and the wars of the Middle East, all engaged political artists like Leon Golub, Dia Al-Azzawi, Alfredo Jarr, Bruce Nauman, Joseph Beuys, Surrealists, Futurists and the members of the Dada group, to name a few. Social changes like gender issues, ethnicity, race, sexuality, the unconscious and dream states, violence, peace movements, and spirituality are all themes explored by modern artists like Suzanne Lacy, Lis Rhodes, Kasimir Malevich, Richard Serra, Jackson Pollock, Marisa Merz, Pino Pascali, Thomas Hirschhorn, Germaine Richier, Mark Rothko, Blake Fitzpatrick, Mona Hatomb and Kara Walker. While artists like Cy Twombly and Ewa Partum chose art as a vehicle to express poetry in art form to bring to life ancient history and mythological stories.

As artists of the twenty-first century, they were free to utilize a pantheon of materials and objects of the Industrial Age to express their dream, vision and voice. With the creation of new media due to industrialization, artists created new forms and expressions of art like Performance Art (a la Hugo Ball), happenings, ready-mades (Marcel Duchamp), earthworks, mobiles, Conceptual Art, video, photography, and digital art, to name a few.

The area of social sciences and psychology grew out of the Industrial Age. Theories on Marxism, Socialism/Communism, Fascism, Nietzsche’s ‘Superman’, and Freud’s study of the subconscious simultaneously liberated and imprisoned humanity. Society had become enslaved to Capitalism and the status quo as the lines of varying social classes delineated itself. Communities were no longer unified and defined by a singular belief, like early Renaissance Florence, for example. Modern society is now identified as individual faces, individual thoughts and individual voices. Society and its people had become desensitized by the aftermath of the capitalism and wars; Violence constantly perpetuated by the media and all its social outlets; A constant reminder of poverty that is still prevalent in an apparently modern-day, advanced and globalised world we live in. Where the rich continue to get richer and the poor, poorer. Today, we are experiencing the extinction of the middle class proletariats who had risen in influence from the Industrial Age.

In our throw-away, fast-everything, consumer-driven, materialistic society, it is no wonder that the deep and dark void found in modern-day lives has become  like a cancerous tumor, wreaking havoc  to everything in its environment only to eventually destroy itself. Despite having access to everything and more, the need for more stimulation and instant gratification becomes harder to satiate. Fortunately, cancer is a curable dis-ease.

Yet out of this void, we also explore the light, find forms of spirituality, study philosophy, experience transcendence and create the essence of love through joy. We are existential Romantics; that despite the wars, deaths, chaos and poverty, humanity has an innate trait of goodness, the desire to seek out the brighter side of things. Life is continuous and subjective to the experiences from which we choose to learn from and take from it what we will. When one is consistently bombarded with images and reminders of death, war and hatred, it also begs one to consider if whether there is the opposite of all that – of life, peace and love. Eventually the quest to define supernatural agency over life itself becomes an imperative to understanding that life is merely a mirror, reflecting back to each person their own inner world. Forgiveness and peace then become the stepping stones towards liberation, humility and balance. Love of oneself creates a ripple effect, which eventually creates a wave over humanity.

So as modern day artists poke, challenge, stab, steal, shine light, burn, aggrandize, exaggerate, demoralize, moralize … in an effort to uncover truths, they are all lead to the same conclusion that love is the answer. All of these artistic pluralisms are merely an effort to identify and heal the pain as a precursor to then capturing the essence of life, which is love that is either elusive or abundant. It is all a matter of perspective.

We have freedom.

We have the ability to manifest our heart’s desires.

We have the choice to do the right thing.

That is power.