Visited the Ransom Center today

Visited the Ransom Center today and took in the current exhibit, “Make it New”: The Rise of Modernism.

Seeing the building itself was a big part of the reason for the visit. I hadn’t been since it underwent extensive renovations; Gwen had never been at all, and her company had been involved in the renovation. The place is quite different: the first two floors had previously been used mostly for exhibit space; now the exhibits are restricted to the first floor. While there had previously been a large standing exhibit of art (which benefited greatly from having James Michener lend some of the prizes from his personal art collection) and antiquities, along with a rotating exhibit, the permanent exhibit is now completely gone.

The current exhibit also seems to have been designed to accentuate the Ransom Center’s role as an archival repository rather than an art gallery: it featured a lot of different collateral from the period in question (roughly 1915-1930)–personal letters and notebooks, issues of obscure art magazines, even the official court decision in the Ulysses obscenity trial. The information cards accompanying almost every piece were quite extensive, and gave mini-histories to put everything in context.

The exhibit covered numerous artistic schools of thought that (apparently) fall under the general heading of modernism: vorticism, primitivism, dadaism, etc. I got the vague impression that some of these were formed to spite the founders of another movement, and I was strongly reminded of kids who start little clubs. Another aspect that struck me as interesting was the use of the word “modernism.” To me, the word has always connoted rationalism, order, optimism, and a positive attitude towards technology. In this exhibit, though, the word was used to describe schools of thought that tried to dig underneath rationalism to reach some kind of pre-conscious awareness, tried to subvert orderliness, and had ambivalent attitudes towards technology. The exhibit also (wrongly, in my opinion) cast Frank Lloyd Wright as a modernist.