Modernism, luxury, and irony
Countless manifestos appeared throughout the 20th century, abhorring the status quo, breaking with the usual, parting from the old. Cubists, futurists, expressionists, minimalists: Modernists, and so forth. The common goal was, to put it simply, to democratize the idea of art. This wasn’t only in who could make art, but who could buy it, who could comment on it, and who it was directed at. Modernism is about conscious freedom from social standards and moralism. I can imagine an artist must have thought this at the time as well: “And fuck the curators!” Who are they to decide what to show in an exhibition? Show me everything!
And why is art put on a pedestal? I would put a Pollock as my rug, for all I care. Except the fact that one of his paintings can cost hundreds of millions. Who decided that these artists belonged in the same pedestals as Da Vinci and Bernini? (Because they deserve it, but that’s another post for another day) Wasn’t Warhol opposing every single aspect of “classical” art? I’ll tell you who decided. The snobs. Those old farts who would still wear a monocle if Harrods sold them. All it took for these manifesto conjuring modernists to fall prisoners to that which they opposed, was in fact that which they opposed: Fame, fortune, and the pedestal.
When Charles and Ray Eames designed the Eiffel chair -and I say this out of my perception alone- They were trying to simplify not only the aesthetics of a chair, but the production method. They were minimizing the energy it took to create the ornate, the beautiful. Nevertheless, molded fiberglass is sold for hundreds of dollars when it bears the brand of Eames. The irony of luxury begins when the wrong patrons embrace minimalism: The rich. It’s paradoxical that one could be willing to spend more for something that costs less to make, knowing the fact a priori! (And we all do, anyways) They should have stayed with their Louis XIV chairs.
It’s a shame, then, that minimalism wasn’t imparted into the global educational system. It could save so much energy, money, and bad taste if the masses embraced and demanded minimalist design. If the plumber sat on an LC2 chair when he got back home, the world would be a better place. If modern art and design had not been taken and put in museums, but into every store in the world, it would serve its purpose better. And it does happen that you can buy a Mondrian rag to clean your dishes, but his original artwork is still worth millions. In fact, they should simply throw it away. Now that’s real modernism! The art remains in the thought, in the creation, and the revolution that it caused. The copies, the pop art, the Chinese replicas: That’s true modernism. It’s an honor that your chair can be found on ebay for a quarter of the price; that means more people can access it. It means you were good enough to be copied. It also means that slowly, but surely, more people want a Van der Rohe chair. More people want to sit in a Barcelona chair. If the Dubai billionaires couldn’t find a lounge chair for over $200, if they had to buy the same one as the plumber, it wouldn’t be an outrage. It would be an accomplishment. True equality. True design. So let’s start by burning the MoMA down.