Hannah Hoch, "Bouquet of Eyes" (1930)

Hannah Höch, “Bouquet of Eyes” (1930) (via theartstack.com)

Hardly a day goes by on the internet without a publication releasing some kind of Important List. The latest is The New Republic‘s (TNR) “100 Years 100 Thinkers,” a compendium prompted by the magazine’s centennial. The list features “the people we believe have made the greatest intellectual contributions to the fields and causes that this magazine holds dear” and is broken up into various categories that are supposed to somehow be nontraditional.

Two of those categories are, happily, “Art” and “Architecture.” Less happily, the chosen representatives of those fields — five in each — are white men. All of them. Which makes it seem like TNR and its helpers didn’t think too hard or too broadly about their chosen thinkers.

In art, the five picks are Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian, Alexander Calder, and Balthus. In architecture, they’re Louis Kahn, Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Rem Koolhaas, and Peter Zumthor. I don’t dispute the importance of any of these men to their fields, but the summation of what their choice represents as a whole is so limited in scope, it’s comical.

Regarding architecture, I can’t honestly say I know enough to weigh in. But CityLabs staff writer Kriston Capps, who first brought the TNR art and architecture lists to my attention by pointing out their all-maleness, suggests Julia Morgan, the first female winner of the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal (posthumously), as a possible inclusion.

As for the artists — where to even begin? Beyond the fact that they’re all men and all white, the five choices are of a piece: 20th-century practitioners still very much tied to the 19th century, both in their personal timelines (only Balthus was born in the 20th) and in the way their oeuvres do nothing to challenge the myth of the solitary genius author. Where is Duchamp? Or Warhol? Even if you want to hew to the romantic vision of the pioneering man artist, there’s not a single choice here that represents the explosion of art and artistic philosophy around and after World War II — Jackson Pollock or Robert Rauschenberg, anyone? And how on earth do you sum up the 20th century in art with four painters and one sculptor?

What’s in fact so amazing about art in 20th century is how it cracked wide open as collage, assemblage, photography, readymade sculpture, video, social practice, and performance expanded it from within. And so much of that shifting, I’d argue, was due to the contributions of those who’d been excluded before, namely women and people of color. Hannah Höch, Frida Kahlo, Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Eva Hesse, Louise Bourgeois, Roy DeCarava, Nam June Paik, Diane Arbus, Betye Saar, Cindy Sherman, Carolee Schneemann — any of these people would be worthy picks for artists who’ve made towering “intellectual contributions” to their field. And even my brief list is, I realize, impossibly American- and Euro-centric.

Not that TNR’s choices are surprising. Leave it to a magazine whose art critic believes “liberals are killing art” to pretend that some of the most radical aspects of modernism and the entirety of postmodernism didn’t much matter.

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Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...

11 replies on “Another Boring List Praises the White Men of Art and Architecture”

  1. They can’t sincerely be arguing that these are the most important figures in art and architecture in the last century, can they? Really!? I could understand someone making arguments for Picasso and even (misguidedly) for Matisse, but Mondrian? Calder? Balthus!?! Absolutely ridiculous. Provocation for the sake of provocation. Provocation for the sake of focusing attention on themselves.

      1. It must be an old timer’s personal preference that prevailed.
        As an old timer myself I can see some reason in it.
        I like Matisse even more than Picasso, though I appreciate les Demoiselles very much. Mondrian is to abstract and constructivism a stunning purist,
        Calder’s circus works took playfulness terribly serious for future art, and Balthus for irreverent social shock value, though I much prefer Brancusi’s princess.

  2. You could have just stuck with lists like these are stupid and pointless, or the fact that they left out all work done after WWII, and this would have been a great article. But you had to be sexist and racist. Very offensive actually. Shame on you.

    1. Operating on the logic that to point out sexism and racism is, in fact sexist and racist, you yourself are sexist and racist. And now, for pointing out your sexism and racism, I too am sexist and racist.

      1. No, the racist and sexist part is making disparaging comments about those who are different than you. I agree with your first previous comment, lists like these are more for provocation than anything.

        1. joe is iterating an established gimmick of sophistry meant to obscure the very obvious imbalance that exist socially between women and men.
          A person may be prejudiced against men as artists, but it can hardly qualify as equal to the oppressive sexism that has weighed upon women artists for an immeasurable span of time.
          I must say also that I am a very ardent admirer of Balthus, and I don’t see him as having too much historical impact. Eva Hesse, for example, has probably been much more influential; and that’s naming just one woman artist randomly off the top of my head. There could easily be dozens more worthy of inclusion than my dear Count Balthazar.

  3. Money, money, and more money is needed: The money to create the structures, ;the venues, the museums, the platforms the wherewithal for women and African American artists and others (Asia and Africans are finally developing their own auction houses, platforms, recording studios, film production studios like Hollywood etc collector bases etc.). It is money that is needed and lots of it, over time ad development. The way cultures develop. If each of these groups had enough, Blacks, women times x number of years/generations/centuries had the money, we/they could have their own “herstory” or noble record but, it is the MONEY and WILL POWER and UNITY is not there, the time has not come, but nothing happens over night. New money likes to shower girls in the VIP room with champagne (cheap or expensive) for one thing. We need to get things started and your article here is one way of opening a heretofore discussion that was tightly closed. Thank you for this. http://www.zazzle.com/joyce_dade_art http://www.joycedade-photoraphy.blogspot.com

  4. By way of dismissing this list, Ms. Steinhauer concludes, “Leave it to a magazine whose art critic believes ‘liberals are killing art’ to pretend that some of the most radical aspects of modernism and the entirety of postmodernism didn’t much matter.” I suppose that’s one way of putting it. Another would be that said art critic is Jed Perl, who identifies as a liberal, and that the selected artists are all of particular import to him.

    I gather that the most contentous inclusions here – the ones that people think most ought to be bumped in favor of women or people of color – are Calder and Balthus. Perl is currently at work on the first full-length biography of Calder and contributed an essay to the catalogue of the Calder show that just went from LACMA to the PEM. Balthus is prominent for Perl as the core of the modernist figurative tradition that produced other favorites of his such as R.B. Kitaj. His essay on the Balthus show at the Met last winter goes into its mystical elements, contrasted with the curator’s (and by extension, the art world’s) overweening rationalism. This theme reappears in “Liberals Are Killing Art.”

    Taken as one person’s opinion, Perl’s in particular, and not a broad statement about TNR’s editorial leadership, I don’t think the list is objectionable. I would have substituted de Kooning for Mondrian, David Smith for Calder, and Philip Guston for Balthus. Other lists could be just as plausible. I think a question opens up here as to whether Steinhauer has proven Perl right when he wrote, critically, that “Instead of art-as-art we have art as a comrade-in-arms to some more supposedly stable or substantial or readily comprehensible aspect of our world.”

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