At today’s MoMA press breakfast, I encountered this graph drawing created by the museum to document the birth of abstraction. The image, which was designed for their upcoming show Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925 (December 23, 2012–April 15, 2013), is an obvious node to Alfred H. Barr Jr.’s important Cubism and Abstract Art chart that accompanied a show of the same name at the MoMA in 1936.

Alfred H. Barr Jr’s classic “Cubism and Abstract Art” graph drawing. (click to enlarge)

This web of relationships goes beyond visual art to0 incorporate musicians like Claude Debussy, writers like Guillaume Apollinaire, and choreographers like Vaslav Nijinsky, and gives us the most complete picture of abstractions transcontinental roots we’ve ever seen.

The Americans, centered on photographer Alfred Stieglitz, branch out to include Max Weber, Marsden Hartley, and others. There are obvious Italian, Russian, British, Dutch and other clusters but the image connects the dots between figures we may not know were in contact. Leah Dickerman, a curator in MoMA’s Department of Painting and Sculpture, spoke about the graph briefly this morning and explained it shows all known relationships that included those who have shared studios and even slept together (if only those were in a different color … for clarify, of course).

We requested the image from MoMA and they were kind enough to provide it for Hyperallergic’s readers. They also sent us the following useful description to accompany the graph:

The invention of abstraction was not the inspiration of a solitary protagonist, but a relay of ideas that moved through a network of artists and intellectuals working in different countries and different media. This diagram maps the nexus of relationships among those artists represented in the exhibition Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925, all of whom played a significant role in the development of a new modern language for the arts. Vectors connect individuals whose acquaintance with one another in the period 1910–1925 could be documented. The names in red represent those figures with the most number of connections within this group. The chart was produced as a collaboration between the exhibition’s curatorial and design team and Paul Ingram, Kravis Professor of Business at the Columbia Business School, and his students.

Will this image become as iconic as Barr’s more simplistic flowchart? My guess is yes, but like all maps it may have to be revised now and again as research and reputations change the emphasis of such cluster of relationships . Take a look at the drawing in all its glory and let yourself be lost in the amazing beginnings of something that changed the world forever.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.

4 replies on “Amazing New Graph Drawing Charts the Birth of Abstraction”

  1. Less than amazing. What do the links mean? There’s much better work out there in force-directed graphs, using size, color, edge-bundling, etc

    1. If you read their description, it is the actual ties between individuals. People who had some form of contact. I think it’s incredible to see the birth of abstraction graphed this way. I love the connections between designers, musicians, painters, writers, etc. I never think of Debussy when I think of abstraction (I may be the only one but I don’t think so) but here I see how foolish I am not to think of him in the context of other things going on around him during the period.

      1. Hm, I think I don’t actually understand the point : Barr’s network was alongside of an essay where he tried to find what style or which painter had – or may have – influenced an other. It was a theoretical statement (even if it seems outdated). Here, if the links only represent actual ties between… a LOT of important artists at the time, what does it prove ? Ik Kupka knew Apollinaire, what does it really say about his work ? And if Stieglitz knew a lot of these people (because he ran a gallery), how is that make him more important (in red) than Paul Strand ?

        (I’d like to see the exhibit though!)

  2. this is so great. I had the unique luck of taking class with Prof. Ingram while at CBS and I am not at all surprised that he applied his skills to the art world. He usually also does an analysis showing how strong the ties are (to your point… who was sleeping with whom).

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