“It must be realized that what these artists, Jean Arp, Kandinsky, Klee, Mondrian etc., were concerned with was something far greater than a problem of form and distinction between “concrete” and abstract,” figurative and non-figurative. Their goal was the center of life and things, their changeless background and an inward certitude. Art had become mysticism… Their mysticism was alien to Christianity, for that “Mercurial Spirit” is alien to the heavenly spirit. Indeed it was Christianity’s dark adversary that was forging its way in art. Here we begin to see the real historical and symbolic significance of “modern art.”

"Two general trends emerge with particular vitality. The first of these involves artists who approach representation as a political tool for grappling with notions of social and cultural identity... most humorous, Margaret Morgan's self-explanatory Portrait of Sigmund Freud as Feminine Sexuality... the inclusion of these works reminds us that the legacy of Western realism — defined largely by the efforts of white men — is still filled with one-sided viewpoints and unchallenged assumptions."

Like the hermetic movements in the Middle Ages, it must be understood as a mysticism of the spirit of the earth and therefore as an expression of our time compensatory to Christianity….As has already been pointed out, the alchemists personified this spirit as “the spirit Mercurius” …In the religious language of Christianity, it is called the devil. But, however improbable it may seem, the devil too has a dual aspect. In the positive sense he appears as Lucifer–literally, the light bringer.. …Looked at in the light of these difficult and paradoxical ideas, modern art has a dual aspect. In the positive sense it is the expression of a mysteriously profound nature-mysticism; in the negative, it can only be interpreted as the expression of an evil destructive spirit. The two sides belong together, for the paradox is one of the basic qualities of the unconscious and its contents.”  ( Aniela Jaffe )

Margaret Morgan. Portrait of Modern Art as a Sanitary System

The neo-plastic paintings of Piet Mondrian (1872{1944) are spare yet subtle abstract compositions of horizontal and vertical black lines with abutting rectangles of uniform red, yellow, blue and black on fi elds of white or white. These works eschew traditional content of subject, cultural references and the natural world and instead exploit a vocabulary of pure abstraction of the artifi cial; there are no “natural” colors of green or brown, for example, no curves, no modulation in lightness, no explicit rendering of depth. He and other members of De Stijl (Dutch: “the style”), such as Theo van Doesburg, Vilmos Huszar and Bart van der Leck, focused on what they felt were art’s essential elements, and explored these compositional elements over decades.

Composition with Blue and Yellow (Composition Bleu-Jaune), 1935 Oil on canvas. 28 3/4 x 27 1/4 in. (73.0 x 69.6 cm.) Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.

As with his other feelings, Piet Mondrian( 1872-1944 ) clothed his sexual feelings in philosophical garb. He found even the dance to be pregnant with profound meaning, seeing it as part of the great assault on nature that modern culture had undertaken: “The machine,” he wrote in “De Stijl” , “is more and more taking  the place of natural forces. In fashion we see a characteristic tightening of form and an internalization of color, both of them signs of a withdrawal from nature. In modern dance we see the same tightening up: the round line of the old dances ( waltz etc.) has given way to the straight line, while every movement is immediately neutralized by a countermovement- a sign of the search for equilibrium.”

Piet Mondrian, Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow, 1930

“Bertolt Brecht once wrote: ‘The raging stream is called violent/ But the riverbed that hems it in/ No one calls violent.’ What violence produces this system called plumbing/modernism? Who is the ‘other’ of the neatly plumbed modernist edifice? What is the excremental flow that must be regulated and controlled by the intricate system of pipes we call plumbing? What is being purged (as ‘waste’) from this system? The flood threatens to wreak the regulatory mechanisms of modern urban life, of aesthetics itself: ‘one is powerless and hypnotized in the face of those floods – as if defenseless…. All that’s solid becomes hot and fluid (all that’s masculine [becomes] feminine?).’”

"In a later version entitled Out of Order (Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, 1997) white PVC pipes are substituted, achieving a skeletal effect for the system and weight is given by filling in ‘shadows’ and background details using the deepness of blueprint. This choice of deep blue color resonates in a number of ways; it is the background color of several finely drawn chalk works which are part of the exhibition – renderings of found photographs and portraits of important figures in modern art, accompanied by narrative texts, imagined conversations with the figures in the images (family snapshots from the fifties, portraits of Tatlin, the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Adolf Loos, Richard Hamilton, Victorine Meurent, Manet’s model) and there is a melancholy in the color, suggestive of Matisse. This is the blue of the abstract body of woman in modern art, but Morgan’s technical command of her craft rewrites this connotation, ironizing it. "

“Dr. Jung, himself, was perhaps the world’s greatest theoretician of the occult. His attempts to resolve the internal dialectics of nature in terms of universal male and female principles were thoroughly promethean. Transforming the sexual theories his teacher, Sigmund Freud, he delved into the shadowy world of the medieval alchemists, the oriental Tao, and the Jewish Kabbalah to produce a vision of the individual human being and the cosmos as a dialectical union of two princples—the male (conscious, rational, heavenly) and the female (unconscious, intuitive, earthly). Jung ultimately embraced an amalgamation of Manechean dualism and the ancient Kabbalistic view of seeing material reality -yesh as an emanation of the unknowable first principle Ayn Sof thus rendering “God” the source of evil (restrictive matter -kelipot) as well as good (emancipating light-orot — spirit -ruah). In his book, The Psychological Approach to the Trinity, Jung proposed that God (like man) in order to realize his ultimate “wholeness” ought to recognize his “dark

e” and “reincorporate” within himself creation in its entirety.”

"Picking up on her materialization of the Loos/Barr diagram, Morgan has reworked and ‘streamlined’ the messiness of Barr’s schematization and the relatively Byzantine nature of Loos’ house in Schools, Factories etc (1998) In all her work, Morgan draws upon the structural mechanisms of order which determine aesthetic value and administrative control. Plumbing stands as a fitting metaphor of this ordering of flows, suggesting that, rather than social engineering, which both conservatism and liberalism have always used as a term of abuse to limit social change, processes of aesthetic engineering are more insidious means of arranging cultural values."

…Once again, theosophical doctrine proved helpful. It supplied theoretical justification for feeling about women Mondrian had already experienced on his own. For theosophists, the female principle expresses the low order of the body, while the male principle aspires to the higher realm of the spiritual. At heart, this view is highly pejorative. Mondrian wrote that it is “the Woman in Man that is the direct cause of the dominance of the tragic in art”; the sentimental, the emotional, the irregular, the curved, all “tragic” qualities that he hoped to overcome with his neoplastic art. In his unceasing search for the equilibrium that would end the reign of the tragic over modern culture, Mondrian found even the diagonal line an intolerable betrayal. When Van Doesburg, after several years of close collaboration with Mondrian, introduced diagonals into his paintings, Mondrian broke with him and withdrew from the “De Stijl” group. But, Mondrian was likely, mimicking, parotting and running with the modernist crowd which exhibited an almost pathological dislike to the feminine:

" In Century (1998), one hundred photographs of public toilets, the title refers as much to the twentieth century’s hygienic impulses as to the arbitrary numeric limit the artist has set herself in the work. The sanitary exercise of cleansing history of the mess which is life finally engages us in a fascination with that which is excluded from this process, as the art of the twentieth century constantly affirms. Each stage of purification which eliminates the orthodoxy it seeks to supersede is followed by an overflow, a spillage, an excess which perforates its seamlessness. What better metaphor than plumbing to represent the constant recirculation of materials, the leakages and the blockages which modernism is."

“Reacting vehemently against the steamy, erotic, and nostalgic excesses of design movements such as Arts and Crafts and, slightly later, art nouveau, theorists, artists, and architects such as Loos and Le Corbusier called for the eradication from creative forms of all adornment and other signs of the decadence of bourgeois life. For Loos and the practitioners of movements from Purism to De Stijl to Productivism, pure form was to deliver a new humanity, purged of the feminizing stench of bourgeois taste and consonant with the virile rationalism of the machine age. In 1920, Le Corbusier and Amédée Ozenfant, developers of Purism, wrote: ‘[machines] are true extensions of human limbs… [and] there is no art worth having without th[e] excitement of an intellectual order…’; for Loos himself, in 1908, ‘cultural evolution is equivalent to the removal of ornament from articles in daily use.’ The Enlightenment attempt to reveal a rationalized human consciousness, itself cleansed of the messy vicissitudes of corporeality (Descartes’ call for a cogito stripped of embodiment, a rational governing of the self ‘according to those [opinions] furthest from excess”), ultimately propelled this particular modernism in its desire for a stripped down visual and architectural practice that would mirror a purified, masculinized version of modern Man.”

Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow-Green, 1920 Oil on canvas Wilhelm-Hack-Museum. Ludwigshafen/Rehin

…In the late nineteenth century, and in the early twentieth, philosophers and playwrights, sociologists and artists, talked a good deal about the confrontation of the male and female principles; it appears in the novels of Zola, the plays of Shaw and the theorizing of Freud. Mondrian’s contribution to this interminable debate was as imprecise and portentous as all his philosophizing, but the entry he made into a notebook he kept around 1913 achieves a clarity that is quite exceptional:

“Female: static, preserving, obstructing element. Male: kinetic, creative, expressive,progressive element. …Woman: horizontal line, Man: vertical line…Male artist: spiritual joy. Female artist: material joy”  The famous “plus and minus” drawings and paintings he began to do shortly after he wrote this note represent the encounter of the two principles in the simplest, starkest terms.

In a series of articles for “De Stijl” his long, tortuous discussion of “male inwardness” and “female outwardness,” of growing purification, of the clarification of opposites and other esoteric matters, is exceedingly obscure. But this much is clear: the female principle stands in Mondrian’s scheme for all that is representative and concrete; in art, it embraces the portrayal of nature, including landscape, still life, and interiors as well as the figure. In sharp contrast, the male principle, especially in its purified, neoplastic form , is abstract and universal….

"I have a simple rule for determining what isn't art: If I can do it, it ain't art. (If you ever saw the poor quality of my stick figures, you'd understand just how damning an indictment this is.) This means that Jackson Pollock is also an idiot. I—or an untalented three-year-old, for that matter—can splatter paint all over the place. And now, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, you can too at Just move the mouse around and you can be an avant-garde genius (that is, too often, an oxymoron). You can even click the mouse to change colors."

Like many other artists of his time, such as Beardsley, Munch and August Strindberg, Mondrian seemed absolutely convinced that throughout the past the female principle had been more powerful than the male. The rise of neoplasticism, therefore, with its pressure toward determinate, abstract clarity, was nothing less, and nothing more, than a blow in the long battle for male liberation; a blow struck not for the sake of superiority, by any means, but for equality, for what Mondrian envisioned as the ideal of the future: “female-male equilibrium”. Politically and socially, this seems a reasonable and decent ideal, but what matters in our search for Mondrian is that it represents an ideal far less than a symptom; the symptom of a man who was afraid.

Composition A: Composition with Black, Red, Gray, Yellow, and Blue, 1920 Oil on canvas 91.5 x 92 cm (36 x 36 1/4 in) Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome

“In a 1993 series of oil portraits of great geniuses of modernism,( Margaret) Morgan deliberately pollutes the sanctity of these author-names by feminizing their heroic visages. Portrait of Sigmund Freud as Feminine Sexuality forms the instantly recognizable, glowering features of the father of psychoanalysis out of (one assumes women’s) pubic hair; Portrait of Clement Greenberg stages the formalist sage in a tiny likeness visible through the wide edges of a frame covered with what Greenberg would have viewed as repulsively decorative lace embossed patterns, an array of styrofoam food containers inscribed with the phrase ‘Have a Happy Day’ flaring off to the right side; Portrait of Jackson Pollock as Employee of the Month, a small picture of Pollock in lurid colors resting over a plaque commemorating the various winners of this award parceled out by ‘MOMA, CIA, USIA,’ constructs this existentialist hero as a minor, class-bound character in a vast corporate drama, bound tightly through institutional loyalty rather than creatively autonomous. The Portrait of Adolf Loos, etc. includes a tiny painting, its pristine geometry swallowed up in a disproportionately large white frame next to a portrait of Loos on velvet with a painting of organic ornament teetering precariously on its upper edge. Of the series, it is the Portrait of Adolf Loos that most directly addresses the cleansing impulse of, especially, early twentieth-century modernist discourses of aesthetics in the fields of architecture, design, and painting (the impulse that motivated the foundation of the Bauhaus, with its instrumentalized conception of design).”

Rhythm of Black Lines, c. 1935/42 Oil on canvas 72.2 x 69.5 cm Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf

Morgan’s strategic attention, via Loos, to plumbing as a metaphor for modernist (aesthetic as well as bureaucratic-institutional) controlling mechanisms links her work closely to two key moments in Dada’s radical critique of institutionalized modernism: Duchamp’s famous Fountain and the plumbing fixture labeled God by Morton Schamberg and the Baroness von Freytag Loringhoven, both from 1917. Duchamp’s urinal (shifted out of the realm of utility and into the realm of the aesthetic through its rotation by 90 degrees) seems to comment ironically on the hypocrisy of art world juries proposing to be open-minded but unable to comprehend any but the most recognizable aesthetics; God extends Nietzsche’s skepticism to imply that constipation is the inevitable effect of the attempt to manage and systematize on the part of modern industrialism as well as modernist aesthetics. A looping tube of metal, God shows the system to be blocked, the phallic thrust of modernist expansion now a pretzel of indirection, turned back on itself solipsistically.


This entry was posted in Art History/Antiquity/Anthropology, Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion, Marketing/Advertising/Media, Miscellaneous, Modern Arts/Craft, Visual Art/Sculpture/etc. and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>