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Modernism & Post-Modernism

Modernism is an overarching term used to describe a succession of art movements that occurred between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries. Although these movements vary greatly in style, they are united by a common set of principles: a repudiation of tradition and conservative values (such as religious moralising in painting), a bold experimentation with form, often to the point of abstraction, and an innovation in technique, materials and process. As a broad movement, modernism reflected the rapid acceleration of societal and technological change brought about by the Industrial revolution in the first half of the 19th century, as artists worked to present, idealise and propel the possibilities of modern life. The invention of photography in the same century was of particular significance to the movement, driving innovations in artistic representation that were beyond the realms of photographic possibility, whilst simultaneously offering a new medium for experimentation. The key styles encompassed by the modernist movement include: Realism (notable for its depiction of daily life on a scale traditionally reserved for history painting), Impressionism, Post-impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Suprematism, Constructivism, De Stijl, Dada, Surrealism, Abstract expressionism and Minimalism.
Like modernism, postmodernism describes a series of different art movements but there are no such clearly defined principles to unite these styles within the broader term. Rather, these movements are united in defiance of the very notion of artistic definition, a direct reaction to the steady evolution of modernism. Postmodernism is an attitude, doubting and suspicious, that blurs the lines between high and popular culture, art and the everyday, the sublime and the banal, often subverting and ‘misusing’ the imagery and conventions of previous art movements. The span of postmodernism is hard to precisely define but is often said to begin with pop art in the 1960s and to include movements such as conceptual art, neo-expressionism, and feminist art, up to the explosion of the Young British Artists (YBAs) in the 1990s.
Key Artist: Paul Cézanne
Born in Aix-en-Provence, France, Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) was a Post-Impressionist painter whose work and technique played an important part in the transition from 19th century concepts of art to the varied and radical new movements of the 20th century. Although he spent periods of time in Paris, Cézanne lived and worked predominantly in Provence, tirelessly working to capture the warm essence of the Mediterranean south. Particularly within his later landscape paintings, Cézanne’s simplified geometric forms, visible brushwork and bold application of colour are clear precursors to the work of the subsequent Cubists and Fauves. Indeed, such were the impacts of his stylistic innovations, he was supposedly acknowledged by both Matisse and Picasso as ‘the father of us all’. Relax in the beautiful landscapes that inspired Cézanne and his contemporaries on our study tour to Provence.
Key Work: Berlin Philharmonic, Berlin, Germany
Designed by Hans Scharoun and completed in 1963, the Berlin Philharmonic is an important and influential example of postmodern architecture. Paralleling stylistic shifts in the art world, the postmodern movement in architecture was a rejection of the dominant modernist style (led by the likes of Le Corbusier), which was felt to be sombre, prescribed, elitist and increasingly homogenised. As a movement, postmodernism in architecture began in the 1960s, particularly flourishing through the 1980s and 1990s, although architecture in the postmodern mould continues to be designed today. Like the corresponding movement in art, postmodernism in architecture mixes high and popular culture, embracing individualism through adornment, playfulness, form, material choices, and an awareness of locality. As an early example of the postmodern attitude, the swooping, gilded façade of Scharoun’s Berlin Philharmonic was an uplifting break from modernism. However, it was his reconfiguration of the interior, which positioned the audience in terraces surrounding a centrally positioned orchestra, that was truly revelatory. He described his concept thus: ‘The form given to the hall is inspired by a landscape; In the centre is a valley, at the bottom of which is found the orchestra. Around it on all sides rise the terraces, like vineyards. Corresponding to an earthly landscape, the ceiling above appears like a sky.’ Scharoun’s approach was a success, inspiring similarly configured concert halls, such as Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Experience, compare and contrast the Berlin Philharmonic with other examples of modernist and postmodernist architecture in the company of an expert guide on our study tour to Berlin.
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