Modernism and World Art, 1950–72

Focusing on a series of exhibitions of modern art from the 1950s to the early 1970s, this article traces the frictions between two related, yet separate endeavors during the first postwar decades: on the one hand, the historicizing of modernism as a specifically European story; and on the other, the constitution of an all-encompassing concept of “World Art” that would integrate all periods and cultures into a single narrative. The strategies devised by exhibition organizers, analyzed here, sought to maintain the distance between World Art and modernism, and thus deferred the possibility of a more geographically expansive view of twentieth-century art. Realist art from the Soviet bloc and elsewhere occupied an uneasy position in such articulations between World Art and modernism, and its inclusion in exhibitions of modern art often led to the destabilizing of their narratives. Such approaches are contrasted here with the prominent place given to both realism and non-Euro-American art from the twentieth century in the Soviet Universal History of Art, published from 1956 to 1965. Against the context of current efforts at a “global” perspective on modern art, this article foregrounds the instances when the inner contradictions of late modernism’s universalist claims were first exposed.

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