Jenny Anger


On her book Four Metaphors of Modernism: From Der Sturm to the Société Anonyme

Cover Interview of May 20, 2018


If my book could contribute to a dismantling of modernism as primarily masculine, autonomous, and French, it will have achieved a great deal. Paris is important, of course, but the thriving networks discussed in the book operated relatively independently of it. Further, it is not that there were not a lot of male artists, it is that many conventionally feminine characteristics were actually welcome, if not constitutive of modernism. This is where my two books come together, because in the first I argued for the essential relevance of the feminized decorative in the art of Paul Klee and modern art at large. In the second book the feminine appears in the emphasis on domesticity but also on the relational quality essential to these artists’ relationships with each other and with their art. Some feigned autonomy, but most actually sought out interdependence. Metaphor highlights and compounds these relations, as you need to “get” what the other (or the art) is presenting literally and figuratively. You need to adjust your understanding and expectations to the presented model and passively accept it before you can actively assert something else. Metaphor is not autonomous. Awareness of the relational, finally, renders the contributions of more women artists visible.

A corollary would be the debunking of the belief that abstraction is pure and wholly independent of the world in which we live. A lot of the art in this book is abstract, and all of it is indebted in one way or another to metaphor. Metaphor is always a double register, and abstract art is too. Abstraction is not about itself; it is an analog of the real world. It is a metaphor.

Finally, I would be pleased if architectural historians paid closer attention to translucence instead of assuming universal validity for transparency. The terms are relevant again today, so the non-specialist might pay heed to them in this context. Our culture values transparency, yet it might behoove us to approach the concept more cautiously, because its promise of complete openness and revelation also entails a compromise of privacy, if not the reality of surveillance. Modernists wrestled with this conundrum, finding their freedom in translucence, and we might have something to learn from them.