This paper reviews the succession of the modern European sculpture movement in the 1930s U.S., with a focus on the establishment of the International Style and its influence. In this process, we discuss the role of modernism in the American Modern Project.
There is a clear distinction, in terms of significance, between Modern Architecture ― a unified kunstwollen that was present in all of the European continent ― and the International Style, a new form of architecture established by the American art system. ‘International Architecture,’ founded on the ideology of a unified world picture of sculpture transcending nation and race, was a concept that was developed from International Architecture, the first volume of the Bauhaus books by Walter Gropius. As for ‘International Style’, the term was coined seven years later in 1932, by Henry-Russell Hitchcock, the American architectural historian, and Philip Johnson, the curator at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, who set a clear definition of the 1920s architectural style using comparative method. In other words, the former had developed as a response to the crisis at the time, whereas the latter had formed under the purpose of systemizing modern art. But despite their differing starts, the two phenomenons had a commonality in that they both questioned the given role of the sculpture movement in the modern society, and the direction they should be heading for a unified ideology on modern sculpture.
These facts being given, we focus on how these new artistic forms were accepted and spread, in the context of the American society and culture at the time. The main agents of culture, centered around MoMA, accepted the form and the concept of modernism by overcoming the borders of principality and practicality that the European modernists had, thus transforming it to practical aesthetics. At the same time, they nationalized ― or “americanized” ― this form born out of a system, and by doing so, returned the ownership of art to the en masse and extended it to the communal value called the American middle-class. And under this strategy, International Style overcame the limited privileges of art, and formed a colossal network of figurative objects that make up the human surrounding.
This paper re-interprets International Style as a form of art wither potential to overcome its common reference to a fixed frame of nationalism in cultural politics. It instead interprets it as having a potential to intercept into the practicality of the human life. This may be viewed as an attempt to suggest a multi-dimensional view on modernism, or a re-questioning of the energy that formed the modern society.