Challenging Kitsch Equality

Lisa Siraganian

in Modernism’s Other Work

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780199796557
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199932542 | DOI:
Challenging Kitsch Equality

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This chapter considers changing conceptions of the art object when theorizations of framed, airless art enter the post-war era as adaptable and consumable “styles” competing with one another in the marketplace. With Vincente Minnelli’s blockbuster film, An American in Paris (1951), setting the stage, late modernist texts about frameless, counterfeit, or bad art—William Gaddis’s The Recognitions (1955), Elizabeth Bishop’s North & South (1946)—grapple with the idea that kitsch is more egalitarian than high modern culture because for kitsch to work it must value the spectator’s experience. Granting this interdependent relationship between mass culture and high art, both Gaddis and Bishop use the relationship between avant-garde and kitsch to develop a “neo” rearguard aesthetic, one that follows Stein’s and Lewis’s insistence on the spectator’s irrelevance to the art object’s meaning but situates it differently as an “aesthetic of criticism” for the midcentury’s increasingly corporate culture. Defining art objects in relation to popular culture, they consider how the frame of an art object could work to distinguish high art from popular culture, while they also debate the role of different classes of spectators.

Keywords: Gaddis, William; The Recognitions (1955); Bishop, Elizabeth; North & South (1946); An American In Paris (1951); art object; kitsch; rearguard; egalitarianism; Greenberg, Clement

Chapter.  13356 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)

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