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New York Modern: The Arts and the City
by William B. Scott
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press 2001
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New York's domination of the world art scene from the early 20th century to the 1970s was, according to Scott and Rutkoff, a great anomaly, born of factors unlikely ever to be repeated: the economic and political disruption of Europe in the two world wars; the relative poverty of the non-European world; and the great gulf between New York City and other U.S. cities. These Kenyon College history professors distill an enormous range of scholarly work on visual art, architecture, music, drama and dance, as well as on movements like Dada and fields like museum studies, although there is little primary work in evidence. Admirably and correctly, they treat the development and elaboration of jazz (from ragtime to swing to bop to "third stream" and beyond) as equivalent in significance to the elements in the more familiar narrative of how the American artists of Stieglitz's 291 gallery, and the scandalous European modernists exhibited at the 1913 armory show, led to the institutionalization of the avant-garde by the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. The authors' clear vision of New York as the center of a plurality of modern arts, particularly after WWII, is bolstered by their minute attention to the social structures and political ideals that undergirded the polis and supported the artistic community. They are particularly astute in their scathing indictment of 1950s and '60s urban renewal, and in their documentation of Harlem's central role in all the arts. While experts will most likely find omissions, the authors must be credited with making an earnest effort not to oversimplify their charting of a spectacular artistic firmament.

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