– Autumn/Winter 2014

The Joy of Meta: On the Museum of American Art

Steven ten Thije

Alexander Dorner, ‘Die Zwanziger Jahre in Hannover’, 2062 (Alexander Dorner, ‘The Twenties in Hanover’, 2062), acrylic on canvas, 150 × 200cm. Courtesy the Museum of American Art, Berlin

Meta-level is a position M defined in relation to P as an outside position that at the same time could recognise and even incorporate position P. Meta-position M recontextualises position P by assigning a new layer of meaning to P while not entirely forgetting its previous meaning. Constitutive notions that define position P cannot be constitutive notions for the position M.

— Walter Benjamin, ‘On Meta’, 20131

For those of you who have never visited one of the venues or installations of the Museum of American Art or its ‘affiliated’ institutions — institutions with similar features, but who are not part of the Museum — please allow me to outline the basics. In a way the museum holds nothing out of the ordinary. It displays paintings and an occasional sculpture. All the works belong to the mainstream narrative of modern art. Only, what is on show is not limited to artworks alone, but also includes catalogues and other documents that relate to the history of the artworks on display. Sometimes an entire room is constructed to refer to important places in the formation of the narrative of modern art, such as the office of Alfred

  1. Walter Benjamin, ‘On Meta’, in Walter Benjamin: Recent Writings 1986—2013, Vancouver and Los Angeles: New Documents, 2013, p.193.

  2. Alfred H. Barr, Jr, Cubism and Abstract Art (1936, exh. cat.), New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1974, p.9.

  3. Ibid.

  4. See Alexis Joachimides, Die Museumsreformbewegung in Deutschland und die Entstehung des modernen Museums 1880—1940, Dresden: Verlag der Kunst, 2001.

  5. See Eva Cockcroft, ‘Abstract Expressionism, Weapon of the Cold War’, Artforum, vol.15, no.10, June 1974, pp.39—41.

  6. For the best overview of the Museum’s installations, see Inke Arns and W. Benjamin (ed.), What Is Modern Art?(exh. cat.), Berlin: Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, 2006.

  7. This installation was first shown in Alexander Dorner and El Lissitzky, ‘Kabinett der Abstrakten — Original and Facsimile’ (‘Abstract Cabinet — Original and Facsimile’) at Halle für Kunst Lüneburg (24 January—8 March 2009) and later exhibited at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven as part of ‘Museum Modules’ (10 March—24 September 2010) and ‘Time Machines Reloaded’ (25 September 2010—30 January 2011).

  8. The Museum of American Art Berlin opened in 2004 at the Frankfurter Allee 91. Visitors can make an appointment at http://www.museum-of-american-art.org/impressum.html (last accessed on 16 July 2014).

  9. This installation has been on view in Belgrade on Braće Radovanovića 28 since 2003.

  10. Salon de Fleurus was located at 41 Spring Street in New York.

  11. Serge Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art: Abstract Expressionism, Freedom and the Cold War (trans. Arthur Goldhammer), Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1983.

  12. The collection was also shown in ‘Museum Modules’ and ‘Time Machines Reloaded’ at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (see fn.7).