Modernism (And Libertarianism) at the Corcoran

The Corcoran gallery’s new exhibit on modernism will reward a visit from an interested libertarian. Although it comes from the dry-as-dust Victoria and Albert Museum in London, “Modernism: Designing a New World” actually presents of the most exciting and politically interesting exhibits to pass through Washington, D.C. in a long time.

Unlike avant-garde curators who reduce everything to the holy trinity of race-gender-and-class, the V&A’s team has done a good job untangling the political web of high modernism. Although the exhibit includes some truly beautiful objects and some really striking films, a lot of the emphasis lies in the enormously destructive high modernist conceit that art and architecture could create a “new man” and, thus, a utopia. This, of course, leads to greater state power and, ultimately, coercive measures against those who don’t get with the program.

If anything, I tend to agree with Washington Post art critic Blake Gopnik’s contention that the exhibit overstates modernism’s utopian dreams. Not all modernists were utopians and even the exhibit itself quotes the oft-ignored (and, really, rather conservative) Bahaus principle that great art should emphasize craft and skill above all else.

On the other hand, I think that Hayek himself couldn’t have done a better job with the exhibit’s implicit critique of Le Corbusier’s fundamental inhumanity and, thus, the deadliness of high modernism. This is the first art exhbit I’ve seen in a while that could really speak to a libertarian.