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American Tutti-Frutti


Porter McCray was the director of the MoMA International Program during the 1950s, when several important exhibitions of modern American art traveled through major European cities in the early years of the Cold War. He died on December 1, 2000. In recent years, he has become responsible for the traveling exhibitions of the Museum of American Art in Berlin. This essay is based on a presentation given by Porter McCray for Ashkal Alwan’s Home Workspace Program in Beirut in January, 2014, on the formation of MoMA's International Program and its pivotal role in constructing an art historical canon of American modern art as an arm of US foreign policy. It appears in this issue of e-flux journal on the occasion of The Unmaking of Art, an iconoclastic exhibition at e-flux viewing art history as a construction, and based on a lecture by Walter Benjamin delivered in Guangzhou, China, in 2011.

—Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Anton Vidokle

The first press release by the Museum of Modern Art was issued even before there was a Museum of Modern Art, on August 20, 1929. And its purpose was to explain to the public the reasons for having the Museum of Modern Art established in New York. It explains that already in cities like Stockholm, Weimar, Dusseldorf, Rotterdam, and San Francisco there are Museums of Modern Art, and that it is time to have one in New York. And in this press release, we can see how the initiators of the Museum of Modern Art imagined what the Museum of Modern Art would be. It would be what the Musée du Luxembourg was for Paris in the early nineteenth century—the first museum of contemporary art in the country, exhibiting works by living artists. It was the idea that inspired the famous torpedo in time that Alfred Barr made in the first years of the Museum Modern Art.

The Museum of Modern Art started with a loaned exhibition that was very conservative—the Post-Impressionists that were being exhibited at the end of the third decade of the nineteenth century. The entire exhibition was made from various private collections. Just to remind you, for at least six years, the Museum of Modern Art was neither a museum, nor, as Gertrude Stein noticed, could have been modern. Many exhibitions came from various private collections, and there were cases where you might find a painting you like, and you might ask who owns it. And if the owner wants to sell it, you could buy the work from the Museum of Modern Art exhibition. So it was clearly not a museum.

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