A Master of Mute Forms

The story of twentieth-century art is crowded with chastened and disabused idealists. How could it be otherwise? Each of the great movements—Fauvism, Cubism, Constructivism, Futurism, Dadaism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism—began with its own kind of evangelical fervor. These artists were rejecting quotidian experience as they pursued emotional states so unfamiliar or so overpowering as to call into question the fundamentally empirical and materialistic nature of a work of art. Painters and sculptors were raising hopes for artistic catharsis that no painting or sculpture, not even a masterpiece, could ever be expected to fulfill.

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