- Collecting as Modernist Practice by Jeremy Braddock
In Collecting as Modernist Practice, part of the Hopkins Studies in Modernism Series, Jeremy Braddock examines different practices of collecting modernist art and assembling modernist literary anthologies and puts them in conversation in new and productive ways. It is the conversation that emerges from the book as a whole, more than any particular example or close reading, that makes Collecting as Modernist Practice a fine example of cultural criticism as it is practiced today. More dialogic approaches have emerged in literary and cultural studies in recent years, with many studies examining works from across disciplines and genres to explore networks of signification and latent social, artistic, and political formations in a particular historical moment. Given this contemporary critical context, Braddock’s choice of subjects is especially apt, as the practices of creating collections and anthologies inherently invoke questions about formal and social relationships and the processes by which cultural capital is established and recognized.
Focusing on the intersections between art and literature in the United States during the first decades of the twentieth-century, Collecting as Modernist Practice offers new insights into the ways in which modernism coalesced around certain individuals and artifacts. Braddock focuses on how individual “collecting” can lead to a “collective” sense of identity and social formations. Claiming that “[t]he two most prominent forms of modernist collecting were the privately assembled, but publicly exhibited, art collection and the interventionist literary anthology,” Braddock argues that such collecting worked “to determine the constitutions of the movement, group, or field,” often by arranging pieces to “represent a new, hitherto unimagined form of sociability and set of affiliations” (3). In other words, the arrangement of things—texts in an anthology or artworks in a gallery—creates formal relationships that can be read, while the choices made and practices employed create social relationships that can be read as well: “At a time when the cultural value [End Page 167] of modernist art was acknowledged but the mode of its institutionalization, its canon, and its relationship to society were undecided, the context for modernism’s social definition took place within this field of collections” (4). Collecting created a kind of “provisional institution” even as “individual sensibility” worked “against the hegemony of official institutions” (12).
As these nods to “society” and “social definition” and “institutions” might suggest, Braddock goes on to describe different ways that particular texts and artifacts of the time were socially engaged, taking on issues like gender and class. However, it is really race that provides the sustained critical underpinning in Collecting as Modernist Practice. Braddock argues that “in the United States, the most significant subfield of literary collections in this period was undoubtedly the African American anthology,” and in his view, “the anthology could reasonably be claimed as the preeminent black literary form of the 1920s” (23). Given this focus, it is not surprising that Alain Locke’s The New Negro emerges as the central example in Braddock’s study. A touchstone of the Harlem Renaissance, The New Negro helps to make African American art and literature more recognizable to its practitioners and a broader audience, while also incorporating the formally innovative tendencies of avant-garde modernism. In other words, it demonstrates both an innovative form and a nascent social formation. As a foil to Locke and his anthology, Ezra Pound appears in the introductory chapter and later in the study. Pound’s emphasis on aesthetics and personal choices, seemingly apart from social considerations, represents modernism as it came to be accepted and incorporated into New Criticism; Locke’s The New Negro represents the way modernism might have been and might still be understood.
Examining the roles of race and other factors in modernist art collecting, Braddock contrasts two collectors, Duncan Phillips and Albert C. Barnes. Using visual evidence of how groups of works were arranged, along with related texts by and about these collectors, he examines the ways in which they developed and arranged their collections, showing how both differ from the eventual and lasting [End Page 168] institutionalization of modernist...