My teenage daughter, Sophie, tells me that the hip dismissive remark these days among cool East Coast city kids is: “That’s so Postmodern!”
We discussed this phrase while taking “the art and architecture walk” with two Dora Maar fellows, Brian Chikwava and Andria Derstine, at the Château la Coste outside of Aix-en-Provence. The 250-acre site is an astonishing place, where in 2004 renowned artists and architects were invited to select places on the Domaine to create permanent installations of their choosing. On the self-guided tour, you stroll through installations by Tadao Ando, Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder, Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Jean Prouvé, and Richard Serra, to name just a few.
As we tried to parse out what exactly is being scorned by the teenagers (presumably Postmodern themselves, having been born in the 1990s) when they declare, “That’s so Postmodern!” Sophie queried Andria Derstine about the different works. Was Sean Scully’s Wall of Light Cubed Postmodern? No, not really. It’s Minimalist. Gehry’s Music Pavilion was definitely Postmodern, and one of our favorites—the Andy Goldsworthy Oak Room, an inverted giant underground nest—was Postmodern . . . in a sense. The wonderful interactive magnetic Portals by Tunga were firmly Postmodern. But we were not putting them down. We loved them. Just as we loved the serenity of the clean Modernist space of Ando’s Chapel.
For two hours we explored the landscape dotted with installations. I was once again grateful that my daughter is able to interact with the brilliant minds of the Dora Maar fellows. It may not be a hip New York City upbringing, but it is richly steeped in thought and culture. Sophie was inspired to study neuroscience by the drawings of Dora Maar fellow Nene Humphrey. When, in the past, Sophie translated into French presentations by John Jesurun and Lisa Corinne Davis in front of a live audience, she learned as she went how to talk about paint, texture, theater dynamics, and the complex relationship of the audience to the performance. The education is ongoing; a few days later, she would read an excerpt of the French translation of Brian Chikwava’s novel Harare North for our Dora Maar Salon.
On the car ride home, we returned to the meaning of the “That’s so Postmodern” epitaph. Sophie said, “I think it’s just another way to say, been there, done that. Only it’s cooler, more hip.”
Last week, when I was in Houston at the MFAH, I was able to slip in to see Dora Maar fellow—and MFAH curator—Cindi Strauss’s amazing exhibition, Shifting Paradigms in Contemporary Ceramics. I wished Sophie were by my side. (Sophie has recently discovered ceramics and made a teacup for me.) When I saw the wonderful wall of humor and funky forms that Cindi described as Postmodern, I wanted to share that moment with Sophie, especially Richard T. Notkin’s anatomically shaped Heart Teapot: Hiroshima II.
Walking through the exhibition, I was just a tiny bit proud, too. Cindi had written much of the show’s catalogue when she was a resident at the Dora Maar House. As for my "Postmodern" inverted spin on been there, done that, I want to say proudly of Cindi: “She was here, and she did that!”