You are on page 1of 20

Cultural Sociology The Heir and the Cowboy: Social Predisposition, Mediation and Artistic Profession in Marcel Duchamp and Jackson Pollock
Nuria Peist Cultural Sociology 2012 6: 233 DOI: 10.1177/1749975512440225 The online version of this article can be found at:

Published by:

On behalf of:

British Sociological Association

Additional services and information for Cultural Sociology can be found at: Email Alerts: Subscriptions: Reprints: Permissions:

Downloaded from at Flinders University on April 20, 2013

>> Version of Record - May 9, 2012 What is This?

Downloaded from at Flinders University on April 20, 2013


CUS6210.1177/1749975512440225PeistCultural Sociology


The Heir and the Cowboy: Social Predisposition, Mediation and Artistic Profession in Marcel Duchamp and Jackson Pollock
Nuria Peist

Cultural Sociology 6(2) 233250 The Author(s) 2012 Reprints and permission: sagepub. DOI: 10.1177/1749975512440225

University of Barcelona, Spain

This article analyses the social conditions that lead up to modes of entry into the field of art, as experienced by two of the most representative artists of the first and second avant-garde: Marcel Duchamp and Jackson Pollock. Differences in the degree to which the two artists possessed social and cultural capital, born of their respective trajectories, influenced the mediating structure each employed. In contrast to Pollock, Duchamp did not have a profuse or organized network of intermediaries. He was able to convert capital he inherited into a distancing of himself from opportunities made easily available to him. Duchamp achieved a high degree of formal experimentation, opting not to expose his work to the demands of the field of modern art. Both artists embody ideal types, between which many avant-garde artists of the first half of the 20th century would fluctuate. While Duchamp was to be considered the great precursor of contemporary art, Pollock would occupy the place of prototypical avant-garde artist.

artistic consecration, artistic profession, Bourdieu, Duchamp, Heinich, mediating structure, modern art, modernism, Pollock, sociology of art

In his analysis of Gustave Flauberts Sentimental Education, Pierre Bourdieu compares the distinctive positions of the protagonist Frdric Moreau and his friend Deslauriers. The opposition between them is manifest in the distinct social origins of each the
Corresponding author: Nuria Peist, Department of History of Art, University of Barcelona, Comte Borrell 150, 2 1 izquierda (08015), Barcelona, Spain Email:

Downloaded from at Flinders University on April 20, 2013


Cultural Sociology 6(2)

bourgeoisie and the petite bourgeoisie. These origins are the expressed in the social space of mid-19th-century Paris in the lack of interest in success of the one and the excessive ambition of the other. For Marcel Duchamp and Jackson Pollock, two of the most emblematic artists of the first and second waves of the 20th century avant-garde, the timing and manner of their access to success in social place have much in common with Bourdieus analysis of the two characters from Flauberts novel. Marcel Duchamp enjoyed both the security and the support derived from his familys privileged social position and also the social and cultural capital he accumulated throughout his personal evolution in adult life. As a result of this inheritance, Duchamp was able to postpone to a remarkable degree the moment of his consecration. By contrast, Jackson Pollock hailed from a family of farmers and had to go to great lengths to make a place for himself in the avant-garde art of the mid-20th century. The social space Duchamp is in a position to ignore is the antithesis of Jackson Pollocks need for success. Lacking a social life guaranteed by right, economic security and the comfort to move with ease in the intellectual circles of the times Pollock could not afford the luxury of pulling back from opportunities as they presented themselves. The American painters need for recognition takes on the form of a conquest of a space to which he is not the rightful heir. What Frdric can have by merely wanting it, notes Bourdieu, Deslauriers must achieve by force of will (Bourdieu, 1995: 40). Once the comparison is established, it becomes necessary to ask ourselves whether the relationship is, in effect, immediate, and why. Can we be sure that the struggle to achieve or to reject consecration is commonly tied to the possession or lack of capital arising from the social development of the individual? Are the cases of Marcel Duchamp and Jackson Pollock isolated examples, or do they fit the characterization of types that follow the comparison proposed by Bourdieu? To answer these questions, we must observe how each artists mechanism of mediation was activated, in order to work out a qualitative analysis of three basic points: how the person of the artist and his or her dispositions relate to the field of art in order to occupy the spaces available to him or her at any given moment; the specific form taken by the career of artist; and in what manner the classification and the delivery of the artist to posterity is organized by specialists.

Vocational Career and Mediation

One of the most interesting factors involved in defining an artistic career is the question of how to analyse a position not usually determined by those sorts of normative evaluations academic degrees, more or less defined or stable positions, determined salaries, etc. found in other professions (Menger, 2002). This low degree of codification of artistic careers is a reality associated with a concrete moment in history: the emergence of an autonomous field of art, in the last third of the 19th century. Nathalie Heinich (2005) suggests three moments in the history of the configuration of the artist and the profession. The first develops in a corporativist regime whose profile is that of an artisan who normally carries on a family tradition learned through apprenticeship. Next is the academic regime, whose profile is that of a professional who, by way of a practical and intellectual schooling, responds to a given academic project. Finally, within the vocational regimen, born in the context of romanticism and consolidated toward the

Downloaded from at Flinders University on April 20, 2013



end of the 19th century, the profile is defined in connection with the concept of vocation. In this moment, apprenticeship and schooling no longer come into play, and the specificity of the artist revolves around values such as inspiration, innovation and artistic genius (Heinich, 2005). The figure of the artist is no longer subject to the definitions and normative evaluations that come with the corporation or with academia. Without supportive, influential institutions at the start of the artists development and even more so before the first modern museums were created in the 1930s the artists search for recognition and artistic identity falls on the nearest agents to them. During the first half of the 20th century, the network of mutual support extends not only to artistic peers, but also to those who have begun to establish their positions and to define and defend the new criteria for what has value in modern art. The first critics, as well as the first dealers and collectors of the avant-garde, compete to determine their positions in an emerging field, even as they compete to establish their own definition of modernity (Peist, 2005). This entire network of definitions and mutual support at the start of the century is what we call mediation. For the producers of modernity, mediation takes on extreme importance in production, or, more precisely, in the sub-field of restricted production, as Bourdieu refers to it. It imposes itself as part of artistic production, by intervening in the definition of both the artist and the work, as mediation as such by acting as conduit for the meaning of both the work produced and the producers of the work, and as recipient, which is to say, as the first and for the moment, the only, audience for the would-be innovators of modernity. The recognition of this network of mutual support becomes one of the fundamental components in the constructing of the artists identity. An axiological regime, sustained by individual values (vocation, originality, innovation, singularity, etc.), brings to the fore the person and the individual dispositions of the artist. At first, the avant-garde is rejected or unknown outside a specific circle, and the artist is understood and accepted only within an internal network in which the recognition of ones peers transforms incomprehension into a social position (Heinich, 2005: 43). In other words, without stable, defined positions, established economic compensation, institutional backing, or some assessment from outside the field, the person and the identity of the artist only achieve in this temporary arena the sanction of certain peers in the broad sense of the term: artists, the first dealers, collectors and critics in what might be called a first moment of recognition (Peist, 2005). Nevertheless, the type of analysis proposed here is not based on the suppositions of a sociology of mediation centred only on the plotting of relationships. We will attempt to lay out a proposed configuration that focuses on the relationship between the trajectories of the individuals and the chain of mediations. In this sense, the model of a sociology of recognition as proposed by Heinich will allow us to probe the interdependent relationships of those involved (Heinich, 1991). We will also take into account the ways in which the artists reputations are structured in time and in space, contrasting their careers both in social and chronological terms, so as not to forget the configuration in which their relationships are inscribed. Based on this analysis, we will render more flexible the structure proposed by Bourdieu, based on hierarchical relations of spaces structured a priori, as seen in the structural opposition between Frdric and Deslauriers which has already been mentioned.
Downloaded from at Flinders University on April 20, 2013


Cultural Sociology 6(2)

Analysing the ways in which an artist relates to a mediation of recognition can give a measure of the recognition achieved, of the definition of the career of an artist and of the state of the field in general. On the other hand, the mode of conversion of social, cultural and economic capital to those that permit access to recognition in the art world should not be seen as the result of an equation wherein having a high degree of various sorts of capital equates to consecration or potential for long-term success. The key is to analyse systematically how what the individual brings from his social development interacts with the form and degree to which he relates to the field. Or rather: how the initial capital must be converted into a capacity to relate to mediation.

Social Development and Entry into the Field of Avant-garde Art

Duchamps indifference to success and Pollocks constant struggle to achieve fame translate into distance from and integration into the structure of mediation respectively. Distancing and approach are closely linked here with the elaboration of the artists identity, as well as with the degree of recognition achieved. But the paradox becomes apparent when we observe that if effectiveness in relation with mediation collaborates in the construction of identities and in obtaining the first and indispensable recognition for the artist and his career, how can it be that an artist like Marcel Duchamp, distanced from the art world for so many years, with no exhibits, reviews or dealers, until well into the 1960s, could be one of the most important artists of the 20th century? A brief analysis of the paths followed by both artists will help to illustrate the apparent contradiction.1 Duchamps paternal grandparents, proprietors of a caf in a small French village, cultivated the hope of achieving, like so many other families, an upward social declassification, via their children. Eugne, Duchamps father, achieved his familys ambitions by marrying the daughter of an affluent maritime agent from Rouen, and by being certified as notary for the town of Blainville. In time, Eugne Duchamp became mayor of the town. Well positioned in the social strata, the Duchamps invested in their childrens education. The brothers spent 7 years at the Lyce Corneille, receiving a wellrounded education that introduced them to the arts and, among these, to academic drawing (Tomkins, 1999). The three brothers, Gaston, Raymond and Marcel, began to study art upon finishing high school, despite the reticence of their father. Like so many other children of the middle bourgeoisie, their fathers opposition did not translate into an absolute rejection of the childrens aspirations. The three brothers received economic support from their parents as well as moral support in the form of validation even well into their careers. This support translated into the availability of the time needed to establish the relationships that would give them a place in the artistic circles of the day. Once in Paris, the three Duchamp brothers began their journey as artists. The first to go were the older two, Raymond Duchamp-Villon and Jacques Villon (the pseudonyms adopted by Raymond and Gaston, respectively). Both showed their work at the Salon des Independants and joined a group of artists that met in the Duchamps house in Puteaux and came to be recognized later on as part of the cubist movement. Villon became a member of the board of directors of the 1908 Salon dAutomme, and

Downloaded from at Flinders University on April 20, 2013



Duchamp-Villon one of the judges of the sculpture category (Tomkins, 1999: 49). When Marcel arrived in Paris in 1904, he was taken in by his brothers, who introduced him first to the Salon exhibits, then to the Puteaux group and finally to the cubist exhibits which by 1911 had become an independent part of the Salon (Tomkins, 1999: 4959). Nevertheless, and despite having achieved a few, but notable, moments of recognition in the art world, Marcel Duchamp decided to turn his artistic career upside down. In one of the many interviews that Marcel Duchamp gave, once he was a consecrated figure in the art world, he made clear his disposition to distinguish himself from his brothers: in 1963, he said: say His goal was fame, in reference to his brother Gaston. With reference to himself, he remarked: I had no goal. All I wanted was to be left in peace to do the things I wanted to (Tomkins, 1999: 42). Duchamp distanced himself from the art world; what he wanted was to play chess, travel, distance himself from the world of his brothers, from the struggle to be seen as avant-garde, making clear his gratuitous attitude toward the art world and his rejection of fame. Nevertheless, and as is well known, Marcel Duchamp would be consecrated despite his apparent distancing. The artist would adopt in a radical way one of the available postures in the artistic organization of his times; his distance was a long-term investment. Jackson Pollocks origins, development and entry into the art world present very different characteristics from Marcel Duchamps. Jackson was the youngest of five brothers. His father, Roy Pollock, was descended from a lineage of farmers. Pollocks mother, Stella MacClure, came from a family that, according to the painters biographers, had spent many years struggling to climb the social ladder (Naifeh and White Smith, 2001: 3536). The couple was not matched in terms of life goals. Roy, though a graduate, would never abandon the family tradition of farming the land; while Stella, heir to the social pretensions of her family, did everything possible to lead a middle-class lifestyle. Though she made things difficult for the children with her urge to travel, Stella would always promote their studies [. . .] and had always hoped at least one of them would enter what she proudly called the cultured professions (Naifeh and White Smith, 2001: 83). Despite being a trained painter, and achieving recognition as one of the most renowned artists of the 20th century, Pollock never came to terms with that part of himself occupied by his father. When Charles, the oldest brother, went to Los Angeles and enrolled in the Otis Art Institute, he sent various copies of the avant-garde journal Dial to his younger brothers, Jackson and Sande. They began to draw and to plan a future as painters. But beyond dreaming of being artists, Jackson and Sande also played very seriously at being cowboys. In 1925, Sande bought a car and, dressed as cowboys, he and a group of friends headed out into the country. Later, in New York, and already known as a painter, Pollock would find a compromise solution for facing the gaze of the world. His parents values would for the first time reach agreement in him. Pollock would become famous as the cowboy painter, because of his technique (tossing lassos of paint across the open plains of the canvas) and because legend had it he had actually been a cowboy. The Duchamp and Pollock models, though defined as typological objects of study in the present research, respond to the relationship or homology between degree and type of accumulation of capital over the course of an artists development, type of relationship with mediation and the later classification by specialists. The hypothesis we propose is that Pollock, without the dispositions, or resources, necessary to position

Downloaded from at Flinders University on April 20, 2013


Cultural Sociology 6(2)

himself, by right, in a relevant space in the field of art, could not reject an intense support personified above all by the figure of his wife, Lee Krasner, and the critic Clement Greenberg to gain the recognition of his peers. With respect to Duchamp, we consider that the artist did not do without the most immediate mediation, that of his peers, in the broad sense of the word, in order to achieve success. Duchamp internalized mediation in his own person, and in his work, making third parties work according to his own criteria, when it came time to activate the strategy that would deliver him to posterity. Duchamp did without the habitual roads taken to become visible in the sub-field of restricted production: exhibits, reviews, sales to collectors, etc. In this sense, the artist made a double break: with the traditional unilateral path to consecration, but also with the structure of consecration within modernity. Duchamp was a step ahead of contemporary art, not only in his work, but also in the manipulation and internalization of the most effective and refined mechanisms of consecration.

Marcel Duchamp: The French Heir

Owing to his close involvement in the circle of the most advanced avant-garde, Duchamp was able to extract the information necessary to assimilate the norms of the field. To be availed of useful information, it is necessary to belong to the circles where it is circulating, and to possess the necessary capital to belong to those circles (Mauger, 2006b: 248). Due to the relationships he began to establish in his brothers environment, the artist enjoyed sufficient social capital to move with ease in the atmosphere of the avant-garde, despite the distance that he had at one point chosen to take. Duchamp also represents the paradigm of the process of personalization which took place with contemporary art (Heinich, 2009). By displacing the artistic value from the material object to the intangible gesture of the artist, the figure of the creator comes to the fore. In this way, he can liberate himself from the object and elevate his reflections about the system to the level of art. If Duchamp did so with such emphasis and to such an extreme, it was because he was conscious of the mechanisms that govern the art-world of his age, and because the capital he possessed allowed him to experiment with those mechanisms and postpone his consecration. For Pierre Bourdieu, and in reference to Duchamps gestures, art cannot unveil the truth of art without hiding it, turning this unveiling into an artistic manifestation (Bourdieu, 1995: 256). Nevertheless, it is not about obscuring a truth, but rather erecting it in value thanks to his knowing, as Bourdieu also suggests, of the rules the game: like a good chess player who, in charge of the immanent necessity of the game, can inscribe in each move the anticipation of the following moves he will make (Bourdieu, 1995: 368). So there are two factors that were activated in the encounter between Duchamps habitus and the possibilities of the field: personalization of artistic value, as Heinich points out, and knowing the game, which permits him to anticipate the following moves, as Bourdieu puts it. Duchamps internalization of mediation stems from this encounter, which permitted him to adopt a distance with respect to his contemporaries. In 1920, when Duchamp declined to participate in the Dadaist exhibition in Zurich, the organizers decided to hang blank panels in the spaces they had reserved for him. This is

Downloaded from at Flinders University on April 20, 2013



an outstanding example of how his distance was a conscious decision to leave open the position corresponding to him as an artist until the field summoned him to fill it, or rather, until fame arrived in an enduring fashion. Nothing says it better than his own words which, though from 1955, reveal the knowledge the artist had of the rules of the game:
For me, the danger lies in winning over the immediate audience, that first audience that clothes you, takes you in, accepts you and gives you success and everything else. On the contrary, I would prefer to wait for the audience that will come in fifty years, or a hundred years, once dead. (Tomkins, 1999: 437438)

Despite achieving only the minimal possible sales of his works, Duchamp did not reject the business of art. Throughout his entire life, he made a great effort to promote the work of various artists, especially that of the sculptor Constantin Brancusi. Together with Henri-Pierre Roch, he would play a primordial role in developing the market for the sculptors works with the purchase of his estate (Temkin, 1995: 64). But beyond promoting his friends, Marcel Duchamp never neglected the fate of his own work. Though he never sought a dealer for his works, and despite embarking on long-term artistic projects and abandoning production for years, his work did not remain in his private space but entered into circulation thanks to the gifts he made to his friends in the art world and, above all, the Arensbergs acquisitions. It can be said that Duchamp was putting together a museum of his work by way of his only important collectors. When they died, the donation planned by the artist for the Philadelphia Museum allowed his work to enter an institution en masse and in an organized way, over the years, by his own efforts. Beyond organizing the entry of his work into the market, in a veiled and deliberate way, Duchamp promoted himself by way of his close relationship with important personalities in the young system of modern art. Endowed with the facility of moving comfortably within the most select artistic circles of the avant-garde, he never stopped participating in gatherings of major collectors and art lovers. Collectors like the Arensbergs or John Quinn, dealers like Brummer or Peggy Guggenheim, and the art promotor Catherine Dreier, requested his services as specialist in the moment of making acquisitions, organizing exhibitions, or even, as in Dreiers case, to assume the presidency of the association dedicated to the exhibition, sale and promotion of modern art, Societ Anonyme Inc., Museum of Modern Art (Tomkins, 1999: 366382). We see how effectively Duchamps unique and closely observed artistic career was organized according to his active participation in the field of the American avant-garde. If France could be seen to have monopolized the terrain of production of modernity in the first half of the 20th century, the United States concentrated a hard core of defenders of modern art. Artists and art promotors, like Alfred Stieglitz and Walter Pach, dealers like Catherine Dreier and Peggy Guggenheim, collectors like John Quinn and the Arensbergs, art historians like Henry-Russell Hitchcock or Alfred Barr, would be the seed from which the triumphal moment of the avant-garde would sprout in the 1930s closely related to the timely and logical creation of the MoMA (Kantor, 2002) and would prepare the terrain for the displacement of the centre of the art world from Paris to New York and the emergence of the first American avant-garde, in the 1950s (Guilbaut,

Downloaded from at Flinders University on April 20, 2013


Cultural Sociology 6(2)

1983). Marcel Duchamp would achieve consecration earlier in the United States than in France (Tomkins, 1999: 482494). His knowledge of the game allowed him to take a chance on the long view in his strategy for consecration, in his artistic propositions and, even, in his geographical choice. The place he would come to occupy in history would be related to this push toward the future.

Jackson Pollock: The American Cowboy

Jackson Pollock will have, over the course of his trajectory, numerous incidents that testify to the discomfort with which he moved through the artistic space of the American avant-garde. The expression cowboy, which so contributed to his fame, did not always have a positive connotation. It was often used as a pejorative term in his immediate surroundings, mainly by young artists aspiring to the same star status Pollock would achieve in American art. The cultured atmosphere of the avant-garde artists could not easily digest the idea of a farm-boy being recognized as the best painter of his generation. The artist was frequently rejected and ridiculed, due to his behaviour, his lack of tact and culture, perceived as the country brute from the refined perspective of the city-dwellers who could not conceal his origins. Jackson Pollock did not move comfortably in avant-garde circles; he lacked the body language and the cultural tastes of his surroundings. One of the forms taken on by struggles in the heart of the artistic field which in this case is the struggle for positions in the recently debuted American avant-garde is to impose or to force recognition of a definition of belonging, criteria for competing, possession of the required dispositions (Mauger, 2006a: 3). The clear discord between what is required by the field and what is possessed by the painter shows itself. Discord that is adjusted due to Pollocks more or less intimate need for recognition and to the possibilities and the needs of the field: a model of the artist that represents, in turn, the model of the American man. The need for recognition is related to the strong connection that exists in the vocational regime between the person of the artist and his or her identity as creator what Nathalie Heinich terms personalization, one of the properties, along with temporality and mediation, of the recognition of the artist in the vocational regime (Heinich, 2009). In contrast to Marcel Duchamp, whose representation of himself is coherent the French expression bien dans sa peau fit him like a glove (Tomkins, 1999: 24) Jackson Pollocks representation of himself as an artist was more disorganized and the designation assigned to him by others was on many occasions negative.2 Pollock needed to reinforce this identity and possessed, at the pole opposed to Duchamp, a greater need for recognition. We see how what collaborates in understanding Pollocks urgent need for recognition is, on the one hand, the possibility the vocational regime affords him of modelling to fit his person the opportunities for success, and on the other hand, his personal need for immediate recognition, owing to the logic of his personal trajectory: his familys position in the social space, the contradictions of his parents regarding the future of their offspring, and his own position within the family, resulting from competition with his older brothers to be the representative of the ambitions of their mother to see her sons triumph in a cultured profession. Nevertheless, it is not enough to trace a line that runs from

Downloaded from at Flinders University on April 20, 2013



Pollocks dispositions to the requirements of those positions available in the field, but rather it is necessary to analyse how these same dispositions interact with those who collaborated in constructing his identity, brought about recognition and steered the artist to success: his mediators. From the beginning of his artistic career, Jackson Pollock was surrounded by the most influential critics and exhibitors of the times. His wife, Lee Krasner, by way of her contacts, worked to strengthen the dense network of intermediaries that brought Pollock his success (Naifeh and White Smith, 2001: 329343), and the critic Clement Greenberg was a determining influence, even on the execution of the paintings themselves. When Life magazine, in 1949, published its well-known article on the painter, Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?, and his visibility began to grow gradually but constantly, an anti-Pollock feeling began to coalesce in artistic circles (Naifeh and White Smith, 2001: 503). When artists and critics alike came to a consensus on what would be the new movement in American painting, the art world would be divided in two: the Pollock camp and the de Kooning camp. Contacts of Lee Krasner in the art world, the writings of Clement Greenberg, and the support of influential gallery-owners like Peggy Guggenheim and Betty Parsons, were key elements in the consecration of Pollock. As soon as recognition began to be visible, groups of anti-Pollock and anti-Greenberg artists and critics proliferated (Naifeh and White Smith, 2001: 538). What was at stake was the definition of New York as the new international centre of the avant-garde. For that, a representative was needed who could endow that figure with identity. In the press of the times, we find a range of diverse declarations on the subject: We have not produced in painting and in sculpture a figure big enough to attract the worlds attention, declares James T. Soby. We wait for our first giant in painting and sculpture, sure that he will appear, and others after him (Soby, 1949: 53). Pollocks stigma, his lack of urbanity, the cowboy legend, that is, his heritage of an uncultured man, acquired from his father, becomes a positive form of capital here, just as James Johnson Sweeney would celebrate it, in the first published analysis of Pollocks work, in the catalogue for his first exhibition at the Art of This Century Gallery in 1943.
Talent, will, genius, as George Sand wrote to Flaubert, are natural phenomena like lakes, volcanoes, mountains, the wind, the stars, or clouds. Pollocks talent is volcanic. On fire. Its unpredictable. Its undisciplined. It pours out in a mineral prodigality not yet crystallized. Its generous, explosive, disorderly [. . .] Its true he needs discipline. But to benefit from pruning, a plant must have vitality [. . .] Among the young painters, Jackson Pollock has an unconventional promise, for his exuberance, his independence, his native sensibility. If he continues exploiting these qualities with the courage and the conscience he has demonstrated up to now, the promise will become reality. (Friedman, 1972: 59)

The reasons for which New York took over as the new centre of modernity in the west are varied and are described in detail in the renowned book How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art by Serge Guilbaut (1983). Among those reasons is the new international position the United States came to occupy after the war; post-war debilitation of Paris, the need to export an image of the United States as centre of Western culture in the face of the dangers of communism at the height of the Cold War; the growing depoliticization of the intellectual of the American left along with the resulting defence of the individual

Downloaded from at Flinders University on April 20, 2013


Cultural Sociology 6(2)

or autonomous artist; and the dissolution of plans for the support of the arts promoted by the government in the time of the New Deal, leaving a great number of artists with concrete needs, willing to organize themselves and to search for an alternative to European modernity (Guilbaut, 1983). Nevertheless, if Paris had been the centre of production during the first avant-garde, the United States possessed a hard core of support for modernity. The logical result was the creation in New York, and not in Paris, of the first important modern art museum, the MoMA. Once Alfred Barr and those around him institutionalized and helped with the lasting inscription in history the art of the European avant-garde, it was possible to consecrate soon after the artists of American modernity. That is, New York had the institutional apparatus, the market and the critics necessary to house the new American avant-garde, whose maximum expression was Jackson Pollock. Pollocks dispositions, thanks to his mediators (Clement Greenberg, Lee Krasner, Peggy Guggenheim, Betty Parsons, etc.), entered into dialogue with the possibilities and the needs of the field, sending them in turn their own capital of consecration. At the other extreme, Duchamp had no need to demonstrate to intermediaries the signs of a success that would be slow to be externalized. The capital of consecration he demonstrated to himself, thanks to an internalization and acquaintance with the mechanisms of mediation. His dispositions, in dialogue with the possible structural lacunae of the future, transformed the stigma of outsider into positive capital. Pollocks dispositions, in dialogue with the field, turned the stigma of farm boy into something positive, by way of the personification of the values of an American man, thanks to a strong network of intermediaries.

Duchamp and Pollock: Two Ideal Types

For the degree of success they achieved, their divergent trajectories and their two extremely opposite ways of reaching consecration, we suggest that Pollock and Duchamp represent two abstract types. Between them, we see in flux many of the typologies of the avant-garde artist, varying degrees of advanced formal experimentation, and the manner in which many artists were classified by authorized specialists. We take as examples two groups of artists, representative of the first and second avant-garde, in order to observe the positions they occupy with respect to the two poles represented in this study by Pollock and Duchamp. The first group is comprised of Picasso, Brancusi, Kandinsky and Malevitch, artists that achieved a high degree of recognition and who began to exhibit in the first decade of the 1900s. The second group is comprised of Dubuffet, Tpies and Bourgeois, artists representative of the second avant-garde, whose early exhibitions occured in the 1940s.3 Still it is necessary to ask if the comparison that feeds into the establishment of two typologies can be sustained despite the difference in timing and in the current states of the field of the avant-garde in the periods in which the two artists emerged. On the one hand, the establishment of two typologies of artists distanced from one another in time is not only based on a chronological analysis, but on the possibility of establishing two paradigms for access to consecration: one typically modern and the other pushing the artist toward the contemporary. Nevertheless, we will stop to analyze briefly the indices of recognition in the first and second avant-garde.
Downloaded from at Flinders University on April 20, 2013



Let us start with the thesis that in the first half of the 20th century, recognition was divided into two periods: a first moment in which artists found recognition in the people who were defining their own positions (artists, initial dealers, collectors and critics), and a second moment in which the artist was recognized by certain greater powers of legitimation, as in the case of large museums, their directors and curators and specialists that publish monographs and catalogues of some relevance about the artists (Peist, 2005). In this way, the moments in which a first retrospective is put together and the first monograph is published of each artist will be considered a basic measure of recognition, two acts facilitating a recognition stable enough to permit their first lasting inscription into history. The time an artist takes to achieve consecration is measured from the moment of the first exhibition. In Tables 1 and 2 we can observe the timing of consecration for the proposed artists. We see how the artists of the second avant-garde needed less time to achieve consecration, measured in both charts displayed here. This is owing to the fact that the first moment of recognition undergoes a process of condensation (quantity and effectiveness of criticism in the market), speed (their trajectories approach the second moment of recognition after relatively few years, in comparison to the artists of 1900) and professionalism (agents occupy defined and more stable positions). These processes were the result of the evolution and settlement of investment in artistic innovation, thanks to prior historical experience. When the second avant-garde emerged, the structure of recognition of the first was already active. In the 1930s, the first modern art museums in the United States were created, the market was set up, collectors and dealers who gamble on the avant-garde multiplied, and the first monographs of some relevance about avant-garde artists began to be published. This institutionalization of innovation resulted in the creation of a previously nonexistent structure, or infrastructure. The founding of museums drove the appearance of new galleries assured that betting on the innovative would result in an active market with potential clients willing to accept what it proposed: new institutions for modern art. The perception that the avant-garde could be a good investment, materially and symbolically, inspired collectors to turn to the avant-garde. Critics saw the opportunity to establish themselves as protagonists in the defining of emerging movements. In other words, the formalization of the first avantgarde influenced the organization of the structure of recognition for the second. Still, when the second avant-garde emerged, in the 1940s and 1950s in Europe and the United States, museums and even the most important galleries were immersed in the showing and acquisition of European modern art from the early 20th century. Deeply involved in this potent process of institutional recognition, they at first ignored the artists of the second avant-garde. But in the 1950s, their introduction now mature and gaps filled in with respect to the first avant-garde, the emerging styles drew the attention of museums, specialists, collectors and gallery-owners. So, it is evident that Jackson Pollock would achieve consecration more quickly than Marcel Duchamp, as he was immersed in the rapid process of recognition characteristic of the second avant-garde and in the potent process of change of artistic centre from Paris to New York. Nevertheless, there is a difference in the first and second avant-garde between those artists who enjoyed greater visibility in their initial phases, thanks to their network of mediation (Picasso and Brancusi in the first avant-garde, and Pollock, Dubuffet and

Downloaded from at Flinders University on April 20, 2013


Table 1. Time Elapsed from 1st Exhibition Museum Year of 1st Monograph 1921 14 years Time Elapsed from 1st Exhibition 32 years MoMA, New York Information About 1st Monograph (Author, Title) Maurice Raynal. Pablo Picasso


First Retrospective, in Museum

Pablo Picasso


Greater visibility at the start of their trajectory 1938 1945 35 years 39 years 52 years (36 years)* 41 years Guggenheim, New York (MoMA)* Stedelijk, msterdam Stedelijk, msterdam 1959

1955 (1939)

Downloaded from at Flinders University on April 20, 2013

Lower degree of visibility at the start of their trajectory 50 years

Constantin Brancusi Vassily Kandinsky


Vasile Paleolog. Constantin Brancusi Hilla Rebay, ed. Kandinsky 52 years Cat. Exp. Whitechapel Gallery, London. Kasimir Malevich, 1878-1935

Casimir Malevitch


55 years

Marcel Duchamp


Pasadena, California


51 years

Robert Lebel. Sur Marcel Duchamp

Cultural Sociology 6(2)

*Though the first retrospective of Brancusis work took place in 1955, I consider more relevant the desire of Alfred Barr to organize it in 1939, a desire interrupted first by the war, then by the artists refusal.


Table 2. Time Elapsed from 1st Exhibition Museum Year of 1st Monograph 1959 20 years Time Elapsed from 1st Exhibition 18 years MoMA, New York 1953 9 years Information About 1st Monograph (Author, Title) Frank OHara. Jackson Pollock. Georges Limbour. Lart brut de Jean Dubuffet 8 years Michel Tapi. Antoni Tpies et loeuvre complete. 1982 40 years Deborah Wye. Louise Bourgeois.


First Retrospective, in Museum

Greater visibility at the start of their trajectory 16 years

Jackson Pollock


Jean Dubuffet 14 years Muse des Arts Dcoratifs de Paris Guggenheim, New York 1956 MoMA, New York


Antoni Tpies 40 years


Downloaded from at Flinders University on April 20, 2013

Lower degree of visibility at the start of their trajectory

Louise Bourgeois



High Degree of Social and Cultural Capital DUCHAMP Bourgeois Kandinsky Dubuffet Tpies

Cultural Sociology 6(2)


Weak Mediation Brancusi POLLOCK Low Degree of Social and Cultural Capital

Strong Mediation

Figure 1.

Tpies in the second), and those who experienced a lower degree of visibility in their initial phases, due to a lack of structured mediation (Duchamp, Kandinsky and Malevitch in the first avant-garde and Bourgeois in the second). We will now analyse the relationship between the timing of consecration, though not for every specific category of the avantgarde, but in relation to the two typologies of access to consecration in modern art, as based on the two typologies of artist, represented by Duchamp and Pollock. Figure 1 shows the position of each artist with respect to the relation between capital held and mediation employed. There were artists from comfortable backgrounds, like Picasso, Tpies or Dubuffet, who had profuse and organized mediation. Others, like Bourgeois or Kandinsky, are closer to the pole Duchamp represents: a high level of capital in hand, allowing them to treat the network of intermediaries with less urgency. At the extreme represented by Pollock, we find Constantin Brancusi, an artist who could not afford to reject the assistance of intermediaries. The more improbable combination is the artist with little social or cultural capital and who nevertheless depends little on a network of intermediaries. In other words, it is difficult to find the artist who, despite lacking the qualities or background for easily moving in the field of avant-garde art, is able to go without the assistance of mediating agents in order to achieve consecration. Artists who, like Pollock, had a structured mediation from the beginning of their careers, achieve consecration more quickly. In this way, the possibility of developing a high degree of innovation is closely related, as we have seen in Duchamps case, to the level of autonomy with regard to mediating agents in the field. In turn, this lack of mediation brings about a slower process of consecration, meaning that the guarantee of going down in history is found in both the quantity and the quality of inherited economic, cultural and social capital. Figure 2 reflects this situation in the positions of the selected artists. The space represented by Pollock is occupied by those individuals who were classified as prototypes of

Downloaded from at Flinders University on April 20, 2013

Precursors of Contemporary Art DUCHAMP Bourgeois


Slow Consecration Process Tpies Brancusi Dubuffet Picasso POLLOCK Prototypes of the Avant Garde Artist

Rapid Consecration Process

Malevitch Kandinsky

Figure 2.

the avant-garde artist by the specialists. Artists like Picasso, Brancusi and Tpies gained quick access to consecration thanks to the presence of a network of intermediaries. At the Duchamp pole, we find artists like Bourgeois, who, for various reasons, did not achieve consecration with particular speed. Not pressured by the demands of the field, they could push the envelope of formal experimentation in the avant-garde, and so come to be considered precursors of the break in contemporary art. We view as likely that artists with a slow consecration process, as with Kandinsky, will have been classified as avant-garde artists. Again, the improbable combination is that in which an artist who gains recognition rapidly is at the same time classified as a precursor of contemporary art. Now, what do we mean by degree of formal innovation or experimentation? What relationship is there between effective degree of innovation and those classifications made more or less a posteriori by the specialists? Nathalie Heinich suggests that the break in contemporary art is of the second degree. While modern art represents a break from tradition in light of dominant aesthetic imperatives, contemporary art effects a transgression of the modern transgression, by breaking open the very notion of what is a work of art. The high degree of innovation carried out by artists like Duchamp or Bourgeois, two of those considered precursors of contemporary art, revolves around conceptual reflection on heteronomous characteristics of the specifically artistic. In the case of Duchamp, his work proposes the limits of art and of its mediating structure. In the case of Bourgeois, the artist carries out a reflection on the body and sexuality, which anticipates that concept of sexual identity as a cultural construct which so many postmodern feminists will defend (Mayayo, 2002: 33). Both artists adopt aesthetic options removed from a strict defence of the specifically pictorial or sculptural, a result of the struggle for the autonomy of the artistic in the face of external conditioning factors in the field of modern art.

Downloaded from at Flinders University on April 20, 2013


Cultural Sociology 6(2)

The relation between the effective experimentation of artists like Duchamp or Bourgeois with the frontiers of formalist modern art and the classification carried out by the experts is two-fold. On the one hand, they were not classified within any modern current, making their later categorization as precursors possible. On the other hand, by not being classified, they could afford to attempt a high degree of innovation, thanks to their remaining free of the constraints of the field of avant-garde art. When modern art becomes archaic, due to its institutionalization at the end of the 1950s, a new generation begins the work of replacing it, or of second-degree transgression. Duchamp and Bourgeois will be seen as still-thriving antecedents. Currents in the modern art of the artists analysed here (cubism, abstraction, modern sculpture, suprematism in the first avant-garde; informalism, art brut and abstract expressionism in the second) had the work of art as their reference point at the moment of realizing their innovations or transgressions with regard to the artistic canon. The break brought about by Picasso, Kandinsky, Brancusi, Malevitch, Tpies, Dubuffet and Pollock centred on experimentation with the pictorial and sculptural properties of their works. With the exceptions of Kandinsky and Malevitch,4 each of them enjoyed a more or less rapid consecration and an effective and organized mediation. The structure of the avantgarde field, in dialogue with their predispositions and social trajectory, influenced their formal choices and their subsequent classification as avant-garde artists. Many of the artists closer to the type represented by Pollock, however, effected breaks related to the function of what had always been considered art. Casimir Malevitch, for example, put forth many of the suppositions of minimalist art by experimenting with the dematerialization of the work. Antoni Tpies introduced elements until then foreign to painting, putting into question the specific definition of painted material. Jean Dubuffet played with the existing frontier between the figure of an artist and that of a madman or child. That is, certain artists of the modern art world radicalized the break from the canonical principles of classical art (Heinich, 1998). But conditioned by the logic of mediation, by forming part of the most relevant exhibits and critiques of their times, they could not escape the classification as prototype of the avant-garde artist, applied a posteriori. In the same way, the artists belonging to the Duchamp pole were not all considered precursors, but our hypothesis is that to occupy the space available for the category of precursor to contemporary art, one had to be on the margins of the field.

The way in which the artists dispositions relate to the field of avant-garde art is intimately linked to the very definers of the field, the mediators. The manner in which artists are connected to mediation influences not only the speed with which they achieve consecration, but also the form the mediation itself will take on, in formal options chosen and in typologies of inclusion in the history of modern art. The line that runs from dispositions the result of ones social trajectory to the configuration of an artistic career is not immediately apparent. It takes on a systemic structure in relation to the laws of the field, which are defined by all the intermediaries who position the artists, the movements and themselves, for posterity.

Downloaded from at Flinders University on April 20, 2013



As we have seen, the interaction between the social capital of the artists and mediation influenced their elevation and classification, and even and in relation, their aesthetic choices. In Duchamps case, the ready-mades are themselves symbols of the mechanisms of the mediation and consecration of modern art, which the artist had internalized, by way of which he experimented on the margins of the aesthetic characteristics of modern art. In the case of Pollocks drip-paintings, the importance taken on by the very materiality of the painting makes them into models of the defence of the strictly pictorial so characteristic of modernity, in part owing to the American artists high degree of dependence on the art system of his times. The way in which social and/or cultural capital is accumulated depends on the moment in which it is realized. That is to say, the lack of capital throughout the arc of a career leads to the requirement of its later accumulation. In the field of avant-garde art, the a posteriori accumulation of social capital is reflected in the increase, structuring and type of action on the part of mediating agents with the aim of inscribing into history the artist and his works. The stylistic classification carried out by specialists over time is in turn heavily conditioned by the typology of mediating actions sales, criticism, exhibitions, etc. that collaborate in fixing for posterity the style brand of the work. Notes
1. Data regarding the lives and careers of Duchamp and Pollock were analysed on the basis of the two most important biographies of the artists: Calvin Tomkins (1999) and Naifeh and White Smith (2001), respectively. 2. According to Erving Goffman, modalities are the expected reflection of differences in status: We often expect, as is natural, a confirming coherence between appearance and modalities; we expect that the differences in social status between interacting agents be expressed to some degree, by way of congruent differences in the instructions given for the expected role in a given interaction (2004: 36). 3. For the data on the social trajectory and the artistic career of the artists studied, I have used varied sources, biographies, autobiographies, and exhibition catalogues, which allowed me to develop both the hypothesis and the figures shown. I cite as references the sources which were most important: Allemand-Cosneau (1988), Crone (1991), Dubuffet (2004), Gidel (2003), Mayayo (2002), Rowell and Temkin (1995), Stachelhaus (1991) and Tpies (2003). 4. For more on the particular cases of Kandinsky and Malevitch, see Peist (2005).

Allemand-Cosneau C (ed) (1998) Kandinsky. Collections du Centre Georges Pompidou. Exhibition catalogue. Paris: ditions du Centres Pompidou. Bourdieu P (1995) Las reglas del arte. Barcelona: Anagrama. Crone R (1991) Casimir Malevitch. The Climax of Disclosure. London: Reaktion Books. Dubuffet J (2004) Biografa a paso de carga. Madrid: Editorial Sntesis. Friedman BH (1972) Energy Made Visible: Jackson Pollock. New York: MacGraw Hill. Gidel H (2003) Picasso. Barcelona: Plaza Jans. Goffman E (2004) La presentacin de la persona en la vida cotidiana. Buenos Aires: Amortorru Editores. Guilbaut S (1983) How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art. London: The University of Chicago Press.

Downloaded from at Flinders University on April 20, 2013


Cultural Sociology 6(2)

Heinich N (1991) La gloire de van Gogh. Essai danthropologie de ladmiration. Paris: Les ditions de Minuit. Heinich N (1998) Le triple jeu de lart contemporain. Paris: Les ditions de Minuit. Heinich N (2005) Llite artiste. Excellence et singularit en rgime dmocratique. Paris: Gallimard. Heinich N (2009) The Sociology of Vocational Prizes: Recognition as Esteem. Theory, Culture and Society 26(5): 85107. Jackson Pollock: Is He the Greatest Living Painter in the United States? Life, August 8, 1949: 42 45, ( _r&cad=2#v=onepage&q&f=false). Kantor SG (2002) Alfred H. Barr and the Intellectual Origins of the Museum of Modern Art. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Mauger G (ed.) (2006a) Droits dentre. Modalits et conditions daccs aux univers artistiques. Paris: ditions de la Maison des sciences de lhomme. Mauger G (ed.) (2006b) Laccs a la vie dartiste. Slection et conscration artistiques. Paris: ditions du Croquant. Mayayo P (2002) Louise Bourgeois. Hondarribia: Editorial Nerea. Menger P-M (2002) Portrait de lartiste en travailleur. Paris: Seuil. Naifeh S and White Smith G (2001) Jackson Pollock. Una saga Estadounidense. Barcelona: Circe Ediciones. Peist N (2005) El proceso de consagracin en el arte moderno: Trayectorias artsticas y crculos de reconocimiento. Materia. Revista dArt 5: 1743. Rowell M and Temkin A (eds) (1995) Brancusi. Exhibition catalogue. Paris: Gallimard and ditions du Centre Pompidou. Soby JT (1949) Does Our Art Impress Europe? Saturday Review 6: 142149. Stachelhaus H (1991) Kasimir Malewich. Un conflicto trgico. Barcelona: Parsifal Ediciones. Tpies A (2003) Memoria personal. Fragmento para una autobiografa. Barcelona: Seix Barral. Temkin A (1995) Brancusi et ses collectionneurs amricains. Brancusi. Exhibition catalogue. Paris: Gallimard. Tomkins C (1999) Duchamp. Barcelona: Editorial Anagrama. Nuria Peist was born in Argentina and has lived in Spain for 18 years. She is a teacher and researcher in the History of Art Department at the University of Barcelona. Her research is focused on social processes of recognition as regards practitioners of modern art.

Downloaded from at Flinders University on April 20, 2013