The Way Things Go: An Essay on the Matter of Second Modernism

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Volume 57 , Issue 3.

Modern art

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Close Figure Viewer. The architects have the Baroque tradition in architecture in mind: the long vistas of power are now long vistas of Route 66 which promise pleasure. Las Vegas is the new Rome, centrally planned and precisely laid out for a specific purpose.

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Like a Roman military camp, Las Vegas is laid out in an orderly grid which keeps in check the blazing lights constantly jumping and jiving to their own internal rhythms. What Venturi and Scott Brown pointed out that Las Vegas is more symbolism than architecture, meaning that meaning had become detached from the form and its function. The result was a landscape of free-floating signifiers. The white box absolutism of Walter Gropius and his colleagues favored the general over the specific and the absolute over the particular.

Las Vegas is all incoherence and is fixated on detail of the signage.


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  • The Detail was the unassailable Other and had to be banished. Detail like decoration is unnecessary within the totality. Abstract art, stripped of representation, needed to ally itself with humanism, spiritualization, and self-actualization—all while excluding the other half of the human race: women. It would take twenty years for a new generation of architects to develop a Postmodern approach to architecture.

    One of the most interesting theories that was manifested in art and architecture was that of allegory.

    The Way Things Go An Essay on the Matter of Second Modernism

    Because Postmodernism always attends to history, unlike Modernism, which broke firmly with the past, Postmodernism looks back and accumulates the fragments of the past and recombines the shards, rebuilding out of ruins. Each element re-found by the architect retained its historical meaning even though the element was re-placed in a postmodern structure. The result was not a revival, nor was it eclecticism, nor was this strategy a mere homage to the ghosts of architecture past. Architecture of the Postmodern persuasion was an allegory that constituted a reading of a building which now functioned as a text.

    The theories that would support Postmodern art preceded the art and were then applied to the works of art in a mix and match fashion. Unlike Modernist theory, Postmodernist theory came from numerous sources, from linguistics to post-Marxism to the critique of Enlightenment philosophy.

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    Because all of the texts upon which Postmodernism would be based were either in French or German, the translators and explicators became significant players in disseminating the unfamiliar theories to the academic and artistic audiences. Owens begins by locating allegory in its site of origin, which is literature.

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    As the prefiguration for the New Testament, the Old Testament, allegory was the origin of critique because of its role as commentary. Owens explained,.

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    He lays claim to the culturally significant, poses as its interpreter. He does not restore an original meaning that may have been lost or obscured; allegory is not hermeneutics. Rather,he adds another meaning to the image. If he adds, however,he does so only to replace: the allegorical meaning supplants an antecedent one; it is a supplement.

    This is why allegory is condemned, but it is also the source of its theoretical significance. The Piazza is an assemblage of architectural elements and is a dizzy discourse on the history of the built environment.



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