Future Proof How not to become a cultural dinosaur.

Future Proof How not to become a cultural dinosaur.

  • Words Annabel Bai Jackson
  • Photograph Inès Manai

In the winter of 1949, the Whitney Museum in New York held its annual exhibition of American painting, a show whose curators aimed to forecast where modern art might go next. Given the undertaking, reviews were bound to be mixed. The Time magazine reviewer was particularly vitriolic: “If their sort of painting represented the most vital force in contemporary U.S. art,” the critic wrote, then “art was in a bad way.” The 21st century couldn’t disagree more. The twin targets of the critic’s flak, the “duds” as he put it—were Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning—now heralded as defining visionaries of abstract expressionism. 

It is easy to dismiss the reviewer as naive, or as a conservative disposed to begrudge the avant-garde. But recoiling at the new is an instinct w...

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