Nell Andrew, Oxford University Press, March 2020. 256 p. ill. ISBN 9780190057282 (pbk.) $39.95.
Reviewed: September, 2020
Ann C. Kearney, Collections Conservator, University Libraries, University at Albany—SUNY
Nell Andrew’s Moving Modernism: The Urge to Abstraction in Painting, Dance, Cinema, part of the Oxford Studies in Dance Theory series, investigates the alignment between modernism in dance and in the visual arts (with a particular emphasis on the plastic arts) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Andrew, associate professor of art history at the University of Georgia, uses this platform as a jumping off point to begin an exploration of movement and abstraction in film.
In her introduction, Andrew states that early twentieth century abstraction in both painting and dance was more than just a style: she posits that it was an integral part of these art forms’ materiality (xxi). Andrew continues the introduction’s exposition by offering readers a thoughtful and well-annotated background on the development of Modernist thought and the concurrent movement toward Abstraction during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She moves forward in the following chapters with case studies of interactions and intersections between artists and dances—noting the serpentine dances of Loie Fuller as depicted in lithographs of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the lush musical background and Cubist connections to Valentine de Saint-Point’s Métachorie, and the embodiment of Dada as a “form of knowledge that resists the codes of language and privileges lived experience” (79) in Sophie Tauber’s choreography. Andrew brings her study to culmination by using her observations to begin an informed consideration of film in her final essay “The Dance of Abstract Cinema.” In this final chapter, she connects dance, visual arts and music in a new way shifting to a consideration of the ‘new’ medium, film, and its potential for linking sight, sound and kinesis.
Although this work is directed primarily toward scholars of modern art and dance, it offers students from other disciplines interested in modernist studies a pathway into consideration of the parallel trajectories of dance, art and film during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is thoroughly annotated and well indexed, and helpfully offers readers pertinent information on the history and thinking of the times.
Andrew’s study offers significant resources for interdisciplinary studies and Modernism. It particularly excels in its creative revisiting of Modernism and Abstraction, and in the implications for new understandings of artistic media. Future amplifications of these studies could include the many intersections of these modes of expression with the emerging literature of the period.
Highly recommended for art libraries and for interdisciplinary and cross disciplinary graduate programs.