Gertrude Stein Salon Replica Closes After 22 Years, Leaving Behind a Significant Commentary on the Construction of "Art History."
Two buzzer doors, a long hallway, a courtyard and one final door later, a doorman awaits, Stein's doorman. In a small room sectioned down its belly by an archway lives a snapshot of years ago, a reproduction of Gertrude Stein's Salon des Fleurus during her most prolific collection period of Picasso, Mattise and Cezanne. The Parisian décor, coupled with French tunes humming from under the curtains reawakens sweet nostalgias of 1920s Paris. And to the spectator’s delight, the walls are decked with the trio's most recognizable subject matters. It’s homey, charming, and almost excessively stocked. Yet, determining its merit on how accurately or sloppily someone has made a Stein salon replica might be missing one of its essential points.
The Salon des Fleurus, named after Stein’s Paris address 27 Rue de Fleurus,has been up and running since 1992 and few were fortunate enough to catch its last hoorah this past Tuesday. Cardboard boxes were stacked against the corners while photographers and video recorders took farewell snapshots of this materialized memory. Inquiries of “initial idea,” “funding,” and “ artifact acquisition” were not welcome as to, of course, prevent disrupting this role-play. So what were we doing? We were sitting in a physical account of a memory, a story in progress narrated through the voice of one person, Stein. After some time, a slight awkwardness swells between spectator and the paintings hanging on the walls. They are authorless, the doorman emphasizes, similar to the African wooden mask hanging in the corner of the opposite side. There is no authorship, no maker, no ego. These are contemporary paintings made in the past few decades, and not necessarily copies but rather “paintings of Cezanne painting apples or Matisse musicians.” More importantly, they’re objects seaming together to bring a plot to life, which is the account of ‘art’ from the perspective of one woman who belonged to what will be a blip down the chronology of the 'history of art' as we know it. But as far as stories go, it's a pretty darn special one – Stein's salon was the first space to house and exhibit Picasso, Cezanne and Matisse all together, the MoMa caught on some thirty years later with its Cubism and Abstract Art exhibition in 1936.
Yet, what is most striking is that similar to the salon, there is a construction to the story of art history itself: its origin, control, validity and distribution were now all falling into question. With countless accounts and perspectives, many untold and unrecognized, the business of art history is no one-dimensional matter. And over the years we have dictated a discourse, one starting with pre-history and ending with the now. This narrative is materialized by museums, lending roles of protagonists of ‘modern art’ to such artists like Picasso, Cezanne, and Monet etc. Along this ever-forward stretching virtual timeline, chapters will be added and movements squeezed out of “modernity” as they give way to the following wave of pioneers, similar to what Renaissance did to Baroque and Baroque to Neo-classism. And somewhere down this linear trajectory, it’s been determined what instances are worth noting. In a sense, we too, can determine the entire story of what we know as art to simply be one story, one perspective perpetrated through the powers of select upholders of such discourse. Perhaps, if circumstances were different, the maker of the authorless African mask would have been the father of modernism.
The nameless doorman, in retrospect, is the most appropriate character for such a happening, unflinching in his position as a sideline observer and mediator of what would have been two estranged parties. He sits with his own humble interpretations and encourages your own. Ironically, this physical memory was fast on its way to becoming an actual memory itself. In the end, Salon des Fleurus sits as a challenge for us to reconsider, however popular, narratives of some of our defining art movements.