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Discipline and Varnish

Rhetoric, Subjectivity, and Counter-Memory in the Museum


Thomas Patin

The Museum of Modern Art in New York combines the rhetoric of modernist domestic architecture, formalist art theory, and modernist museology in its exhibition spaces. Discipline and Varnish investigates how this combination of rhetorical devices has produced not only a persuasive understanding of the history of modernist art, but also a set of «subjectivity effects» that uses the formalist notion of «autonomy» as a powerful model for subjectivity. However, MOMA's rhetoric of display eventually contradicts its three-dimensional discourse on art and aesthetics, undermining the museum's model for subjectivity as well. This study ends with a look at possible alternative relations between museology and subjectivity through analyses of the Wexner Center for the Arts and the plans for the National Museum of the American Indian.