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Romantic Modernism

Romantic Modernism: Nostalgia in the World of Conservation

Wim Denslagen
Translated by Donald Gardner
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Romantic Modernism
    Book Description:

    Is it possible for conservationists to approve of the reconstruction of old façades when virtually everything behind them is modern? Should they continue to protect the front façade, when the rest of the historic building has vanished? Is it socially responsible to spend government money on reconstructing a historic building that has been completely destroyed? Can one do such a thing fifty years on? According to reigning ideas in the world of conservation, the answer to all these questions is 'no'. It is felt that building a stage set is dishonest, and rebuilding something that no longer exists is labelled a lie against history. Where does this predilection for honesty originate? And why do people prefer modern architecture to the reconstruction of what has been lost? Perhaps we are witnessing the legacy of Functionalism here, a movement that denounced the building of pseudo-architecture. Functionalism originated in Romanticism, when architects turned their backs on academic formalism and strove to invent a new, rational form of building. This romantic hunger for honesty was adopted by the conservationists, giving rise to a new respect for the authentic art work and a rejection of historicist restorations. Among conservationists too, distaste arose for the cultivation of a harmonious urban image, because an urban image that is maintained artificially 'old' was seen as a form of fraud. This title is available in the OAPEN Library -

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0870-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 7-8)

    Starting a collection of vintage cars, antique furniture, historical monuments or old towns may be a sentimental or nostalgic activity, but such activities are very widespread and one presumes that they do not do very much harm. The phenomenon is generally tolerated, as long as it is conducted in closed institutions, such as museums. In the public domain, however, there is much less acceptance of the phenomenon. Generally speaking, it requires much more effort to preserve a historical town intact than it does to conserve a period room in a museum. This is understandable to an extent, because historical cities...

  4. Sentimentality and the City
    (pp. 9-42)

    In an article of 1992 about the history of conservation in Holland, Kees van der Ploeg expressed his concern about the sentimentalizing of the city – his term for historicizing trappings of old cities. Historical inner cities, he argued, were being ‘museumified’ by the conservationists, and he did not see this development as positive. The image of the historical city, he wrote, is in danger of becoming ‘a sugary-sweet backdrop’ that ‘bears hardly any real relation to normal urban activities’. He concluded that ‘no answer has yet been found, including by the conservationists’, for this problem.¹

    Conservationists have failed in...

  5. The Rectangular Sickness
    (pp. 43-74)

    Today it is old-fashioned to want to be modern. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the word ‘modern’ had threatening and revolutionary implications. Modernists rejected nineteenth-century bourgeois culture, arguing that a new age required new approaches. The word had an ominous sound for all those who did not believe in the blessings of progress. During the course of the twentieth century, however, it has lost its negative meaning. Gradually Modernism has come to be accepted, annexed and perverted. In the jargon of the new avant-garde of the 1970s and 1980s, it has finally ended up as a term of...

  6. Romantic Modernists
    (pp. 75-106)

    In 1994, the Amsterdam weekly paper, theAmsterdamse Stadsblad, contained a report on the City Council’s plan to cut down a third of the trees in the large wooded park on the edge of Amsterdam, the Amsterdamse Bos, and to replace them with a layout for a primeval forest complete with a herd of Highland cattle. ‘We will all have to get used to the sight of trees that have fallen over or that have grown crooked’, the council spokesperson said. He admitted that it wouldn’t look pretty, but added that ‘it will give us a feeling for the prehistoric...

  7. Self-seeking Romantics
    (pp. 107-120)

    Authenticity is quite a different thing from originality. It denotes a historical object, whether or not damaged or altered, whereas the term ‘originality’ refers to its first state. The copy of the Villa dei Papiri in Malibu, commissioned by J. Paul Getty in 1974, can thus be described as the original version of the authentic first-century villa in Herculaneum. The villa in California is an attempt to give the original building a new lease on life, because the real villa in Italy is no longer original, but ‘merely’ authentic. In our modern parlance, only the material substance is accepted as...

  8. Bad-mannered Buildings
    (pp. 121-154)

    There are people who think that art is supposed to subvert existing conventions and that artists, if they feel it is necessary, may be permitted the freedom to insult others. The odour of artistic sanctity that artists sometimes claim for themselves has resulted in the making of scribbles on reproductions of old art something that can be presented to the general public in the context of exhibitions in museums. I am referring to theÜbermahlungen, or Over-paintings, by Arnulf Rainer. Not long ago, this artist’s scrawls were exhibited in the Lenbachhaus in Munich. The art critic Sacha Bronwasser wrote in...

  9. The Revival Styles and Time Regained
    (pp. 155-166)

    The unkindest cut that hatred can deliver is ridicule. Once a thing has been made laughable, it has little chance of reappraisal. Something that has only ever been hated does, in a sense, still enjoy a reputation. A baron’s stronghold induces fear, but the fake castle of some nineteenth-century dandy makes one giggle. Even a dignified neo-Classical exterior can be made a laughing stock for good, with just a few well-chosen words. The historian Gerard Brom was a master in this art. Neo-Classicism, which he liked to label a ‘public works style’, was nothing more than ‘a plaster-cast nincompoop …...

  10. Nostalgia and Imitation
    (pp. 167-222)

    The copy is an act of homage to its original and repeating it is an act of commemoration. It may not be possible to improve on the original artwork, but the copy does offer a pleasing experience, because it recalls the admiration of people of former times for the original. In hisEssay on Tastewritten in 1759, the art theoretician Alexander Gerard wrote that ‘similitude is a very powerful principle of association which augments our pleasure’. ‘When excellent originals are imitated’, he explained, ‘the copies derive their charms, not merely from exactness of imitation, but also from the excellence...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 223-230)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 231-254)
  13. Index
    (pp. 255-262)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 263-263)