Charlie Chaplin, Modernism’s Greatest Muse

THE DAILY PIC: At MoMA, an early avant-garde magazine admires Chaplin's genius.


THE DAILY PIC (#1560): The show called “The Electro-Library: European Avant-Garde Magazines from the 1920s” is one of the most fascinating exhibitions of the current crop at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. But if you haven’t heard of it, you probably aren’t alone: It’s just a few vitrines, hidden away on the lower level of the Cullman Education and Research Building, which has its main door on 54th street. What’s in those vitrines is breathtaking, and underlines yet again how deeply and quickly the innovations of radical modernism spread beyond Paris, Berlin and Moscow, to be absorbed, understood and contributed to by artists working right across the West.

Today’s Daily Pic is a page from a lovely avant-garde magazine called Pásmo: revue internationale moderne, published in Czechoslovakia in 1925, which curator David Senior said was one of the more obscure objects in his display.

I chose it because it gets at modern art’s obsession, almost from its birth, with the figure of Charlie Chaplin. As I argued on Friday, modernist artists often went “slumming” for inspiration in the worlds of low- or non-art, often with a condescending attitude toward those sources. I don’t think that was their attitude when they borrowed images of Chaplin’s tramp. They simply realized that Chaplin had made some of the most innovative, exciting work in 20th-century culture, and hoped that some of his glow would rub off on them.

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