High culture in low places: Television and modern art, 1950-1970

Lynn Spigel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


I n 1954, on the occasion of its twenty-fifth anniversary, theMuseum of Modern Art presented an episode of the New York television program, Distinction. Hosted by museum director Rene d’Harnoncourt, this public affairs program served as a promotional vehicle for MOMA’s collection of modern art. In the opening sequence, Harnoncourt presented a Leger painting and was joined by a professor from NYU’s art history department. Unfortunately, while the two men had a distinguished command of the modernist canon, they hadn’t yet figured out how to use live television as an art form. l In the opening sequence, when the professor decides to show Stuart Davis’s abstract painting The Flying Carpet, he suddenly realizes the painting is not in the room. Clearly embarrassed, he asks the cameraman to move to another gallery space where the painting hangs. Unfortunately for the professor, however, more embarrassment is in store because when the camera moves to the next gallery, it reveals a rather disheveled looking TV technician hanging out in front of the painting, smoking a cigarette, so close to the canvas in fact that it appears he is going to burn a hole in it. When the technician realizes he is on live TV, he runs out of the frame. The befuddled professor then tries to make the best out of a bad situation and calls the technician back, asking him whether he likes the painting. The technician replies, “Uh, Yeh, I 314 like it, it’s big, " to which the professor remarks, ((You can tell us what you really think. Because if you don’t like it, you won’t be the first person who didn’t respond favorably to modern art.”.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationDisciplinarity and Dissent in Cultural Studies
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages34
ISBN (Electronic)9781135221782
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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