Part Two – Exercise 2.1: Barr Extended

Make your own copy of Barr’s chart and extend it up to the year 2000 by including movements such as Pop Art. In a separate column list major events in politics and culture that you think have had some bearing on the kind of art practiced at the time.


Alfred Barr, Cubism and Abstract Art

Alfred H. Barr (1902 – 1981) an educated art historian became the first director of the new founded ‘Museum of Modern Art’ in New York in 1929. With the first Modern Art exhibition ‘Cubism and Abstract Art’ in 1936 in the USA curated by Barr he established not only a new platform for European modern art but also created a respected institution that after WWII became the centre for modernism in New York, the new capital for avant-garde art in the western world. With Barr’s deep analysis of form and eye for value of art he shaped the future of modern art for the next half-century (Butler, 2010). Or as S. Platt describes he created  ‘a durable model of the history of modernism and its major monuments’ (Platt, 1988).

The original Barr Chart, the frontispiece of the catalogue, is clearly centered around Cubism as  a main concern of modern art and with abstraction as its goal (geometric and non-geometric). I am wondering about Barr’s top-down approach with the future at the bottom. I would have down it most likely the opposite way – but this might be just a question of taste and/or to obtain a visually appealing diagram. Art history showed that Barr was right with advancing directions of geometric and non-geometric abstract art, but not right in his  goal of modern art. Although Greenberg supported later Barr’s position, new critique raised in the context of post-modern art. Nevertheless, the catalogue was long time in print and it is excellent that MoMA made it digitally available on their website (->  View the publication )

One can see a bull shape made of the lines in the lower half, with the circle under the word ‘Cubism’ as the horns of the bull. I really like this kind of embedding anther layer of images resp. meaning. This kind of visualisation of ‘facts’ can be seen either as a genealogy of art movements or as a causal diagram. Which way we look at it, it gives a powerful visual message to the observer with an underlying sense of authority of the creator and a believe in ‘true facts’.

Chart of modernist art history by Alfred H. Barr, 1936

Fig. 1: Chart of modernist art history by Alfred H. Barr, 1936

Visualisation of ‘facts’ – Information graphics:
On the internet one can find all various ways of visualization and visual tools to communicate ‘facts’ effectively e.g. Lombardi diagrams, evolutionary trees, Feynman diagrams, and various timelines. And much more searching for keywords ‘Information Graphics’ or ‘Data Visualization’ etc. Fascinating area for creative articulation – at times the question can be what is more important: the data or the visual impact. How do the two relate to each other? Especially in high performance companies the easy and rapid grasp of information is key.
The chart by Alfred Barr is truly not the only way to visualize art history. Barr’s interest in Modernism before WWII in 1936 led his chart be centered around Cubism. One can group or split charts in all different ways. One example to group by art, architecture and photography categories:
Janson Art History Timeline

Fig.2: Janson Art History Timeline

…and in many other fascinating ways of visualization art history often informed by a guiding principle or interest of the maker (Cembalest, 2014) e.g. Daniel Feral:  ‘Feral Diagram 2.0’  – an appropriation of the Barr chart in context of ‘Graffiti and Street Art’  (in: Cembalest, 2012)

Ward Shelley (b. 1950) created a whole range of visual diagrams  ‘Addendum to Alfred Barr, V. 2, 2009, an appropriation of the Barr chart or his exploration of ‘Who Invented the Avant-Garde‘, 2009. Both pictures visualize time periods, movements and links as ‘living organisms’.

I find his visualization of parallel technology and art movement development ‘TV Arts, v.1‘, 2012 fascinating although it could give the impression that both are intervened and one can not live without the other stream.

I found accidentally on Instagram another appropriation of the Barr chart, an interpretation. I am wondering whether Dion places the movement consciously at those spots on the shark (covering the time period between 1886 and 1933. Nevertheless I like the non-causal visualisation. I would think the artist chose the shark for Barr perhaps rather hegemonic approach to defining modern art.

MarkDion 'Shark Barr' colour pencil on paper (21x29.7cm)

Fig. 6: MarkDion
‘Shark Barr’ colour pencil on paper (21×29.7cm)

I can see that there are so many various visual creative realisations of conveying the message of causal effects or genealogy.

Barr Extended:

Step 1: Rough mapping

What can I take from Afred Barr? And what is missing in his chart? Some movements and links as well some important players. I changed the terminology for e.g. ‘Negro Sculpture’ to ‘African Tribal’. I researched other different levels of trustworthy sources (Tate, books with art history overviews, and the website The ArtStory) and I worked in the the software application ‘Inspiration 9’ where I can easily add, modify and links as well as work in parallel on my laptop and iPad. Further I added key persons from science, economy and culture , world events and mass media devices – those that I could envision of importance to the art world. I am aware that the map is not complete and could still be further refined with more critical research and reflection.

The rough version looks quite bazarre and hard to read, especially the links:

Stefan513593- 2.1 - Barr Extended - Visual diagram - mapping

Fig. 7: Stefan513593 – 2.1 – Barr Extended – Visual diagram – mapping


Step 2: Re-mapping

I decided to re-work in the application and to re-organise the data by timeline. I left out the links for easier reading.

Stefan513593- 2.1 - Barr Extended - Visual diagram - re-mapping

Fig. 8: Stefan513593 – 2.1 – Barr Extended – Visual diagram – re-mapping

At this stage I became aware of some odd visual effects:
– It seems that towards year 200 the avant-garde movements seem to be less formalistic differentiated. At the same time more thought and idea came up. In a Platonic sense idea as the pure form of art?
– Further the notion of form became less important.
– I can see that overall a sense of Pluralism came up. Not authority to ‘dictate’ what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ art, what is ‘high’ and ‘low’ art.

I will see how I can embed this in my following steps.

The next step was more hands-on and I drew the visual map, considering the visualisation approaches researches above.

Step 3: Draft – over-drawn version

Making the links with pen and using crayons to make it visually more appealing. I find the original Barr chart quite mechanistic – in that sense ‘modern’ at that time.

Stefan513593- 2.1 - Barr Extended - Visual diagram - draft

Fig. 9: Stefan513593 – 2.1 – Barr Extended – Visual diagram – draft


Step 4: Final drawn version

And here is my final creative piece of the extended Barr chart. Do other see the figure as well? A result of my un- resp subconscious act.

Stefan513593- 2.1 - Barr Extended - Visual diagram - Final

Fig. 10: Stefan513593 – 2.1 – Barr Extended – Visual diagram – Final


  • It was quite an effort to bring all data together and to find an appropriate visual form.
  • However, I learned quite a lot about all those modern art movements and who were/are the key players.
  • Not all information is visible in the above charts. Most supporting details are hidden in the stored  map done with the Inspiration software. This will be surely a good reference for the future.
  • Toward today art and especially painting is less concerned with form and medium specificity. According to McIver the aesthetic values are subjective and the reasons to value art depends on the art piece itself. Concept and ideas merged into a Pluralism (McIver, 2013)



  • Acton, M. (2004) Learning to Look at Modern Art. Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Barr, A. H. (1936a) Cubism and Abstract Art. New York: The Museum of Modern Art.
  • Butler, C. (2010) Modernism: A Very Short Introduction, Very short introductions. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Cembalest, R. (2012) ‘MoMA Makes a Facebook for Abstractionists’, in: ARTnews. [Online].  Available from: [accessed 22 March 2017].
  • Cembalest, R. (2014) ’10 Amazing Data Visualizations of Creativity and Art History’, in: ARTnews. [Online].  Available from: [accessed 22 March 2017].
  • Inspiration Software Inc.  [Software], Available from: [accessed 28 March 2017].
  • Janson, H. W., Davies, P. J. E., Hofrichter, F. F. and Jacobs, J. F. (2011) Janson’s history of art : the western tradition, 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • McIver Lopes, D. (2013) ‘Painting’, in Gaut, B. M. L., D. (ed.) The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics 3rd ed., London; Ney York: Routledge,  pp. 596-605.
  • Platt, S. N. (1988) ‘Modernism, Formalism, and Politics: The “Cubism and Abstract Art” Exhibition of 1936 at the Museum of Modern Art’, in: Art Journal. [Online]. 47(4),  pp. 284-295,  Available from: [accessed 18 April 2017].
  • Tate Gallery (2013) Tate Guide to Modern Art Terms,  [Mobile app], Available from: [accessed 15 March 2017].
  • Tate (2017) Art Terms, [online], Available from: [Accessed 22 March 2017].
  • The Art Story (2016) Modern Art Movements: 1870s to 1980s, [online], Available from: [Accessed 22 March 2017].

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