Washington, DC

“Dreams and Nightmares”

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

“Dreams and Nightmares: Utopian Visions in Modern Art,” curated by Valerie Fletcher, was a very strange exhibit indeed. Conceived in two parts, all the nurturing seemed to have gone to the first, leaving the second to wither and fade. The show offered a survey of art from the first two-thirds of the century, concentrating on work that is either utopian in outlook, or the reverse. Fletcher uses the term “dystopian” to name this latter trend. The etymology is interesting: Sir Thomas More wrote about an ideal society, placing it on an island he chose to call Utopia, from the Greek meaning “no place,” thus stressing the impossibility of such an ideal. The prefix “dys” also comes from the Greek, and indicates disease. Dystopia is thus a diseased place, which is to say a real place, not an ideal one. So far so good; one might want to argue, however, about which, the real or the phantasm, is the

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