The Significance of American Modernism

Katherine20th Century Art, AmericanLeave a Comment

Thomas Hart Benton "City Activities with Dance Hall from America Today" The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Thomas Hart Benton “City Activities with Dance Hall from America Today”
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

During the turn of the nineteenth century, the world changed rapidly. Information and people could move with greater ease. These changes had a profound effect on art. Artists experimented with new materials and techniques. Technology such as photography transformed how visual mediums were explored. This opened many to the idea that art does not need to be a replication of what was seen in the real world. This new freedom meant that artists could examine the emotion or the spirit of a moment in more abstract ways. This birthed many movements that now fall under the banner of Modern Art.

In 1913, the Armory Show introduced New Yorkers to Modernism. 14,000 works from European artists were presented. Before this show, few Americans had heard of Marcel Duchamp, Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse, or their peers. For many, this was the first time encountering movements such as Cubism or Fauvism. It was a controversial show, stirring many passionate opinions. Visitors complained that the works were too abstract. They felt that art had taken a step backwards. While some believed they witnessed the downfall of artistic expression, others found the Armory Show to be invigorating and inspiring. This sparked the beginning of American Modernism.

The birth of American Modern art goes in hand with the birth of the American identity. American cities were experiencing population booms and industry was on the raise. America was becoming an established country with a unique culture. This drew the attention of foreign artists. Between the world wars, emerging Modernists such as the Surrealists fled to America. For the first time, American artists did not need to leave their country to see the latest in new art.

Abstract Expressionism was the first wholly Modern American art movement. It heralded Americans as fully mature artists. Influenced by Carl Jung, Abstract Expressionism sought to create raw and primal works. While there were a large variety of Abstract Expressionist paintings, they are all unified by energy, scale, and drama. Subject had a much more direct and narrow focus than previously seen. A subject was stripped bare to its core emotional and spiritual nature. There was wild freedom at the heart of these works.

The act of painting became an integral part of the finished product. Artists like Jackson Pollock thrived in the realm of Abstract Expressionism. Pollock created large works where technique was a crucial element. His subjects were nonrepresentational. The force and motive that created the painting took center stage. Overall, these pieces are expressive and individualistic, as if the artist is attempting to come to terms with something he or she can barely grasp. These works helped influence later generations and set the precedent for the variety of art we see today.

American Modernism has become a hot trend in art collecting because of the significant contributions these artists made. Their work is more fully appreciated and understood today.  The list of artists of the period is long.  Many have become almost American icons, such as Georgia O’Keefe, Stuart Davis and Thomas Hart Benton to many a few. You will find many others that are still fairly affordable and are strong additions to a collection of this movement.  As always, look for the best quality you can afford.  Quality pieces are more likely to be the wisest investment.  Contact the gallery to discuss which Modernist artists you might want to consider for your collection.

Who’s your favorite Modernist artist?


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