American art: coming of age 1850's to 1950's - Part III

The struggle of the moderns

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Photo: MNBAQ

Patrick Henry Bruce, Painting/Still life, c 1924

At the turn of the century, New York had become a cosmopolitan city where personalities of various origins were creating an intellectual atmosphere that seemed open to new ideas.   Yet, being in the process of establishing their visual tradition, the American public remained strongly attached to realism.  Representing daily life was the thing to do and, if in deed this was an inexhaustible source, such literal transcriptions, at that time, had become the object of photography.  It is understandable that, then, painters felt the need to add to their work some element of poetry, some stylistic changes.


Paris was at the time nurturing several young American artists interested in experimenting with the newest artistic expressions.  Returning home they had brought with them the germs of modernism but found little institutional support and a general feeling that modernism was un-American.  In spite of that, in the first decades of the 20th century, the development of what was to become modern American art had gone into its early stages.   Works of artists like Patrick Henry Bruce, Man Ray take us back to that time.


Of course becoming modern was going to be a long process that required understanding ell what modern art was all about.  This new art had to be seen and most of all had to be felt.  Also, occasions had to be created to put the public as well, in contact with such new forms of expressions.  The Armory show of 1914, in New York, was the most important introduction of the American public to modern art.  Although it undeniably contributed to a change in the course of art history in the U.S., its impact needed to be sustained by other encounters of the same type.  And this only happened after the end of the First World War. 


It was a time when creative talents from various artistic disciplines were crossing the Atlantic, creating what John Pearle Bishop said was an opportunity to "prolong the past of Europe into the future".  And so came to be what is referred to as the School of New York in spite of the fact that, under this label, were put together artists who, as we can see in the show, were as different as one can imagine.   Yet they had in common this need to go beyond the styles, so personal to artists like Picasso, Matisse, Miro…  And since, by the early 1940, New York had become a field of experimentation in its own right, these artists felt capable of pushing their ambitions beyond the limits earlier imposed.   In doing so they looked for and found different ways to do art differently with the same essential elements:   paint and canvases. 

The exhibition: American art: coming of age tells of this period when artists like Adolph Gottlieb, Frantz Kline, Jackson Pollock, each in their own way, were creating the concept of modern American art.