Springfield Museums Explore Modern American Masterworks
Friday, June 6, through Sunday, August 31, 2014
Beginning in June, the Springfield Museums’ Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts will play host to a special traveling exhibition curated by and containing key pieces from the Brooklyn Museum in New York. American Moderns, 1910-1960: From O’Keeffe to Rockwell features over fifty paintings and several sculptures by well-known American artists whose works illustrate the multiple schools of thought and representational techniques that developed during the Modern period: Georgia O’Keeffe, Norman Rockwell, Joseph Stella, Marsden Hartley, Elie Nadelman, Rockwell Kent, and more. While the works in this exhibition are on loan from the Brooklyn Museum, their presence at the Springfield Museums is a good reminder of the masterworks by these artists and their contemporaries that belong to the Springfield Museums’ own collection.
Though the works by these artists may not seem to have much in common with one another at first glance, they each signify a reaction to a society undergoing rapid and dramatic change. The fifty years covered by the exhibition saw two world wars, the success of the women’s suffrage movement, the short-lived Prohibition, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights movement, and the birth of other youth and activist movements; while new technologies for travel, entertainment, communication, and household efficiency became commonplace over increasingly shorter intervals of time. The world felt smaller, and the United States had established itself as an international power, but not every U.S. citizen had achieved the American Dream.
Says the Brooklyn Museum, “America’s increasingly diverse and mobile population challenged old social patterns and clamored for the equality and opportunities promised by the American Dream. Art witnessed similarly dramatic changes as many artists rejected or reformulated artistic traditions, seeking new ways to make their work relevant in a contemporary context.” Thus, the American Modern “school” is best described as a loose grouping of artists, each exploring his or her own concept and experience of the changes they have experienced and witnessed over a specific period of time.
This period of time saw a re-emergence of traditional American motifs, often featuring a new emphasis on athletic, heroic portrayals of workers and soldiers, along with new interpretations of traditional subjects like landscapes and the human figure. Some artists explored new concepts of time, spirituality, and the universe – also present in the burgeoning hippie and psychedelic communities – through desert scenes and other landscapes. Some offered commentary on city life: geometric patterns reflected the architecture of the buildings and was echoed in contemporary graphic design, while other works offered commentary on the increasing independence of women in public spaces, on the chaos of constant work, and on the feelings of anonymity, insignificance, and loneliness that plagued many city residents. And others, instead of drawing from contemporary culture, pointedly created works “steeped in nostalgia,” which inspired a sense of patriotism that helped Americans weather the storms of war, economic depression, and social upheaval. These insinuations of American traditionalism hearkened back to a simpler – and, for some, a more comfortable, more comprehensible – way of life.
When visiting this exhibit with your family, have them engage in the following questions:
- Can you identify some symbols of American tradition that are present in the works in this exhibition? How do you feel when you look at them?
- How would you depict your feelings about the changes you have witnessed in any given area of society throughout your life (politics, technology, food, entertainment…)? What symbols might you use to express those feelings? Why did you choose those specific symbols?
Students and enthusiasts of art, art history, and American history will be interested to know that among the works on display in American Moderns are representations of Cubism, Synchromism, Precisionism, Expressionism, and Social Realism, as well as interpretations of folk art and early steam-punk style.
Please note: there is a special exhibition fee of $5 in addition to museum admission for all visitors ages 3 and up to view American Moderns and Life Through Time.
The Springfield Museums are open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10am-5pm and on Sundays from 11am-5pm. The Museums will be open on four Mondays this summer, from 10am-5pm: August 4, August 11, August 18, and August 25.
The Springfield Museums. 21 Edwards Street, Springfield. 413-263-6800. springfieldmuseums.org.
- George Copeland Ault (American, 1891-1948). Manhattan Mosaic, 1947. Oil on canvas, Brooklyn Museum, Dick S. Ramsay Fund, 66.127.
- Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986). 2 Yellow Leaves (Yellow Leaves), 1928. Oil on canvas, Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Georgia O’Keeffe, 87.136.6.