Youth and Beauty, The Art of the American Twenties
How did American artists represent the Jazz Age? The exhibition Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties brings together for the first time the work of more than 60 painters, sculptors, and photographers who explored a new mode of modern realism in the years bounded by the aftermath of the Great War and the onset of the Great Depression. Throughout the 1920s, artists created images of liberated modern bodies and the changing urban-industrial environment with an eye toward ideal form and ordered clarity — qualities seemingly at odds with a riotous decade best remembered for its flappers and Fords.
Artists took as their subjects uninhibited nudes and close-up portraits that celebrated sexual freedom and visual intimacy, as if in defiance of the restrictive routines of automated labor and the stresses of modern urban life. Reserving judgment on the ultimate effects of machine culture on the individual, they distilled cities and factories into pristine geometric compositions that appear silent and uninhabited. American artists of the Jazz Age struggled to express the experience of a dramatically remade modern world, demonstrating their faith in the potentiality of youth and in the sustaining value of beauty. The Cleveland Museum of Art presents Youth and Beauty with more than 130 works by artists including Ansel Adams, George Bellows, Thomas Hart Benton, Stuart Davis, Aaron Douglas, Walker Evans, Edward Hopper, Isamu Noguchi, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Grant Wood.
Organized and presented by the Brooklyn Museum, Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties will be on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art from July 1 through September 16, 2012. Cleveland is the final venue to present Youth and Beauty, which traveled previously to the Brooklyn Museum and the Dallas Museum of Art.
The 1920s are often remembered as a raucous, even uproarious decade, one in which a Victorian past was replaced by a distinctly modern present. It is striking that American artists of the period responded to their rapidly changing world by creating works that conversely evoked clarity, order, and stillness. Confronted with situations and environments altered fundamentally by mechanization and urbanization, as well as shifts in attitudes toward the human body and behavior, artists adopted a distilled realism in order to seek out organization amid turmoil. Some looked to Old Master art for inspiration, while others took cues from recent avant-garde developments, as well as motion pictures and advertisements. Most Jazz Age artists were united in their drive to idealize modern existence, and the art in this exhibition highlights human and natural beauty, and captures the youthful potency of America’s emerging industrial landscape.
Thomas Hart Benton (1889–1975), Self-Portrait with Rita, 1922 oil on canvas. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jack H. Moone National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution / Art Resource, NY, USA
Gloria Swanson photographed by Nickolas Muray, c. 1925, gelatin silver print. George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester, New York, Gift of Mrs. Nickolas Muray, © Estate of Nickolas Muray.
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