Modern Art (1912- )

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Nude Descending a Staircase No.2, Duchamp
Workshop, Lewis
Haskell’s House, Hopper
American Gothic, Wood
Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, Wood
Totes Meer, Nash
Triptychs, Bacon
Still Life (Natura morta), Morandi
Aline and Valcour, Ray
Monogram, Ruschenberg
Electronic Highway, Paik

Before the 19th century, artists were most often commissioned to make artwork by wealthy patrons or institutions like the church. Much of this art depicted religious or mythological scenes that told stories intended to instruct the viewer. During the 19th century, many artists started to make art based in their own, personal experiences and about topics that they chose.

For example MoMA collects work made after 1880, when the atmosphere was ripe for avant-garde artists to take their work in new, surprising, and modern directions. MoMA provides a list of related artists thus: Eugène Atget, Hippolyte Blancard, Paul Cézanne, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Hector Guimard, Vasily Kandinsky, Raoul François Larche, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau, Georges-Pierre Seurat, Charles Sheeler, William J. Shew, Paul Strand, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Édouard Vuillard.

[Source: moma.org]

ultcult.com focuses on this page on the artworks after 1912
– for earlier works please click here.


Image source: Wikimedia commons
Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) peels away the traditional beauty of the nude in art, its carnality, even its identifiable sex. Instead, the painting aims to expand our perception of the human body in motion, a topic of fascination for Duchamp around this time.

Though the work exemplifies his extremely original engagement with Cubism, it also precipitated his break with the Cubists. When Duchamp presented it for exhibition in Paris in 1912, fellow Cubists on the hanging committee tried to exclude it. They may have objected to the idea of painting dynamic movement, or the unfamiliar subject of a nude on a flight of stairs, or the title written in block letters at the lower margin.

When the work was finally presented at the Armoury Show, which made the case for modern art to large audiences in New York in 1913, it met with a hostile public reaction, and cemented Duchamp’s reputation as an artistic provocateur.
[Source: philamuseum.org]
Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 (Nu descendant un escalier n° 2)1912Oil/CanvasAbstract
Duchamp, Marcel1887 – 1968, aged 79French-American painterModernist  Cubist/Futurist
LOCATION:SIZE (cms): [1515-11]

Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, Philadelphia, PA 19130, USA147 x 90  
Vorticism was a short-lived but radical movement founded by Lewis in London just before the First World War, proposing an art suited to the energy of the modern world.

Here, Lewis uses angles and diagonals to suggest the geometry of modern buildings. Its harsh colours and lines echo the discordant vitality of the modern city in an ‘attack on traditional harmony’.

The vorticists’ aggressive rhetoric, angular style and focus on modernity linked them to the Italian futurists. War demonstrated the devastating reality of pitting men against machines and Lewis’s attempts to revive the movement in 1919 came to nothing.
[Source: tate.org.uk]

Image source: tate.org.uk
Lewis, Wyndham1881-1957, aged 74English painterModern Art – Vorticism
LOCATION:SIZE (cms): [1515-12]

Tate Galleries, Millbank, Westminster, London SW1P 4RG UK76 x 61  

Image source: Wikimedia commons
The towering Victorian property atop a hill seen in ‘Haskell’s House’ is largely intact, with even the decorative iron trim on the roof. But Hopper’s view from Main Street is gone.

In the painting, the house is framed by blue sky, a white fence, and shrubs. Today, the house is almost hidden from the busy road. Tall evergreens screen the front, and a group of low-lying gray townhouses with orange doors block much of the side view. An iron fence in front is padlocked, with two large dogs roaming the yard.

Visitors must drive down a narrow, alley-like street running to the back.
[Source: boston.com]
Haskell’s House1924Graphite/Wtrclr/PprbdLandscape
Hopper, Edward1882-1967, aged 84American painterModern Art
LOCATION:SIZE (cms): [1515-13]

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC USA34 x 50  
This familiar image was exhibited publicly for the first time at the Art Institute of Chicago, winning a three-hundred-dollar prize and instant fame for Grant Wood.

The impetus for the painting came while Wood was visiting the small town of Eldon in his native Iowa. There he spotted a little wood farmhouse, with a single oversized window, made in a style called Carpenter Gothic. I imagined American Gothic people with their faces stretched out long to go with this American Gothic house, he said.

He used his sister and his dentist as models for a farmer and his daughter, dressing them as if they were tintypes from my old family album.

The highly detailed, polished style and the rigid frontality of the two figures were inspired by Flemish Renaissance art, which Wood studied during his travels to Europe between 1920 and 1928. After returning to settle in Iowa, he became increasingly appreciative of midwestern traditions and culture, which he celebrated in works such as this.

American Gothic, often understood as a satirical comment on the midwestern character, quickly became one of America’s most famous paintings and is now firmly entrenched in the nation’s popular culture. Yet Wood intended it to be a positive statement about rural American values, an image of reassurance at a time of great dislocation and disillusionment. The man and woman, in their solid and well-crafted world, with all their strengths and weaknesses, represent survivors.
[Source: artic.edu]

Image source: Wikimedia commons
American Gothic1930Oil/BvrbdGenre Painting
Wood, Grant1891 – 1942, aged 50American painterModernism
LOCATION:SIZE (cms): [1515-14]

Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago USA78 x 65  

Image source: Wikimedia commons
 Here, Wood depicts the legendary story of the American patriot Paul Revere, as learned from an 1863 poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. From a bird’s-eye view, the painting shows Revere on horseback racing through a colonial town square in Massachusetts. Despite the work’s historical subject matter, Wood did not attempt to depict the scene with factual accuracy. The houses are overly bright, as if lit by electric light, and the dramatic moonlight casts unrealistic shadows. The stylized houses, geometric greenery, and high perspective give the painting an otherworldly or dreamlike dimension.
[Source: metmuseum.org]
Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, The1931Oil?masoniteHistory Painting
Wood, Grant1891 – 1942, aged 50American painterModern Art
LOCATION:SIZE (cms): [1515-15]

Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY USA76 x 102  
This painting, the title of which is German for ‘dead sea’, was made during the first half of the Second World War.

It was inspired by a wrecked aircraft dump at Cowley in Oxfordshire. Nash based the image on photographs he took there. The artist described the sight: The thing looked to me suddenly, like a great inundating sea … the breakers rearing up and crashing on the plain. … nothing moves, it is not water or even ice, it is something static and dead.

He created an unsettling atmosphere by setting the scene at night and including a solitary owl in flight.
[Source: tate.org.uk]

Image source: tate.org.uk
Totes Meer (Dead Sea)1940-1Oil/CanvasAbstract
Nash, Paul1889 – 1946, aged 57British painterModern Art
LOCATION:SIZE (cms): [1515-16]

Tate Galleries, Millbank, Westminster, London SW1P 4RG UK102 x 152  

Image source: Wikimedia commons
The Irish-born British artist Francis Bacon painted 28 known large triptychs between 1944 and 1985–86. He began working in the format in the mid-1940s with a number of smaller scale works before graduating to large examples in 1962.

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, was the first painting Bacon was happy with and was an instant critical success. The canvasses are based on the Eumenides, or Furies, of Aeschylus’s Oresteia, and depict three writhing anthropomorphic creatures set against a flat burnt orange background. Bacon did not realise his original intention to paint a large crucifixion scene and place the figures at the foot of the cross, but the themes it explores recur and are re-examined in many of his later panels and triptychs.

The Three Studies are generally considered Bacon’s first mature piece; he regarded his works before the triptych as irrelevant, and throughout his life tried to suppress their appearance on the art market.

When the painting was first exhibited in 1945 it caused a sensation and established him as one of the foremost post-war painters. Remarking on the cultural significance of Three Studies, the critic John Russell observed in 1971 that there was painting in England before the Three Studies, and painting after them, and no one … can confuse the two.

He followed the larger style for 30 years, although he painted a number of smaller scale triptychs of friend’s heads, and after the death of his former lover George Dyer in 1971, the three acclaimed Black Triptychs. 
[Source: Wikimedia commons]
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion 1944Oil/Pastel/BoardAbstract
Bacon, Francis1909-1992, aged 82Irish-English painterModern Art/Figurative
LOCATION:SIZE (cms): [1515-17]

Tate Galleries, Millbank, Westminster, London SW1P 4RG UKeach 94 x 74  
Image source: tate.org.ukStill Life is by the Italian painter Giorgio Morandi. In this work, Morandi uses a muted colour palette that ranges from light and medium grey to cream white, beige, pale yellow and mauve.

The ball-shaped container in the front row at the lower left corner of the painting has a top section with yellow grooves and a bottom section with white grooves. The cup in the centre of the composition has a red brim and the bowl on the right side has purple grooves.

Still Life is inscribed with the artist’s signature at the bottom right of the canvas. Created in Bologna in 1946, the canvas was prepared with a white ground layer and an underdrawing made with graphite is visible around the central vase.

The oil paint was then applied in thin layers, wet on wet, with lively brushstrokes. The painting has a wooden frame with gilded details.
[Source: tate.org.uk]
Still Life (Natura morta)1946Oil/CanvasStill Life
Morandi, Giorgio1890 – 1964, aged 73Italian painterModern Art
LOCATION:SIZE (cms): [1515-18]


Tate Galleries, Millbank, Westminster, London SW1P 4RG UK375 x 437  
 Man Ray, like so many Surrealists, took inspiration from his imagination, the world around him as well as the visual and literary arts, then re-arranged and re-interpreted them to create entirely new compositions, statements of the spirit of Surrealism and the political events that would later lead to the disbandment of the Surrealist group.

Painted in Hollywood in 1950, Aline et Valcour is a prime example. The composition at first conveys an inexplicable scene – an array of objects, a mannequin figure on a table, while a head, apparently bodiless, is presented as an object under a glass dome, all seemingly unrelated.

The work’s title offers the clue to untangle the enigma: Aline et Valcour, a novel written by the Marquis de Sade in the Bastille prison in the 1780s and first published in 1793. Aline et Valcour describes opponent kingdoms, one lead by a philosopher-king, Zamé, who rejects state execution precisely because it is merely a secular version of human sacrifice rituals. The heroine Aline is virtuous, obedient and modest, persecuted constantly, until she destroys herself rather than suffer the embraces of an old libertine, to whom the father intends to marry her.

Man Ray drew upon these references of dehumanisation and created a captivating composition in Aline et Valcour.
[Source: sothebys.com]

Image source: Wikimedia commons
Aline and Valcour1950Oil/CanvasStill Life
Ray, Man (Emmanuel Radnitzky)1890 – 1976, aged86American artistModern Art
LOCATION:SIZE (cms): [1515-19]


Private Collection76 x 94  

Image source: rauschenbergfoundation.org
Monogram belongs to the series of ‘Combines’ Rauschenberg made between 1954 and 1964. A term coined by Rauschenberg, Combines merged aspects of painting and sculpture to become an entirely new artistic category.

Art critic Leo Steinberg observed that the orientation of the Combines challenged the traditional concept of  the picture plane as an extension of the viewers space, providing a window into another reality. Instead, Steinberg argued, a Combine is like a tabletop or bulletin board—a receptor surface on which objects are scattered, on which data is entered.

Rauschenberg had seen the stuffed Angora goat, the focus of Monogram, in the window of a secondhand office-furniture store on Seventh Avenue in New York. Paying fifteen dollars toward the asking price of thirty-five dollars, Rauschenberg brought the goat to his studio, and before its completion in 1959, Monogram evolved through three states documented in drawings and photographs.

The title is derived from the union of the goat and tire, which reminded Rauschenberg of the interweaving letters in a monogram. 
[Source: rauschenbergfoundation.org]
Rauschenberg, Robert (Milton Ernest)1925 – 2008, aged 82American artistModern Art
LOCATION:SIZE (cms): [1515-20]


Moderna Museet, Exercisplan 4, 111 49 Stockholm, Sweden107 x 135 x 164  

Image source: angelsferrerballester.wordpress.com

Detail – Image source: khanacademy.org
In 1974, artist Nam June Paik submitted a report to the Art Program of the Rockefeller Foundation, one of the first organisations to support artists working with new media, including television and video.

Entitled Media Planning for the Post Industrial Society – The 21st Century is now only 26 years away, the report argued that media technologies would become increasingly prevalent in American society, and should be used to address pressing social problems, such as racial segregation, the modernisation of the economy, and environmental pollution.

Presciently, Paik’s report forecasted the emergence of what he called a ‘broadband communication network’—or ‘electronic super highway’ comprising not only television and video, but also audio cassettes, telex, data pooling, continental satellites, micro-fiches, private microwaves and eventually, fibre optics on laser frequencies.

By the 1990s, Paik’s concept of an information ‘superhighway’ had become associated with a new ‘world wide web’ of electronic communication then emerging, just as he had predicted.

This work of his, Electronic Superhighway, was a towering bank of TVs that simultaneously screened multiple video clips from a wide variety of sources.

Two years later, Paik revisited this work in Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, placing over 300 TV screens, with 51 video feeds, into the overall formation of a map of the United States outlined in coloured neon lights. Roughly forty feet long and fifteen feet high, the work is a monumental record of the physical and also cultural contours of America: within each state, the screens display video clips that resonate with that state’s unique popular mythology. For example, Iowa (where each presidential election cycle begins) plays old news footage of various candidates, while Kansas presents the Wizard of Oz.
[Source: khanacademy.org]
Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii1995TV/Elctrncs/SteelInstallation
Paik, Nam June 1932-2006, aged 73Korean American artistModern Art
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC USA14 x 40 x 4 ft  

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