MODERN ART AND ARCHITECT
Parallel to the rapid scientific, technological, and social changes that have taken place in the 20th century are the rich varieties of art styles that have developed. Notable are the number of “isms,” such as Fauvism, expressionism, cubism, futurism, constructivism, neoplasticism, surrealism, precisionism, and minimalism.
ORIGINS OF MODERN ART
The roots of modern art can be seen in French 19th-century avant-garde painting. During the 1860s artists became increasingly preoccupied with style—how a subject should be painted. Édouard Manet flattened figures in his painting, reducing them to broadly painted, silhouetted forms; the impressionists (see IMPRESSIONISM,)—Camille Pissarro, Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, and Alfred Sisley—became interested in rendering the effects of light on objects rather than the actual textures of things. Later in the century the postimpressionists initiated new styles that would determine the course of painting in the first decades of the 20th century: Georges Seurat modified the loose, impressionist brushstroke into precise dots, juxtaposing complementary colors (pointillism); Paul Gauguin exaggerated forms and used color arbitrarily to create decorative shapes; and Vincent van Gogh’s expressionist distortions of line and color would have great implications for the Norwegian Edvard Munch and the German expressionists. Paul Cézanne’s discoveries, however, were undoubtedly most decisive. Cézanne developed a system of scaling his colors and building color planes; this system simultaneously gave form to objects yet remained abstract in itself. While basing his art on nature, he was more concerned with its structural principles, as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque would be in their protocubist landscapes and still-life analyses.
The common denominator among these various late 19th-century artists was a diminished concern for reality and for an approach that was true to nature, and a greater concern for personal freedom of expression. About the turn of the century their work began to gain acceptance; meanwhile, a young generation of painters adopted even greater distortions of line, color, and pictorial space, a development that so angered the critics that they dubbed these artists les fauves, literally the “wild beasts” (see FAUVISM,). Among these French artists (who built on Gauguin’s discoveries) were Henri Matisse, André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, the Dutch painter Kees van Dongen (1877–1968), and Braque. Although Fauvism was a relatively short episode (1905–7) in their careers, their pictures were to have an impact on the development of art in Germany.
Artists in both France and Germany shared an interest in primitivism. Gauguin searched for it first in Brittany and later in the South Seas; Vlaminck claimed he was among the first artists to discover African sculpture. In Germany, a group of young artists known as Die Brücke (see BRÜCKE, Die), “The Bridge,” regularly visited the Dresden Ethnological Museum and, like the Fauves, were inspired by the boldness and power of primitive art. The leading Brücke artists were Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel (1883–1970), Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, and Emil Nolde. Known also as the German expressionists (see EXPRESSIONISM,), they worked in a simplified style somewhat resembling Fauvism, but with the added ingredient of angst—their work frequently portrayed the sufferings of humanity. A second group of artists, Der Blaue Reiter (“The Blue Rider”), was organized in Munich in 1911 by the painters Wassily Kandinsky (a Russian émigré) and Franz Marc. Also inspired by primitivism, Fauvism, and folk art, their expressionism took the significant direction of semiabstract painting. See BLAUE REITER, Der.
Interest in primitive sculpture also played a role in the formation of CUBISM, (q.v.). Picasso’s protocubist works, such as Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907, Museum of Modern Art, New York City), display his interest in both African and ancient Iberian art. Picasso and Braque developed cubism between 1907 and 1914, creating the most influential style of the modern period. In cubism, the flat, two-dimensional surface of the picture plane is emphasized, and traditional perspective, foreshortening, modeling, and chiaroscuro (contrast of light and dark) are rejected. In its first phase, called analytic cubism, which ended by 1912, artists were concerned with breaking down and analyzing form. Right-angled and straight-line construction and monochromatic color schemes were favored in cubist depictions of motifs that were radically fragmented to show several sides simultaneously. Its second phase, generally called synthetic cubism, grew out of experiments with COLLAGE, (q.v.). Foreign materials were pasted onto the picture in combination—synthesis—with painted surfaces. Although shapes remained fragmented and flat, color played a strong role in synthetic cubism, and the works are more decorative. The leading practitioners of cubism, who created personal modifications of it, were the French artists Fernand Léger, Robert Delaunay and Sonia Terk Delaunay, and Marcel Duchamp, the Spaniard Juan Gris, and the Czech František Kupka. Several Italian artists, notably Gino Severini, Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, and Giacomo Balla, employed the cubist style but called their movement FUTURISM, (q.v.); among other things, they were concerned with expressing motion in art through rhythmic repetition of lines and images.
Cubism was also crucial to the development of nonobjective, or abstract, art (see ABSTRACT ART,). In Germany, Kandinsky painted semiabstract pictures containing references to nature and music in 1910 (his dating), and Paul Klee, a Swiss, did some abstract watercolors after his first exposure to cubism. Russian artists were aware of cubism through a few outstanding private collections in Moscow and evolved a different, geometrically constructed abstract art. Kasimir Malevich, a devout Christian mystic, painted a black square on a white ground in 1913, naming his personal abstractions SUPREMATISM, (q.v.), which to him expressed the “supremacy of feeling in creative art.” Other cubist-inspired Russian painters, known as constructivists (see CONSTRUCTIVISM,), were Alexander Rodchenko (1891–1956), Liubov Popova (1889–1924), El Lissitzky (1890–1941), the brothers Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner, and Vladimir Tatlin.
Simultaneous with the emergence of abstract art in Russia were developments in the Netherlands, where artists wanted to create a universal, harmonious style suitable to every aspect of contemporary life, from town planning and furniture design to painting and sculpture. Their movement was called De Stijl, “The Style”; its principles were primarily formulated and transmitted by Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian, in their periodical of the same name. Mondrian, who was familiar with cubism from his first Paris trip, returned there in 1920 and published his first major essay, Le Néo-Plasticisme. He stated that cubism’s goal should be the expression of pure plastics (forms) and, in his painting, he narrowed his range of colors, sticking basically to primaries. Using straight lines to create grids, he eliminated the illusion of depth, respecting the flat, two-dimensional surface of the canvas.
The DADA, (q.v.) movement, which arose both in Europe and America during World War I, was the antithesis of the rationalism of Mondrian and other theorists of abstraction. A group of war resisters who were disgusted with bourgeois values chose a nonsense word, dada (Fr., “hobbyhorse”), to describe their protest activities and antiaesthetic works. Best known of the many artists and writers associated with Dada was Duchamp, who invented the ready-made, a mass-produced object that he designated as sculpture. Most notorious of these was a urinal he entitled Fontaine, which he exhibited in New York City in 1917. Other artists involved with Dada were the Frenchmen Jean Arp and Francis Picabia, the American Man Ray, and the Germans George Grosz and Max Ernst.
Although Dada had lost its force by 1922, some of its practitioners directed their energies toward the newly emerging SURREALISM, (q.v.), in which, as in Dada, accident and chance were employed in the creation of art. The Italian Giorgio de Chirico’s haunting, dreamlike paintings of desolate city squares and enigmatic statues anticipated surrealism by several years. It was the Frenchman André Breton, however, who gave the movement its name and manifesto in 1924, asserting the superiority of the subconscious mind and the importance of dreams in the creation of art. Little stylistic similarity can be found among the surrealists, who mainly shared an ideal of spontaneous, irrational inspiration. Those working in a figurative style were Ernst, the Spaniard Salvador Dalí, the Belgians René Magritte and Paul Delvaux (1897– ), and Ray; those working in more abstract styles included Arp, the Frenchmen André Masson (1896–1987) and Yves Tanguy, and the Spaniard Joan Miró.
Emergence of Modern Painting in America.
Until the late 1940s, nearly all the various styles and movements of the modern period originated in Europe and later spread to America. American impressionism, for example, began nearly two decades after its inception in France and, with a few notable exceptions such as Childe Hassam, lacked the vitality seen in the French paintings. American impressionist painters generally presented landscapes or refined pictures of genteel life. The Eight, a group of young artists led by Robert Henri, revolted against this kind of art. Known as the Ashcan school because of their homely subjects, they concentrated on ordinary—even ugly—city scenes, rendering them in straightforward, conventional styles that bordered occasionally on illustration. Cézanne’s discoveries and Fauvism and cubism were relatively unknown in America until after the celebrated ARMORY SHOW, (q.v.), an international art exhibition held in New York City in 1913. Some American artists, notably Max Weber, Arthur Dove, and Marsden Hartley, did work abroad, however, and were able to exhibit their work at the photographer Alfred Stieglitz’s famous 291 Gallery in New York City. American assimilation of cubism resulted in such variants as synchronism, an abstract style stressing color rhythms, developed by Morgan Russell (1886–1953) and Stanton Macdonald-Wright (1890–1973), and precisionism, a sharp-focus, stylized realism in which cubism’s flattening of objects and pictorial space is modified. Works by Charles Demuth, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Charles Sheeler exhibit the precisionist style; favorite subjects were skyscrapers, barns, and the industrial landscape. Abstract art continued its development: Stuart Davis painted joyous pictures, evocative of jazz in their rhythmic combination of lettering and bouncing color planes; European immigrant artists transmitted Mondrian’s De Stijl principles; and American collectors were establishing museums with modernist paintings, which had a powerful impact on the younger generation of avant-garde artists.
American Realists and Regionalists.
Despite the growing acceptance of European modernism in the U.S., the 1930s was also a period of reaction and rebellion against imported styles. Many artists, although they had studied abroad, favored an art that would distinctly express the American scene. Urban realist painters such as Ben Shahn, Reginald Marsh, and William Gropper (1897–1977) made paintings and graphics that depicted the political, social, and economic conditions of the Great Depression era; and the regionalists Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, and John Steuart Curry drew inspiration from rural midwestern life and folklore. One of the most powerful realists to emerge was Edward Hopper, who explored the loneliness and isolation of people in both urban and small-town environments. Although Hopper claimed his chief interest was in capturing light, the psychological aspect of his work is most compelling. After World War II, another realist, Andrew Wyeth, became the most popular American artist of his time. Employing a spare, somber style, he created evocative images of rural life that frequently had a dreamlike quality akin to the style that is known as magic realism.
A number of American artists who had been realists in the 1930s created a new movement in the following decades called abstract expressionism (also known as action painting, or the New York school). The presence in the U.S. during World War II of many European surrealists was decisive in the development of abstract expressionism. From them the American artists derived an interest in the subconscious, symbolism, and myth. Also influenced by the surrealist technique of automatism, these painters began producing totally spontaneous works in which the painting process itself became the subject matter, as in the freely created drip paintings of Jackson Pollock. Other artists sharing Pollock’s gestural approach were Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Hans Hofmann, and Robert Motherwell.
Gestural painting was one of the two directions in abstract expressionism; the other was color-field painting, in which artists applied large, subtly modulated expanses of color to the canvas. The leaders of this technique included Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Morris Louis.
Pop Art and Other Movements.
With abstract expressionism established as the dominant American style, some artists began rebelling against what they regarded as its excessively solemn and theoretical character. Drawing their imagery from advertisements, comic strips, films, and everyday objects, they became known as pop artists (see POP ART,). Although pop art is thought of as distinctively American, it originated in London with an exhibition by Richard Hamilton (1922– ) and others. The leading American pop artists were Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselmann (1931– ), and James Rosenquist (1933– ).
The influence of pop art could be seen in photorealism, which emerged in the late 1960s and favored such subjects as neon signs, cafeterias, and commonplace urban and suburban scenes. These were meticulously rendered with the help of photography, resulting in a precisely detailed, impersonal verisimilitude. The Americans Richard Estes (1936– ), Robert Cottingham (1935– ), Chuck Close (1940– ), and Don Eddy (1944– ) were the most prominent photorealist painters.
Abstract painting continued to develop in both the U.S. and Europe. Op art, in which stark black-and-white patterns or brilliant color contrasts were intended to create optical illusions, was one direction abstraction took in the 1960s and ’70s. Another, influenced by color-field art and the austere geometric paintings of the German-American Josef Albers, was minimalism. It ranged from the rigorous geometric forms of Kenneth Noland to the serialized patterns of Larry Poons (1937– ) to the almost monochromatic canvases of Robert Ryman (1930– ). Conceptual art, in which the artist’s idea or concept took precedence over and sometimes replaced the actual work, carried the analytical impulse of minimalism one step further.
Neoexpressionism and New Realists.
By the 1980s a reaction had developed against the impersonal, inexpressive quality of minimalism and other abstract styles, leading to a revival of figurative and narrative painting known as neoexpressionism. Intensely subjective, visionary, and provocative, the neoexpressionists frequently employed a style, characterized by distorted forms and strong coloring, that owed much to the German expressionists of 70 years earlier. Among the painters associated with neoexpressionism were the Germans Anselm Kiefer (1945– ), Georg Baselitz (1938– ), and A. R. Penck (1939– ); the Italians Sandro Chia (1946– ), Francesco Clemente (1952– ), and Enzo Cucchi (1950– ); and the Americans Julian Schnabel (1951– ) and David Salle (1952– ).
Before neoexpressionism returned figurative painting to critical fashion in the 1980s, a number of independent realist painters had already built distinguished careers on the depiction of the human figure. The isolated, tormented figures of Francis Bacon, the deft, urbane portraits and domestic scenes of David Hockney, and the unflinching realism of Lucien Freud (1922– ) testified to the strength of the representational tradition in English art. In America, the precise, formally rigorous nude studies of Philip Pearlstein (1924– ), which assimilated some of the concerns of abstract art, showed the way for many outstanding younger realist painters.
Like modern painters, sculptors were influenced by primitive and ancient art, as demonstrated in the early works of the Romanian-French master Constantin Brancusi and the Englishman Henry Moore. Brancusi also simplified form to an ultimate degree, as in The Newborn (1915, Arensberg Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art), an ovoid shape that at once suggests an egg, the human head, and an infant’s cry. Brancusi combined a subtle wit with a consummate skill in bringing out the intrinsic beauty of materials, whether wood, stone, or metal. Moore also respected the beauty of materials, shaping masses and voids to create elegant, monumental works. Inspired by pre-Columbian sculpture, he chose as his lifelong theme the reclining female figure.
Major 20th-Century Sculptors.
Several early 20th-century sculptors were affected by cubism and other movements, namely, the Russian-born Alexander Archipenko, the Frenchman Raymond Duchamp-Villon, and the Lithuanian-born Jacques Lipchitz. All dealt with the human figure, giving emphasis to geometric planes, although Lipchitz, in his later work, became strongly expressionistic, sculpting baroque, writhing forms based on universal themes from the Bible and ancient myth. In Russia, constructivists emphasized sculptural space rather than mass. Chief sculptors were Tatlin, famous for his proposed Monument to the Third International (1919–20, model, Russian State Museums, Saint Petersburg); Rodchenko; and Lissitzky, who transmitted constructivism to Western Europe in the 1920s. Constructivist works by Gabo and Pevsner were later to have an influence on American abstract art, as were those by the Hungarian László Moholy-Nagy. The Dada artist Duchamp made the first mobile sculpture in 1913, when he mounted a bicycle wheel on a stool; he was later to give the name “mobiles” to the movable sculptures of the American Alexander Calder. Disparaging traditional ways of making sculpture, Duchamp began, in the second decade of the 20th century, to select his ready-mades, such as a bottle rack, snow shovel, and a coat hook. About the same time other sculptors such as Picasso, Ernst, and Ray also began to incorporate found objects in their work. Frequently these objects would take on strange, surreal aspects, as with Ray’s The Gift (1921, Museum of Modern Art), a flatiron with nails projecting from its base. Not all surrealist sculptors employed found objects, however; Arp created compelling abstract, organic fantasies suggestive of life and growth, and the Swiss Alberto Giacometti’s haunting, elongated figures express the isolation of the modern individual. The abstract and geometric principles of neoplasticism were absorbed by Calder, whose early abstract wire constructions and use of pure, primary colors on his mobiles and stabiles owe a debt to Mondrian. Other sculptors who produced abstract and constructed works were the Americans Seymour Lipton, Isamu Noguchi, David Smith, and Mark di Suvero and the Englishman Anthony Caro.
While a number of contemporary sculptors have continued working with methods established earlier in the 20th century—for instance, found objects and assemblage—others have explored new directions. The definition of sculpture has been expanded to include a wide spectrum of new styles, materials, and techniques. The major figures listed below are American artists unless otherwise noted. Minimalists, whose work was characteristically simple, precise, and symmetrical, included Sol LeWitt (1928– ) and Donald Judd. Richard Serra (1939– ) created large, obtrusive metal environmental works. Major exponents of earthworks included Robert Morris (1931– ) and Robert Smithson. Leading kinetic artists were George Rickey (1907– ) and the New Zealand–born Len Lye (1901–80); those working with light included Chryssa (1933– ) and Dan Flavin (1933–96); with video, the Irish-born Les Levine (1935– ) and the Korean Nam June Paik (1932– ). The playful soft sculptures of Claes Oldenburg were associated with pop art, as were the white plaster figures of George Segal. Verist sculptors, who created uncannily lifelike figures in colored polyester resin, included Duane Hanson (1925–96) and John De Andrea (1941– ). The German sculptor Joseph Beuys (1921–86) did both assemblages and performance pieces. In the mid-1980s, in the work of Joel Shapiro (1941– ) and others, the human figure and organic forms began reappearing in sculpture, a trend known as postminimalist or postmodern sculpture. M.V., MICHELE VISHNY, M.A., Ph.D.
The approach to designing and constructing buildings that has characterized most of the 20th century has come to be called modern architecture. First established in Germany after World War I, it rapidly attracted a following in other European countries. In 1932 the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, in a famous exhibition, acclaimed it as the INTERNATIONAL STYLE, (q.v.). Neither of these terms is descriptive of the movement. Initially, it offered pure abstract forms to replace stylistic traditions inherited from the Renaissance. Gradually this austere purism became diffused, and by the 1980s architectural theory and practice had ceased to follow modernist orthodoxy.
The Renaissance itself had taken diverse directions, yet all of these shared a common trait—they continued to manipulate the orders (columns and entablatures) and the arches and vaults forming the vocabulary of masonry building developed by the Greeks and Romans. In the late 19th century, however, the revival of historic styles had often degenerated into an indiscriminate and unprincipled mixture of borrowings; this mixture was called eclecticism (a term of opprobrium).
ORIGINS OF MODERN ARCHITECTURE
The Industrial Revolution had so changed the technological and social context of design that old concepts were no longer valid. From 1840 on, leading artists, designers, and critics tried to develop new approaches to environmental art. Modern architecture has its roots in a number of transient efforts in various centers.
In England the writer and critic John Ruskin and the writer and designer William Morris encouraged what became known as the ARTS AND CRAFTS MOVEMENT, (q.v.). Inspired by the medieval past, the movement rejected the idea that machine-made objects could constitute a true culture. It affirmed the importance of handicraft and led leading artists to become involved in the design of ordinary human artifacts and surroundings.
As for technology, the CRYSTAL PALACE, (q.v.), a huge temporary exhibition building 564 m (1850 ft) long erected (1851) in Hyde Park, London, by the landscape architect Sir Joseph Paxton, was built entirely of iron and glass. Under the circumstances, the fact that it was also beautiful may have been in part accidental. One of the persistent ideas in architectural history, however, is the belief of many—engineers as well as architects—that beauty could be seen in the clear expression of the structural properties of the new materials.
As iron, glass, and steel became abundant, building construction was no longer limited to masonry and timber. Two structures erected for the Paris International Exhibition of 1889 showed this dramatically. The Halle des Machines, by the architect C. L. F. Dutert (1845–1906) and the engineering company Contamin, Pierron, and Charton, had a clear span of 117 m (385 ft). The EIFFEL TOWER, (q.v.), by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (1832–1923), soared 300 m (984 ft) into the sky.
Technology soon came to have an effect on buildings serving more mundane purposes. High-rise buildings were made possible by erection of a steel cage on which to hang the floors and walls, and also through the development of passenger elevators and other devices to improve safety and convenience. The basic skyscraper office building took form in Chicago by the 1890s and spread rapidly elsewhere. Involved were some exceptionally able architects, including Louis Sullivan and other members of the CHICAGO SCHOOL, (q.v.).
CLASSICISM VERSUS ROMANTICISM
Historians of the arts have noted the interplay of two enduring tendencies: classicism and romanticism. In architecture, the first leads to balanced arrangements of abstract geometric forms; the second toward free, more intuitive shapes sometimes called organic. The contrasting movements in the visual arts—de Stijl and ART NOUVEAU (q.v.)—are examples of these two extremes.
Art Nouveau appeared in the 1890s in several centers; the name, which is French, was first used by a Paris art gallery. Similar tendencies were called Jugendstil in Germany and SEZESSIONSTIL (q.v.) in Austria. In the U.S. its most famous practitioner was Louis Comfort Tiffany, best known for his opulent and decorative glass and metal objects. The style is characterized by openness to the use of all materials and by the uninhibited reduction of everything to free form independent of the dictates of function. Sinuous shapes suggesting natural growth were intertwined regardless of the material employed. Particularly well known are the Parisian Métro Station entrances designed in the Art Nouveau style by Hector Guimard about 1900. Two outstanding architects created two great and contrasting monuments of Art Nouveau. In Barcelona, Spain, Antoni Gaudí designed with idiosyncratic genius a series of buildings whose plans seldom show any right angles. Gaudí’s life work is the still unfinished church La Sagrada Familia (the Holy Family; begun 1883). Farther north, in Scotland, Charles Rennie Mackintosh created the Glasgow School of Art (1897–99; library wing 1907–9) with a rectilinear formalism and much vertical emphasis; together with his wife, Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh (1865–1933), Mackintosh also made interiors and furniture of singular distinction.
De Stijl was centered in the Netherlands in the years immediately following 1919. Its leaders were the architect J. J. P. Oud, the architect-painter Theo van Doesburg, and the architect-furniture designer Gerrit Rietveld, whose Schröder House (1924–25) in Utrecht sums up the aims of the movement—to create volumetric subtleties with planes related at right angles, with surfaces in white or in primary colors, and the elimination of all else. To call this classic would be oversimplification; the studied avoidance of symmetry and repetition would alone deny it. Its geometric discipline, however, became an ingredient of modernism.
Sullivan and Wright.
In the ebb and flow of these explorations, two American architects—Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright—are noteworthy. Sullivan contributed significantly to skyscraper design (see CHICAGO SCHOOL,). In addition, he created a vocabulary of highly personalized foliate ornament, usually made of terra-cotta, that links him to Art Nouveau. His Carson Pirie Scott department store (1899–1904) in Chicago displays perhaps the first repetitive statement of the horizontally proportioned rectangular structural bay that was to dominate modern architecture. On its lower floors may be seen some of his finest ornamental panels.
Wright repeatedly acknowledged his debt to Sullivan, from whom he learned his craft. As early as 1893 Wright began his own practice, independent of Sullivan, designing a number of houses, of which the Robie House (1909) in Chicago is the best known. These houses, constituting a so-called prairie style, were not at first celebrated at home, but when they became known in the Netherlands they had an unmistakable impact on de Stijl. Wright anchored the houses to the earth with heavy masonry terraces and a big central chimney; he then deployed over and around these a continuous flowing space protected by roofs that extended in bold cantilevers to embrace much of the outdoors. Horizontally dominated barriers between inside and outside dissolved even without the glass transparency that others would later exploit. As one of America’s creative personalities, Wright enjoyed a long, productive career. More eccentric genius than representative leader, he attracted a coterie of student assistants in two colonies, Taliesin East near Madison, Wis., and Taliesin West near Phoenix, Ariz. He designed what, after Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, is perhaps America’s most admired home, Fallingwater (1936–37), in Bear Run, Pa. Another of his significant designs is the more controversial Guggenheim Museum, in New York City (1946–59).