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Mapping the Modern

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Submitted By lymer91
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Humanity is forever changing, growing and transforming, and so is the concept of modernism. It was only in the latter half of the nineteenth century, namely, when society first witnessed or gave theory to this multifaceted change. Multifaceted because it effected a diverse range of innovative and experimental practices in the visual arts, literature, design and architecture. New genres and styles were being invented and combined to push preconceived ideas and traditions. As society started to accept these changes, the world saw a rapid growth in urbanisation and industrialisation. In fact Wallace. J, wrote ‘ in examine the spaces of modernism, the city is an almost obligatory starting point’ (2011). The many new technologies that were were being invented during the early 20th Century increased the development and manufacturing of cities sevenfold. Changing cities meant changing cultures. People were living like never before. The modern city was a exceptional space for its facilitation of new forms of culture.

After the second world war, the art world witnessed the styles and creative practices of European culture shift to America. American modernism like modernism in most areas of the world is a trend of thought that humans have the power to create, shape and improve their environment. Foster, .R did state ‘What distinguishes American modernism is the unifying theme of a conscious search for identity” (2003). Meaning artists and architectures searched for what it meant to be American? What would set the United States apart from Europe and the rest of the world? America’s economic and technological progress throughout the 1920’s ‘gave rise to widespread utopianism’ (Boundless, 2014). Artists drew inspiration from the forever growing industrialised landscape of the U.S., New York in particular. American artists like Georgia O’Keefe and … Stieglitz collaborated and developed various artistic assemblies, who explored a range of different techniques and ways of artistic expressiveness.

Louis Lozowick was one of the most highly regarded Precisionist artists of the 1920s, and one of many who were fascinated by the machine aesthetic of the New York metropolis. In the early 1920s, Lozowick spent time in Europe , most notably Berlin. It was during these years ‘he was introduced to the ideas and key artists of Constructivism, De Stijl, and the Bauhaus’ (Artsy, 2015). Lozowick experimented with a variety of mediums including painting, drawing and lithography. His depictions of the structural elements of cities, factories, and machines invited American’s to share the expressive beauty and vitality of their own urban and industrial environment. In May, 1927, Lozowick wrote for a catalogue named ‘Machine Age Exposition’. He stated, “The skyscrapers of New York, the grain elevators of Minneapolis, the steel mills of Pittsburgh, the oil wells of Oklahoma, the copper mines of Butte… give the American industrial epic in its diapason.” Lozowick was fascinated by the urban landscape of America so much so he began a series in 1923 called the "Machine Ornament”. Compiled mostly of lithographs, the series explored the straight lines, contrasting light and shadow, and geometrical patterns of the urban city. In 1926, Lozowick presented his 11 7/16 × 9 in (29.1 × 22.9 cm) lithograph named ‘New York (Brooklyn Bridge)’ (Figure 1, pg. 6). He captured the geometric architecture of a modern America through hard-edged, linear styles and abundant repeating forms. The modernist Art Deco style is evident through the blocked shapes and smooth curves gliding from corner to corner. Lozowick monochromatic depiction of New York City was a celebration of what America was becoming. A country full of ambition and man-power, ready to lead the world in industrial and urban design.

While Louis Lozowick and many others drew inspiration from the soaring steal skyscrapers and long, wire tangled bridges of New York City; other creative’s saw the artistry in the everyday lives of the humans who lived there. Photographer and committed modernist, Paul Strand, was one who viewed the world differently, and captured a continuum of the human experience with a lense. Along with his exemplars Edward Weston and Alfred Stieglitz, Strand was a pioneer in American Modernist Photography. His experimentation with pictorialism and the intrinsic capabilities of the large format camera helped revolutionize documentary photography. New York City was his focus from the beginning. His photographs ranged from ‘soft-focus scenes of modern New York that reflected the energy and movement of the city, and brought the grit and isolation to life. Richard Conway for TIME Magazine stated that ‘Wall Street is without a doubt a modernist work’ (2015).

Reference List

Haferkamp, Hans, and Neil J. Smelser. "Modernity and Social Movements." In Social Change and Modernity. Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992.

"Definitions and Characteristics of Modernity." Dallas Baptist University. 2014. Accessed May 21, 2015. http://www3.dbu.edu/mitchell/modernit.htm.

"Industrialization and the Beginnings of Modernism." Crowder Design. April 21, 2013. Accessed May 21, 2015. https://crowderdesign.wordpress.com/2013/04/21/industrialization-and-the-beginnings-of-modernism/.

Bose, Sudip. "What Is Modernism? - National Trust for Historic Preservation." Preservationnation.org. June 1, 2008. Accessed May 21, 2015. http://www.preservationnation.org/magazine/2008/may-june/what-is-modernism.html.

"Modernism." University of Nevada Las Vegas. 2010. Accessed May 21, 2015. https://faculty.unlv.edu/kirschen/handouts/modernism.html.

"Who Are the American Modernists?" Society for the Preservation of American Modernists (SPAM). 2003. Accessed May 20, 2015. http://www.americanmodernists.org/who_are.html#.

Heap, Jane. "Machine Age Exposition Catalogue." May 1, 1927.

"Printed Art and Social Radicalism." Spencer Museum of Art: The University of Kansas. 2015. Accessed May 20, 2015. http://www.spencerart.ku.edu/exhibitions/radicalism/lozowick.shtml.

"20th Century Art." Artsy. 2015. Accessed May 18, 2015. https://www.artsy.net/.

"Louis Lozowick Papers An Inventory of His Papers at Syracuse University." Syracuse University Libraries. Accessed May 30, 2015. http://library.syr.edu/digital/guides/l/lozowick_l.htm#series3.

"Louis Lozowick." The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery. Accessed May 20, 2015.

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