Chicago, IL—From September 28, 2018, through January 6, 2019, The Art Institute of Chicago and the Terra Foundation for American Art will jointly present Pathways to Modernism: American Art, 1865–1945, developed in collaboration with and on view at the Shanghai Museum. Drawn entirely from these two renowned Chicago collections, the exhibition will feature 80 exceptional paintings and works on paper by some of the greatest American masters, including Winslow Homer, James McNeill Whistler, Mary Cassatt, John Marin, Georgia O’Keeffe, Reginald Marsh, Beauford Delaney, Edward Hopper, and Jackson Pollock. This thematically arranged, chronologically sequenced exhibition explores the many paths by which American art became modern through its engagement with the political, economic, and cultural developments that transformed the nature of daily life, as well as modes of art making, during this tumultuous period.
The US Civil War (1861–65) changed the nation irrevocably. However, even as it devastated much of the southern United States and depleted the country of its young male population, the conflict also ushered in new technologies and spurred the growth of industry and the expansion of the economy. It also stimulated the transformation of the social fabric: women moved into new roles, and millions of African American enslaved people were liberated from bondage. It opened a new era of westward exploration and settlement, while cities across the United States grew exponentially due to massive influxes of recently arrived immigrants, who joined the thousands who daily moved to urban centers from rural hinterlands. New modes of transportation, communication, and entertainment remade the daily lives of American citizens.
“These developments led to an extraordinary flourishing of the arts,” explained Terra Foundation curator Peter John Brownlee. “Enormous wealth was amassed in the hands of the urban elite, who vastly expanded the infrastructure for the arts: artists thrived in academies and ateliers at home and abroad, bolstered by a new class of patrons and critics who championed their works. This also led to the establishment of large civic museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.” The latter opened its doors to the public on July 4, 1876, the year that the young nation celebrated its one-hundredth birthday at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893, followed a little over a decade later. Showcasing America’s growing industrial might, these expositions also included exhibitions of art and cultural artifacts from the United States and other countries around the globe.
According to Sarah Kelly Oehler, Field-McCormick Chair and Curator of American Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, “The modernity of the period’s art also derived from the changing demographics of practicing artists. American art became more diverse in subject matter and style as increasing numbers of women, African Americans, and recent immigrants from Europe, Asia, and elsewhere engaged professionally with the arts. These individuals brought with them the traditions of their forebears, as well as diverse artistic interests and concerns.” Many addressed the urban experience in their art, while others, particularly during the 1930s, explored the vernacular sensibilities and traditional ways of America’s small towns and rural areas.
Additionally, artists looked abroad for inspiration throughout this period. Taking a more cosmopolitan view of the world and America’s place within it, they looked east to Asia and west to the Pacific coast of North America, but they also ranged south to Mexico and South America and north to the Arctic. Some artists felt the pull of European modes of impressionism and later abstraction, while others remained preoccupied with painting the figure both in studies and in scenes of everyday life. In the first half of the twentieth century, American art grew in sophistication, such that by the end of World War II, it was poised to take its place at the center of the art world.
Pathways to Modernism will be accompanied by a Chinese-language catalogue featuring an overview essay written by the exhibition’s curators and brief interpretative texts for each object. The exhibition will also be the focus of lectures, docent-guided tours, and other educational programs.
Art Institute of Chicago
The Art Institute of Chicago, founded in 1879, is a world-renowned art museum housing one of the largest permanent collections in the United States. The Art Institute collects, preserves, and -interprets works in every medium, representing the world’s diverse artistic traditions, and across all historical periods. With a collection of approximately 300,000 art works, the museum has particularly strong holdings in Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting, modern and contemporary art, early 20th century European painting and sculpture, Japanese prints, and photography. The museum’s 2009 addition, the Modern Wing, features the latest in green museum technology and 264,000 square feet dedicated to modern and contemporary art, photography, architecture and design, and new museum education facilities. The Art Institute mounts more than 35 special exhibitions per year and features lectures, gallery tours, and special performances on a daily basis.
Terra Foundation for American Art
Since it was established in 1978, the Terra Foundation for American Art has been one of the leading foundations focused on the historical art of the United States. Headquartered in Chicago, it is committed to fostering exploration, understanding, and enjoyment of American art among national and international audiences. To further cross-cultural dialogue on American art, the foundation supports and collaborates on innovative exhibitions, research, publications, and educational programs. Recognizing the importance of experiencing original works of art firsthand, the foundation also provides opportunities for interaction and study through the presentation and ongoing development of its own art collection in Chicago. Implicit in such activities is the belief that art has the potential both to distinguish cultures and to unite them.