Clark Lifts Lid on Major 20th Century Modernist Movement
Machine Age Modernism Exhibit At Clark Art Institute Captures Turmoil & Upheaval
The Clark Art Institute considers the history and politics that inspired many artists working during and between World Wars I and II in the exhibition Machine Age Modernism: Prints from the Daniel Cowin Collection. Influenced by such prewar movements as Futurism and Cubism, and using innovative techniques developed by artists associated with London’s Grosvenor School of Modern Art in the 1930s and 1940s, artists of the Machine Age defied aesthetic and technical conventions in order to convey the vitality of industrial society and changed printmaking in the process. Machine Age Modernism will be on view in the Clark Center February 28–May 17, 2015.
The first three decades of the twentieth century in Britain were a time of great civic and cultural change, ones that witnessed social and economic growth followed by depression, political turmoil, and vast technological advancement. Today known as the Machine Age, this was an era when industry and mechanization were embraced both economically and visually. New modes of communication and transportation—radios, trains, automobiles, airplanes—along with the rise of new building types such as the skyscraper transformed the landscape of the country. Amid the mass consumerism that emerged at this time, the fascination with all things mechanized ultimately gave rise to its seeming opposite: a desire for a return to craft and the hand-made.
Machine Age Modernism focuses largely on the linocut movement of the 1920s and 1930s championed by London’s Grosvenor School of Modern Art artist Claude Flight. The exhibition includes thirteen works by the school’s most accomplished and visually powerful linocut artist, Sybil Andrews. Andrews addressed two seemingly divergent themes in her prints: urban life and rural labor. Both subjects allowed Andrews to explore the common themes of all her linocuts: abstracted action, movement, and physical exertion. Sledgehammers (1933) exemplifies this pictorial combination.
Another type of physical exertion depicted by Andrews and contemporaries such as Lill Tschudi and Margaret Barnard was sport. In Britain between World War I and World War II, the state encouraged physical fitness not only for good health and as a leisure activity, but also to strengthen the country in the wake of losses sustained during World War I. The collective efforts depicted in Andrews’s Bringing in the Boat, Barnard’s The Rowers, and Tschudi’s Ice Hockey manifest a reverence for the teamwork required in certain sports to the exclusion of individuality. The activities they portrayed, both spectator and participatory—horse racing, motor biking, skiing—reflect a nation with both a rising middle class and more leisure time.
Another portion of the exhibition features two notable British printmakers, Edward Wadsworth and C.R.W. Nevinson, whose imagery focuses on the actions and aftermath of World War I. Both engaged in Britain’s military efforts during the Great War. Wadsworth initially interpreted photographs taken by reconnaissance floatplanes of the Royal Naval Air Service and later served as a port officer in Liverpool, where he oversaw the painting of camouflage designs on British ships. For a short time Nevinson was an ambulance driver and later contributed to a series of government-sponsored propaganda lithographs. Each in his own way visually chronicled the war’s impact on human lives and the landscape that surrounded them.
Machine Age Modernism is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with essays by Jonathan Black, a senior research fellow in the history of art at Kingston University in London, and Jay A. Clarke.
ABOUT THE CLARK
The Clark Art Institute is one of a small number of institutions globally that is both an art museum and a center for research, critical discussion, and higher education in the visual arts. Opened in 1955, the Clark houses exceptional European and American paintings and sculpture, extensive collections of master prints and drawings, English silver, and early photography. Acting as convener through its Research and Academic Program, the Clark gathers an international community of scholars to participate in a lively program of conferences, colloquia, and workshops on topics of vital importance to the visual arts. The Clark library, open to the public with more than 240,000 volumes, is one of the nation’s premier art history libraries. The Clark also houses and co-sponsors the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art.
The Clark is located at 225 South Street in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Galleries are open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm. Admission is $20; free year-round for Clark members, children 18 and younger, and students with valid ID. For more information, visit clarkart.edu or call 413-458-2303.
– Submitted by Sally Majewski
- Sybil Andrews (English, 1898–1992), Sledgehammers, 1933. Color linocut on paper,11 13/16 x 13 9/16 in. Daniel Cowin Collection © Glenbow, Calgary, 2014
- Sybil Andrews (English, 1898–1992), Bringing in the Boat, 1933. Color linocut on paper,14 9/16 x 12 3/16 in. Daniel Cowin Collection © Glenbow, Calgary, 2014