Musical, artistic and literary timelines generally tend to progress autonomously, but on those rare occasions when they do intersect, it's obvious that a dramatic shift is imminent. One such instance occurred in 1910. Arnold Schoenberg's “Five Pieces for Orchestra” ushered in a new style of composition while Emma Goldman's “Anarchism and Other Essays” caused a scandal in the literary world.
In the visual arts, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque began experimenting with a new style that would come to be known as cubism. Over the next 50 years, the visual arts would splinter into styles ranging from synchromism and precisionism to expressionism and social realism.
An American view of those experiments is the focus of a new exhibit opening Thursday at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. “American Moderns, 1910–1960: From O'Keeffe to Rockwell” is a touring exhibit that shows how American artists explored new approaches to modernism.
Organized by the Brooklyn Museum, “American Moderns” features 53 paintings and four sculptures by leading artists of the era, including Georgia O'Keeffe, Milton Avery, Marsden Hartley, Stuart Davis, Arthur Dove, Rockwell Kent, Joseph Stella and Norman Rockwell.
“In spite of two world wars and the Great Depression, it's amazing to see the artistic creativity that took place in American Art,” said Alison Amick, curator of collections at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
The exhibit explores themes ranging from architecture and urban living to the sociological effects of alienation and the rise of female independence. Even traditional forms such as landscapes and still lifes found new expression as artists re-examined how they approached line, color and space.
Advances in technology also had a dramatic effect on the visual arts. Artists seeking new ways to make their work relevant rejected or reformulated artistic traditions. Realistic landscapes and portraiture gave way to contemporary works with new aesthetic possibilities.
“During this time, American artists traveled abroad where they were exposed to new artistic trends,” Amick said. “When the political climate began to change overseas, many European artists came to the U.S. That's reflected in the diversity of styles and themes in this exhibit.”
Instead of being arranged chronologically, the exhibit is organized by theme, from cubist works and modern structures to views of nature and the portrayal of human encounters. And while the collection is not large, it provides viewers with a sampling of the changes occurring in art during that 50-year span.
“The Oklahoma City Museum of Art also has works by many of the same artists featured in this exhibit,” Amick said. “So this ‘American Moderns' exhibit really expands on our own collection. Together, they offer a nice sampling of what was occurring in American art.
“We've also planned some musical performances inspired by the ‘American Moderns' exhibit. They're part of the Arts Council of Oklahoma City's Art Moves program that is presented by Devon Energy. And September is college month so students will be offered free admission.”