‘This Transitional Age In Art’, Modernism and American Art Discussed

painting of a woman dressed with a yellow vest in a yellow room i 'The Yellow Room' (detail), about 1910, Frederick Carl Frieseke (American, 1874–1939), 81.28 x 80.96 cm (32 x 31 7/8 in.), Oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Reflecting on the 1913 Armory Show, painter and exhibition organiser Jerome Myers noted its disorienting effect on American artists: ‘in the swirling medley of art on parade…more than ever before we had become provincials’. The American artist was not the only figure seemingly made provincial by the dramatic processes of modernisation and modernism in the decades around 1900. Changes in institutions, exhibitions, and transatlantic networks created a complex map of insiders and outsiders, with new divisions drawn between traditional and modern, urban and rural, American and European, high and low, the wider public and the enlightened few. Recent scholarship has productively disputed the older narrative of the Armory Show as the signal event introducing modernism to an unprepared America. And yet, the arrival of European modernism in the United States, through the Armory Show and other events, was significant in many ways, not only for artists, but perhaps most profoundly for the public, consumers and the wider American art world.

This one-day workshop presents a selection of invited papers on the origins and impacts of modernism in American art and visual culture. It examines figures who welcomed or helped instigate dramatic changes, as well those who resisted or were sceptical of modernism’s claims to originality or cultural value. Bringing together a variety of perspectives and research areas across the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the workshop will grapple with central questions regarding what The Century called ‘this transitional age in art’. How did modernisation and modernism redraw existing relationships between cultural centers and their peripheries? What new ‘provincials’–cultural, discursive, geographic, or otherwise–did modernism create? Is it still helpful to consider modernism as a conscious break with tradition and convention? Or should we understand it as a continuation of far-reaching changes back to the nineteenth century? What was American modernism’s relationship to other modernisms, and was there a reciprocal relationship of international cultural exchange? Was a self-conscious position on the margins of culture a productive one for American artists or for modernists generally–and did this change with transformations within the art world?

The workshop will feature papers by John Fagg (University of Birmingham), Mary Anne Goley (Founding Director, Fine Arts Program, Federal Reserve Board), Ashley Lazevnick (Washington and Lee), and Emily Warner (UCL).


09.45: Registration

10:15-10:30: Opening remarks

10:30-11:20: Mary Anne Goley (Founding Director, Fine Arts Program, Federal Reserve Board), ‘John White Alexander on the Threshold of Modernity’

11:20-12:00: John Fagg (Birmingham), ‘American Modernism and American Humour’

12:00-13:00: Lunch (provided for speakers only)

13:00-13:40: Emily Warner (UCL), ‘The Armory Show and Stuart Davis’

13:40-14:20: Ashley Lazevnick (Washington and Lee), ‘Fantasies of Precision in American Modern Art and Visual Culture’

14:20-14:50: Coffee break

14:50-16:00: Panel discussion

16:00-17:00: Wine reception

This event has passed.

22 Jun 2019

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Vernon Square, Penton Rise, King’s Cross, London