Published on September 30, 2008
Chapter 22 Between World Wars Dada Surrealism Destijl African-American Modernists Hannah Hoch, photomontage, High Finance, 1923
Dada Art Dadaism was a controversial and exciting movement. Dadaism grew out of the earlier Cubism movement and it used collage and photomontage techniques. Many Dada works were overtly political. Dada was a European precursor to Surrealism and included artist Marcel Duchamp. The Dadaist movement extended to both visual art and literature. It was an anti-movement born in the second decade of the 20th century and affected by the disillusionment after World War I. Dadaism was out to shock, to shake up conventions, to be anti-art, to question the very definitions of art. Man Ray, Ambivalence of Senses Magritte, Treachery of Images, 1928
Marcel Duchamp The most famous example of dada is Duchamp's entry into the 1917 Society of Independent Artists exhibition in New York - a 'found' urinal displayed with his pseudonym of "R Mutt." Duchamp was way ahead of his time, and is considered the first exponent of conceptual art, a movement of the late 20th century. Dada expressed itself in the forms of collage and sculpture. Bicycle, 1913 Fountain, 1917
Dada Artists Hannah Hoch, Sea Serpent, 1937 Jean Arp, Cloud Shepherd, 1953 Man Ray,Violin, 1951
Surrealism The artistic style of surrealism began as an official movement shortly after the end of the first world war. Some of the members of Dada went on to create the Surrealistic movement of the 1920's, which was also a literary movement in Europe. Surrealistic painters had wildly divergent styles, but some of the elements they had in common were: the effect of the subconscious and dreams in art; the importance of the element of chance in art; the idea of an absolute, or 'super-reality' in art. The most famous exponent of Surrealism was Salvador Dali; other Surrealists were Joan Miro, Max Ernst, and Rene Magritte. The surrealists admired the artwork of the insane for its freedom of expression as well as artworks created by children. In addition, they looked for inspiration from masters of the Renaissance such as Hieronymous Bosch and Pieter Brueghel, whose fantastic elements can easily be described as surreal. The word "surreal", in fact, means "above reality". In other words, the artists believed that there was an element of truth which is revealed by our subconscious minds which supersedes the reality of our everyday consciousness.
Salvador Dali (Spanish, 1904-1989) Dali was very prolific throughout his life, creating hundreds of paintings, prints, and even sculptures. He also produced surrealist films, illustrated books, handcrafted jewelry, created theatrical sets and costumes. His frequently odd and shocking behaviors also contributed to his fame. There is no doubt that he thought much of himself, as he titled his autobiography "Diary of a Genius". Despite his shameless self-promotion, the meticulous draftsmanship and realistic detail of his paintings ranks him as a master, whose subject matter makes him a great modern painter.
Salvador Dali is, without doubt, the most famous member of the surrealist group. His painting, The Persistence of Memory almost stands alone as a symbol of the movement. The melted clocks represent the strange warping of time which occurs when we enter the dream state. The stretched image of a man's face which is at the center of the painting is believed to be that of Dali himself, and the landscape which stretches out behind the scene may perhaps represent his birthplace, Catalonia. Dali's painting of Sleep is also successful in its suggestion of the precarious balance of sleep. We realize that if a single crutch were to fall, the dreamer will awake. Persistence of Memory 1931 Sleep 1937
Dali frequently made reference to themes which have been repeated throughout the history of art. In, The Metamorphosis of Narcissus (1937), Dali plays on the classical theme about a beautiful young man who admires his own reflection in a pool of water. Transfixed by his own beauty, he turns to stone. Always the master of illusion, Dali creates a double-image, where the boy's form is repeated as an enlarged hand holding an egg which bursts forth with a narcissus flower.
The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1969) is perhaps Dali's most successful painting involving multiple hidden images. A complete analysis of the painting would be a complex undertaking. It primarily focuses on the toreador (bull-fighter), whose face is hidden within the repeated representation of the Venus de Milo. The upper portion of the painting contains the bull-fighter's arena, again surrounded by multiple images of the goddess. There is also a hidden image of the bull in the lower left quadrant of the painting drinking water from a pool and an image of a boy, possibly a self-portrait of Dali as a child.
The Crucifixion is another powerful painting. The innovation of a floating cross which intersects Christ's body gives an illusion of another dimension. A shocking aspect of this painting is that the representation is believed to be a self-portrait. The single figure who stands in adoration is believed to be that of Dali’s wife, Gala who often appeared in his paintings.
Rene Magritte (Belgian, 1898-1967 ) Another member of the surrealist group whose works have become synonymous with the movement was Rene Magritte. This Belgian artist's temperament was opposite to that of the flaming eccentricity of Dali. He lived a quiet and "normal" life, married only one woman, and was very much a middle-class working man. Though connected to the movement, he separated himself from any the less provincial activities - preferring to work at home in his dining-room. Despite his seeming normal lifestyle, his works are extraordinary in their sense of fantasy and surreal reality.
The Lovers (1928), below, may be a visual depiction of the idea that "love is blind". Many interpret it as the mystery that veils our understanding of a lover, who is never completely known to us. Collective Invention (1934), above, may be a play on the image of a mermaid. If a woman can have fins for legs, why not an inverted version?
Magritte constantly challenged our preconceptions about reality. His works contain extraordinary juxtapositions of ordinary objects or an unusual context that gives new meaning to familiar things. He often used the window frame as a suggestion of the illusion of our senses, for a painting in itself has been traditionally used as a window on some other world- as if we could look through the flat surface of a canvas to a three dimensional reality. The idea of a man looking into a mirror to see the back of his own head also plays upon our normal expectations Portrait of Edward James 1937
By altering the scale of objects in his paintings, Magritte's work gives an immediate sense of surreal absurdity. Everyday objects become magical in his painting, Personal Values (1951), right. In Golconde (1953), left, Magritte paints himself in endless repetition. In trench coat and bowler cap, he becomes a symbol for "everyman", perhaps commenting on the anonymity of city life.
Magritte constantly challenges our sense of time and space. In Carte Blanch (1965), left, he manipulates the space so that we have an illusion of a woman and horse who are simultaneously in front of and hidden by trees even hidden behind the empty space between trees. Empire of the Lights (1954), right, is more subtle in its playfulness. It may take a moment for viewers to realize that the daytime sky does not fit the lighting situation of the night scene below.
Max Ernst (German, 1891-1976) Max Ernst was one of the founding members of surrealism, who had previously been linked to the dada movement. Born in Germany, he practiced mainly in France, and fled Europe during the occupation of the Nazis as did Dali and many other artists throughout Europe. During his career, he invented several methods which were instrumental to the surrealists. One new method he explored was "frottage", which involves making rubbings of textured surfaces, using the marks as chance starting points for an image. He also invented a similar technique called "decalcomania", which involved painting on glass and then pressing it directly onto the canvas to create a texture. This allowed his subconscious mind to see into the random pattern, thus creating images directly from his imagination, without any preconceived ideas. His paintings contain an element of magic, and sometimes terror.
Two Children Frightened By a Nightingale, left, is one of his most famous images and perhaps one of the first paintings to ever combine 3-D elements into the 2-dimensional space. The Temptation of St. Anthony, right, is yet another version of an image about the tortured saint. Created just after the end of WWII, it may be also be a comment about the monstrosities of war.
De Chirico Mystery of a Street, 1914 Love Song, 1914
Women Surrealists Though surrealist painters admired women to a degree of near-worship, they were seen more as a muse to their own creativity instead of creative masters in their own right. These two women were surrealists in every sense of the word, but were not an integral part of the surrealist movement. These women lived and worked in Mexico, though Kahlo was the only one who was born there. The others escaped from Nazi occupation throughout Europe by traveling to Mexico. These women and several other artists began a small surrealist movement. Their work continues to influence modern painters in Mexico who work in a fantasy. Frida Kahlo Lenora Carrington
Leonora Carrington (English, b. 1917) Born in England to a wealthy family, Leonora learned at a very early age the injustice of society. She paints surreal visions combining mythological stories and childhood fantasies. She also wrote incredible, surrealist stories which later become published and achieved critical acclaim. She also befriends Edward James, the eccentric English millionaire who collected her art. She is more famous in Mexico than in America or Europe. Guardian 1950 Self portrait 1936
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) Kahlo's art looked inward, to intensely personal expressions. This was largely due to physical ailments which caused her great pain throughout her life. Frida was the daughter of a Mexican-Indian mother and a German father. At age 6, she was stricken with polio, which caused her right leg to shrivel. When she was 18, she was involved in a serious bus accident which left her with a broken spinal column, collarbone, ribs, pelvis, and 11 fractures in her right leg. In addition her right foot was dislocated and crushed and her shoulder was out of joint. For months, Frida was forced to stay flat on her back encased in a plaster cast. She began painting shortly after the accident because she was bored in bed. The Broken Column 1944
Tree of Hope 1946 Little Deer 1946 Frida's recovery was miraculous, and she regained her ability to walk. However, she had frequent relapses of pain all throughout her life, which caused her to be hospitalized for long periods of time. Her images focus on representations of herself, pictures of her physical pain, emotional longing, and her felt connection to the natural world. Roots 1946
Diego Rivera (1886-l957) The marriage of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo is one of the most famous alliances between artists. It is a well-known fact that they had a passionate and stormy relationship, filled with great love and also betrayals. They both had incredible talent and vision, but Diego's work would be more public and monumental, whereas Frida's was more personal and intimate in scale. Rivera was influenced by post-impressionism and cubism. He became especially fascinated with Picasso's cubist works. After some cubist experiments of his own, he became disenchanted with the elitist art world. In 1920, he went to Italy to study Renaissance art . The Architect, 1915, left Maternity, 1916, right
When he returned to Mexico, Rivera quickly rediscovered his roots. He decided that he wanted to create paintings which would speak directly to the common people. Active in the socialist revolution in Mexico, he felt that art could play a part in this by educating the Mexicans about their history. His public murals illustrate Hispanic culture's proud pre-Columbian past, their conquest by the Spanish, the conversion from their native religion to Catholicism, the submission of the working class by agricultural tyrannies, and the Mexican Revolution. The Aztec World, fresco, 1929-35
In addition to images about Mexico's history and revolution, Diego loved to paint ordinary Mexican life in smaller paintings. In these, he continues to use very bright colors and simplified compositions. Common subjects in his paintings were: the earth, the farmer and the laborer. Flower day 1925 Flower carrier 1935
In 1932, Diego comes to America to complete a commission for Edsel Ford. The commissioned murals are created in the garden Court of the Detroit Institute of Art, illustrating the work force of the Ford auto factory. It is quite ironic that Rivera, a communist, would create a mural for the greatest industrialist of the age, but the murals are subtly infused with his own ideologies. Rivera sees the Industrial Revolution as a liberator of the laborer. All of the workers in his paintings work together like cogs of a great machine, no one serving a greater role than any other. Above the murals, he creates more allegorical images relating to the power of the people, combining images of Caucasian, Oriental, Hispanic and African figures. Industrialization, he felt, would equalize the races as well as the social classes.
Rivera's next mural was created in the Rockefeller Center in New York City. It would have a more controversial history. "Man at the Crossroads“(1934) mural was deemed successful and acceptable, Nelson Rockefeller asks Rivera to replace the face of Lenin (the communist leader) with that of an anonymous individual. Rivera offers to substitute Abraham Lincoln and other 19th century American figures for a group opposite Lenin. Unable to come to a satisfactory compromise, Rivera is discharged from the commission. The mural is destroyed. In 1934, Rivera reproduces a smaller version of the mural on a wall at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City.
De Stijl – The Style An Art movement advocating pure abstraction and simplicity — form reduced to the rectangle and other geometric shapes. Color reduced to the primary colors with black and white. Piet Mondrian (Dutch, 1872-1944) was the group's leading figure. He published a manifesto titled Neo-Plasticism in 1920. Another member, painter Theo van Doesberg (Dutch, 1883-1931) had started a journal named De Stijl in 1917, which continued until 1928 spreading the theories of the group which also included the Gerrit Rietveld (Dutch, 1888-1965). Their work exerted tremendous influence on the Bauhaus and the International Style. Rietveld, Schroder House, 1925, Netherlands
Piet Mondrian (Dutch, 1872-1944) Composition 2, 1925 Iris, 1908 Trees, 1912 Composition, 1921
Theo van Doesberg (Dutch, 1883-1931)
Guernica, 1937 Guernica a huge canvas more than 25 feet long is painted in somber blacks, blue-blacks, whites, and grays. A large triangle embedded under the smaller shapes holds the whole scene of chaotic destruction together as a unified composition. It combines Cubism’s restructuring of form with the emotional intensity of Expressionism. Symbolism is a key factor in this painting. The horse is dying in anguish, beneath its feet a soldier lies in pieces, near his sword a faint flower suggests hope. The eye like shape with an electric light bulb at the center represents the eye of God from medieval churches. The woman holding the lamp can signify a ray of light or hope.
Max Beckman Carnival, self-portrait with wife, 1921 Galleria Umberto, 1929
African-American Modernists Between 1920-1930 an unprecedented outburst of creative activity among African-Americans occurred in all fields of art. This African-American cultural movement became known as the Harlem Renaissance. Harlem attracted a prosperous and stylish black middle class from which sprang an extraordinary artistic center. Like avant-garde movements in Europe, it embraced all art-forms including music, dance, film, theatre and cabaret. Harlem nightlife, with its dance halls and jazz bands, featured prominently in the work of these artists. More than a literary movement and more than a social revolt against racism, the Harlem Renaissance exalted the unique culture of African-Americans and redefined African-American expression. Aaron Douglas, Idylls of the Deep South, 1934
Aaron Douglas (1898-1979) A Harlem Renaissance artist whose work best exemplified the 'New Negro' philosophy. He painted murals for public buildings and produced illustrations and cover designs for many black publications including The Crisis and Opportunity. In 1940 he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he founded the Art Department at Fisk University and taught for twenty nine years. study for God's Trombones
Douglas painted under a WPA sponsorship for the 135th Street branch of the New York Public Library in Harlem (now the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture). The four-panel series Aspects of Negro Life tracks the journey of African Americans from freedom in Africa to enslavement in the United States and from liberation after the Civil War to life in the modern city. In this study for the first panel, a man and woman in Africa dance to the beat of drums as concentric circles of light emphasize the heat and rhythm of their movements. A sculpture floating in a central circle above the dancers' heads suggests the importance of spirits in African culture. Song of the Towers represents the African-Americans' climb from slavery to self-emancipation in the cities of America.
Jacob Lawrence Lawrence was the first American artist of African descent to receive sustained mainstream recognition in the United States. His success came early and lasted almost uninterrupted until his death in June 2000. His renown is mostly in his "Migration" series, in which he documents the migration of blacks from Africa to America, focusing mostly on their history in the South. In the last ten years of his life, he received numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Arts and more than eighteen honorary post-doctorate degrees.
Romare Bearden Romare Bearden can best be described as a "descendent" of the Harlem Renaissance, for the majority of his works were created a couple of decades after the movement had ended. His paintings, collages and prints celebrate black history, music (jazz primarily an invention of black musicians), and black lifestyles. Bright colors, unusual spatial compositions, and a jubilant attitude frequently occupy his works.
The American Scene Early 20th Century American Regionalists and American Realism Throughout the 1930s and into the early 1950s, many American artists sought an indigenous style of realism that would embody the values of ordinary people in the everyday working world. This search for a national style of art grew out of a wariness of European abstraction and a tendency toward isolationism following World War I. In the wake of severe economic uncertainty, social upheaval, and the political shifts that followed the disastrous Great Depression, American artists maintained a commitment to projecting a very personal view. Intent on shunning the influence of European artists and instruction, these artists struggled to establish and maintain their own identity. Much of this work, especially that's now known as Social Realism and Regionalism, falls within the larger movement known as Modern American Art. Georgia O'Keefe, Iris
Right, Andrew Wyeth, "Christina's World", 1948 Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1947
Thomas Hart Benton: "Lonesome Road", 1927 Above, Thomas Hart-Benton "Romance", 1932
Above, Edward Hopper, The Nighthawks Edward Hopper, Rooms By The Sea, 1951
Norman Rockwell, "New Kids in the Neighborhood", 1967
American Abstraction Charles Burchfield Noontide, 1917 November Sun Emergence
Arthur Dove Above, Fields of Grain Seen From the Train, 1931 Silver Sun, 1929
Georgia O'Keefe Red Flower, 1919 Music, Pink and Blue Oriental Poppies, 1927 Tree Pelvis 1, 1944 Rock O’Keefe’s work from the time of WW1 was innovative, consisting mostly of abstractions based on nature.
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