Ex­hibit sketches Amer­i­can art’s road to Mod­ernism

Shanghai Daily - - WHAT’S ON - Wang Jie

THE ex­trav­a­gance and au­dac­ity of Amer­i­can art may be familiar to lo­cal art lovers, but in fact, the style has taken a long time to fully ma­ture.

“Path­ways to Mod­ernism: Amer­i­can Art, 1865-1945” is on show at Shang­hai Mu­seum. Vis­i­tors get a rich pre­lude to the Amer­i­can art of the post-war pe­riod through 80 paint­ings and prints, from a cru­cial time in the his­tory of the United States dur­ing which the coun­try evolved from an agrar­ian so­ci­ety into an in­dus­tri­al­ized na­tion.

The ex­hi­bi­tion is di­vided into nine sec­tions: Af­ter­math of the Civil War, The Mod­ern West, Look­ing East, Cos­mopoli­tanism, Self-por­trai­ture, Ur­ban Ex­pe­ri­ence, Rad­i­cal Ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, Amer­i­can Scene and New Di­rec­tion.

Works on dis­play in­clude some cre­ated by heavy­weight names such as Jackson Pol­lock (1912-1956), Ed­ward Hop­per (18821967) and Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe (1887-1986).

The high­light of the ex­hi­bi­tion is prob­a­bly Ed­ward Hop­per’s “Nighthawks.” It is per­haps Hop­per’s best-known work and is one of the most rec­og­niz­able paint­ings of all time.

“Nighthawks” de­picts an all-night din­ner in which three cus­tomers, all lost in their own thoughts, have con­gre­gated to stare into obliv­ion.

Flu­o­res­cent lights had just come into use in the early 1940s, and the all-night din­ner emits an eerie glow.

The artist elim­i­nated any ref­er­ence to an en­trance, and the viewer, drawn to the light, is shut out from the scene by a seam­less cur­tain of glass. The four anony­mous and un­com­mu­nica­tive peo­ple are akin to four birds, as sep­a­rate and re­mote from one an­other as they are from the viewer.

Ed­ward Hop­per said that “Nighthawks” was in­spired by a “restau­rant on New York’s Green­wich Av­enue where two streets meet.”

But the im­age, with its care­fully con­structed com­po­si­tion and lack of nar­ra­tive, has a time­less qual­ity that tran­scends any par­tic­u­lar lo­cale.

“Nighthawks” has been widely ref­er­enced and par­o­died in pop­u­lar cul­ture. Ver­sions of it have ap­peared on posters, T-shirts and greet­ing cards as well as in comic books and ad­ver­tise­ments.

The rep­re­sen­ta­tive work re­ceives a spe­cial treat at the ex­hi­bi­tion, as a bench is placed in front of the paint­ing for the vis­i­tors to bet­ter in­spect the mas­ter­piece.

All the works in this ex­hi­bi­tion are on loan from the Art In­sti­tute of Chicago and Terra Foun­da­tion for Amer­i­can art.

The Art In­sti­tute of Chicago is one of the fore­most museums in the United States and con­tains some of the best­known Amer­i­can mod­ern art­works.

The Terra Foun­da­tion for Amer­i­can Arts is a pri­vate non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to sup­port­ing Amer­i­can aca­demic re­search, art ex­hi­bi­tions, projects, and pub­li­ca­tions world­wide.

Date: Through Jan­uary 6 (close on Mon­days) 9am-4pm

Venue: Shang­hai Mu­seum

Address: 201 Peo­ple’s Av­enue

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