At the Dawn of a New Age: Early Twentieth-Century American Modernism showcases art produced between 1900 and 1930 by well-known American modernists and their now largely forgotten, but equally groundbreaking peers. Drawn primarily from the Whitney’s permanent collection, it provides new perspectives on the myriad ways American artists used nonrepresentational styles developed in Europe to express their subjective responses to the realities of the modern age.
America’s early modernists came of age during a time when the country’s predominant mood was one of youthful confidence. Racial violence and social and economic injustices existed, but so too did insurgency and social reform. American technological and engineering ingenuity had made the country the world’s largest industrial power at the same time that political Progressivism and cultural shifts such as women’s suffrage had upended bourgeois codes of respectability. The combination gave rise to an excitement about an era that critic Walter Lippmann characterized as “bursting with new ideas, new plans, and new hopes.”
Against this backdrop, large numbers of American artists embraced the new over the traditional and fixed by rejecting realistic depictions of the world in favor of art that prioritized emotional experience and harmonious design. The results were largely ignored by the Whitney Museum, whose loyalty was to the urban realists who formed the core of the Whitney Studio Club, out of which the Museum had grown. A handful of non-representational works were acquired when the museum was founded in 1930 and more were added in subsequent decades, but it was not until the mid-1970s that the museum vigorously began to acquire vanguard art made between 1900 and 1930. While extensive, these acquisitions largely excluded work by women and artists of color. The Whitney had already begun rectifying these biases, but in anticipation of the opening of At the Dawn, it added more works by these artists to the collection. The result is an exhibition that recasts the story of American art by celebrating the mood of optimistic excitement with which American artists embraced modern styles and illuminates the complexity and diversity that are at the heart of the American experience.
This exhibition is organized by Barbara Haskell, Curator.
Generous support for At the Dawn of a New Age: Early Twentieth-Century American Modernism is provided by the Barbara Haskell American Fellows Legacy Fund.
Significant support is provided by Amy and David Abrams; Laurie M. Tisch; and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.
Additional support is provided by Alturas Foundation, Cheryl and Blair Effron, Bernard Goldberg, the Judy and Stanley Katz Family Foundation, Michele Mirman, Garrett Moran and Mary Penniman Moran, Ted and Mary Jo Shen, Marica and Jan Vilcek, and Robin and Marc Wolpow.