At the Dawn of a New Age: Early Twentieth-Century American Modernism

May 7, 2022–Feb 26, 2023

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.


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Marguerite Zorach


Born 1887 in Santa Rosa, CA
Died 1968 in Brooklyn, NY

Marguerite Zorach (née Thompson) traveled to Paris in the fall of 1908 and quickly began uniting Fauvist color and compressed space with the cloisonnisme technique, pioneered by Paul Gauguin, of delineating areas of color with dark outlines. Her bold art caught the attention of American painter William Finkelstein while the two were studying at the Académie de La Palette. A relationship ensued, and the two married in New York in 1912, choosing the last name “Zorach” (William’s given first name). Both had work included in the Armory show, which opened a few months after their arrival in the city. Marguerite, inspired by the thirteen Henri Matisse paintings on view, inaugurated a series of sinuous, brilliantly colored Arcadian landscapes that recalled the French artist’s nudes. She retained this style and subject matter through 1916, when the predominance of Cubism in New York—following the arrival of the French Cubists Albert Gleizes, Marcel Duchamp, and Francis Picabia—led her to adopt a more somber palette, fractured vocabulary, and densely packed pictorial space. By then, faced with raising two children, she increasingly devoted her energy to making “tapestry paintings” using dyed wool. The works, along with commissioned rugs and bedspreads, generated income for the family but clouded the art establishment’s view of her work.

Landscape with Figures, c. 1913


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In the News

"We gain insight into the trailblazing careers of artists such as Henrietta Shore, Charles Duncan, Yun Gee, Manierre Dawson, Blanche Lazzell, Ben Benn, Isami Doi, and Albert Bloch, who have been left out of the leading narrative."—Forbes

"…una exposición que reformula la historia del arte estadounidense al recordar y celebrar el entusiasmo con el que los artistas de aquella época indagaron y adoptaron estilos modernos."—National Geographic Español

"…the show is a riot of colors, moods and styles, giving a sense of the heady experimentation at work as artists hewed out a distinctively American modernism."The Guardian

"…Pamela Colman Smith has been included in a new exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York highlighting many underappreciated artists of early 20th-century American modernism in addition to famous names like Georgia O'Keeffe and Louise Nevelson."CNN Style

"You are there, immersed in peaks and valleys of an effervescent day and age."New Yorker

"…this show looks at some of the artistic roots of the contemporary moment through more than 60 works made from 1900 to 1930."—New York Times

-…the exhibition is an opportunity to reassess and expand not only the Whitney’s collection but its take on a pivotal era of American art."—Wall Street Journal

"Dominating the show as we round out our tour is the realization of the innovative spirit and ingenuity that pervaded America."—Art & Antiques Magazine