GAINESVILLE, FL.- The Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art
at the University of Florida presents an exhibition that reflects a transformative moment in photographic history during the tumultuous interwar years. On view from October 9, 2012 through January 6, 2013, The Modern Impulse: Photography from Europe and America Between the Wars explores how the newly portable 35 mm camera was celebrated as an instrument of poetry, analysis, and social change. Covering the years between 1918 and 1945, the exhibition highlights over 40 artists who expanded the new medium and changed the way we perceive the world. Celebrating technology while embracing spontaneity and improvisation, these artists captured the spirit, vitality and invention of a new age.
The Modern Impulse showcases more than 135 photographs, books, illustrated magazines and films drawn from four regions that were among the eras most prominent centers of photographic innovation France and the Czech Republic in Europe, and New York and California in the United States. Artists featured in The Modern Impulse include such innovative talents as Berenice Abbott, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Imogen Cunningham, Frantiek Drtikol, Walker Evans, André Kertész, Helen Levitt, Josef Sudek, and Jaroslav Rössler.
Photographers from both sides of the Atlantic, caught the fleeting moments of everyday life, focusing on cities, street life and the contours of industrial and natural forms. Their work ranged from abstraction to realism and was influenced by artistic movements such as Surrealism, Constructivism and New Objectivity along with creative approaches to documentary and reportage, said exhibition curator Kerry Oliver-Smith, curator of contemporary art at the Harn Museum of Art. Broadly, the work reflects what artist and theorist László Moholy-Nagy (18951946) described as a new vision, a perspective that emerged from the technical culture of the 20th century, incorporating a multitude of unconventional forms and techniques such as unusual cropping and camera angles, high contrast and photomontage in both experimental and straight photography.
The Modern Impulse offers a window into one of the most artistically fertile periods in the history of photography, said Rebecca Nagy, director of the Harn Museum of Art. Were delighted to share a remarkable exhibition that meaningfully contributes to a greater understanding of 20th century visual culture.
The works displayed in the exhibition are organized by the following five thematic areas, which reflect the diversity of production and expression under the new vision movement:
Art and Technology: New Vision and the Modern City
Responding to the new urbanism of the 1920s, photographers in Europe and America reflected the aesthetics of the new vision in metropolitan landscapes, creating groundbreaking work that emphasized the abstract forms, geometry, and formal rhythms of city life and industrial production. Berenice Abbotts photographs of New York City skyscrapers are iconic examples of this approach, which was also adopted by artists such as Alma Lavenson and Peter Stackpole in California and Josef Ehm in the Czech Republic.
Pure Photography and New Objectivity
Seeking an objective realism that pinpointed the essence of pure form, photographers like Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, and Ansel Adams formed the Group f.64referencing an aperture that renders clear and precise representation. They advocated the use of modernist principles to capture the contours and textures of organic and industrial subjects. Their works are notable for the use of close-ups, cropping, and flattening to deemphasize contextual surroundings and focus instead on textural details and form.
Dreams, Memory, and Desire: Surrealism in France and the Czech Republic
During the interwar period, artists such as Brassaď, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and André Kertész connected the ordinary and the fantastic, the real and the surreal. They saw the city as a labyrinth of ephemeral moments, obscure places, forgotten objects, and marginal people linking to a deeper mystery behind ordinary appearances. This style was especially prevalent in the Czech Republic, where Jaroslav Rösler, Eugen Wikovsky and others carried on the Surrealist project beyond the parameters of the two World Wars.
Social Activism and Modern Life: Documentary and Reportage
In the 1930s, economic turmoil and political extremism on both sides of the Atlantic inspired many photographers to use the camera as a tool for activism, uniting modernist aesthetics with progressive ideas. American artists like Walker Evans, Marion Post Wolcott, Paul Strand, and Weegee captured the social hardships of the Great Depression, often with support from Franklin Delano Roosevelts Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Farm Security Administration (FSA).
Mass Media: Photography for the Public
The increasing recognition of photography as a new 20th century art form was accompanied by an explosion in the mass distribution of photographic images in the interwar period in magazines such as Life, Look, Vanity Fair, and Harpers Bazaar, as well as Vu, Minataure, and De Stijl in Europe. These publications introduced new styles of photography to American and European readers, and gave artists a commercial platform on which to establish themselves. Books, magazines and films from this period are on view.