The American Century: Art and Culture, 1900-1950

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As the century draws to a close, America has become recognized as one of the most, if not the most, powerful artistic and cultural forces in the world. Why and how this came about, and the astonishing parade of artistic achievement that resulted, is the subject of this extraordinarily rich volume.
The American Century is the subject of a year-long exhibition at the Whitney Museum — the most comprehensive display of twentieth-century American art ever assembled, incorporating a ...

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New York 1999 Two (2) Volume Boxed Set New 0393047237. FLAWLESS COPY, BRAND NEW, PRISTINE, NEVER OPENED-Corresponds to ISBN: 0393047237-808 pages. "A slipcased set of the two ... American Century volumes, published in association with the Whitney Museum of American Art. The American Century is the subject of a year-long exhibition at the Whitney Museum--the most comprehensive display of twentieth-century American art ever assembled, incorporating a wide range of masterpieces from all sections of the country, by both familiar and lesser-known artists. Volume I, covering the first half of the century, is a history of American art as well as a permanent record of the Whitney show. Here fine arts achievements are seen as part of the larger culture that helped shape them--the art forms of film, dance, music, literature, photography, decorative arts, architecture, fashion, and industrial design. All are described and set in the context of political and social currents of the era in Barbara Haskell's rich and informa Read more Show Less

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Overview

As the century draws to a close, America has become recognized as one of the most, if not the most, powerful artistic and cultural forces in the world. Why and how this came about, and the astonishing parade of artistic achievement that resulted, is the subject of this extraordinarily rich volume.
The American Century is the subject of a year-long exhibition at the Whitney Museum — the most comprehensive display of twentieth-century American art ever assembled, incorporating a wide range of masterpieces from all sections of the country, by both familiar and lesser-known artists. This volume, covering the first half of the century, is a history of American art as well as a permanent record of the Whitney show. Here fine arts achievements are seen as part of the larger culture that helped shape them — the art forms of film, dance, music, literature, photography, decorative arts, architecture, fashion, and industrial design. All are described and set in the context of political and social currents of the era in Barbara Haskell's rich and informative text. Essays by noted experts in many fields illuminate developments in different areas of artistic endeavor while over 750 full-color and duotone illustrations give visual testimony to America's dominant role in the arts.

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Editorial Reviews

Christina Cho
This book is no less a product of such anxiety than the cultural artifacts discussed therein; in its grandiose ambition to incorporate as much as possible within its fold while assigning all things a logical place, The American Century is itself a testament to this country's compulsion to assemble the fragments of its past into cohesive form.
The New York Times Book Review
A B. P. Lever
If assigned the task of creating a museum exhibition that summed up America in the 20th century through its art, what media would you include? Painting, of course, and photography. Sculpture. Architecture. But what about the cinema? Industrial design? Music? Ceramics? Is there a role for examples from these disparate creative fields to play in such an exhibition?

Barbara Haskell, curator of "The American Century", which as the first part of two covers the years 1900-1950 and runs at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art through August 22 (Part II, which will cover the years 1950-2000, will be presented from September 26 through mid-February, 2000), would answer yes. This terrific new show includes all of the above plus magazine covers, political posters, hardbound books, furniture, sheet music, and many other evocative 20th-century artifacts intermingled among an astounding number of 20th-century American masterpieces from the likes of Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Steichen, Arthur G. Dove, Joseph Stella, Berenice Abbott, Archibald Motley Jr., and dozens more, and contextualized within the particular decade that yielded each of these treasures.

This deft blend of art, history, and popular culture offers a unique opportunity for museumgoers to experience familiar works (and many more that are not as familiar) in the context of the times in which they were created. While strolling the galleries devoted to the 1920s, we hear the music of George Gershwin. The 1930s gallery, with its film clips from the day's propagandistically upbeat musicals, reminds us of the financial hardships visited on the land by the Great Depression and how that catastrophic downturn colored the work of that era's painters and photographers. The darker, frenetic side of the postwar 1940s is illustrated by the bebop music of the day and the dark, cynical cinematic visions of the film noir genre.

Purists might argue that such popular culture artifacts don't belong in an art museum, that they are low culture crashing the high-art party, but "The American Century" presents a convincing argument to the contrary. Few of us live in an ivory tower; our life experiences are colored by — and reflected in — so many creative fields, high and low, and it serves the "high" art to surround it with the popular culture of its day.

The American Century , the accompanying catalogue to the Whitney exhibition, goes the show one better. It too is organized by decade, but the printed page allows for far more contextualization than even a carefully planned museum exhibition can provide. At nearly 400 pages, and with over 700 full-color and duotone illustrations, this handsome volume is a worthy expansion on the exhibit itself.

The book is organized into four main sections: "America in the Age of Confidence: 1900-1919," "Jazz Age America: 1920-1929," "America in Crisis: 1930-1939," and "War and Its Aftermath: 1940-1949." It includes dozens of essays of varying lengths on subjects as lofty as "Modernity and Urban America" and "Precisionism and the Machine Age," alongside such sidebar themes as "Early Modern Dance," "Black and White Popular Music in the Jazz Age," and "Theater in the 1930s."

Anyone whose interest is piqued by a visit to the Whitney will appreciate The American Century's expansive look at the same themes raised by the exhibition. And any art aficionado who is interested in the evolution of American art in the 20th century and the roles that the century's political and social movements have played in that evolution (or any history buff who's interested in the ways the arts have both reflected and fueled those same political and social changes), especially those who might not make it to the Whitney this summer, should consider this book a must-own.

— Brett Leveridge

Ann Prichard
[The American Century is] a sober and scholarly look at American art before some of its feistier manifestations, like pop- and op-art and photorealism. Barbara Haskell's book seems too inclusive to stir artistic umbrage.... In terms of style, the book is blessedly free of the jargon that mars much art criticism today. Haskell and most of the 22 experts who contributed essays write clearly and comprehensibly...it's impact on the reader is more academic than visual, so reading it is more important than looking at it.
USA Today
Library Journal
With this show--and the sister exhibition opening in September that will cover the second half of the century--the Whitney Museum of American Art aims to revitalize its mission. Will the museum emerge as the staid caretaker of a fixed canon or as a provocateur engaging the current scene and re-evaluating conventional history? This catalog would seem to indicate the former. Curator Haskell is to be commended above all for integrating the social context and cultural developments in a multitude of sidebars by more than 20 experts, and the book manages to bring together a large number of images without devolving into an old-favorites compendium. The problems are less overt. There is the vaguely textbookish tone--the gray writing lacks the flashes of wit and opinion to be found in Robert Hughes's American Visions LJ 5/1/97, for instance. An allegiance to the standard history leaves virtually no room to acknowledge art being produced outside New York or outside canonized movements. A silly, doctrinaire refusal to print non-American illustrations will leave neophytes wondering about the already too-scarce references to European and Asian influences in these years before the U.S. hegemony. An acceptable but disappointing entry, this will nonetheless be requested.--Eric Bryant, "Library Journal" Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Christina Cho
This book is no less a product of such anxiety than the cultural artifacts discussed therein; in its grandiose ambition to incorporate as much as possible within its fold while assigning all things a logical place, The American Century is itself a testament to this country's compulsion to assemble the fragments of its past into cohesive form.
The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393047233
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/1/1999
  • Pages: 408
  • Product dimensions: 9.80 (w) x 11.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara Haskell is curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She is the author of many books and catalogues, including works on Marsden Hartley, Milton Avery, Charles Demuth, and Donald Judd. She lives in New York City.

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Table of Contents

Foreword
The American Century: Art & Culture 1900-1950
America in the Age of Confidence: 1900-1919
Jazz Age America: 1920-1929
America in Crisis: 1930-1939
War and Its Aftermath: 1940-1949
Notes
Selected Bibliography
Notes on Contributors
Acknowledgments
Index
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