Exhibitions: American Moderns, 1910–1960: From O’Keeffe to Rockwell

Georgia O'Keeffe: 2 Yellow Leaves (Yellow Leaves)

Georgia O'Keeffe (American,1887–1986). 2 Yellow Leaves (Yellow Leaves), 1928. Oil on canvas, 40 x 30 1/8 in. (101.6 x 76.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Georgia O'Keeffe, 87.136.6

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American Moderns, 1910–1960: From O'Keeffe to Rockwell presents fifty-seven artworks from the collection of the Brooklyn Museum in an exploration of the myriad ways in which American artists engaged with modernity. Ranging widely in subject matter and style, the fifty-three paintings and four sculptures were produced by leading artists of the day, including Georgia O’Keeffe, Milton Avery, Marsden Hartley, Stuart Davis, Arthur Dove, Rockwell Kent, Joseph Stella, Elie Nadelman, and Norman Rockwell. Significant works by these and other artists in the exhibition exemplify their unique contributions to modern culture.

Between 1910 and 1960, both American society and art underwent tumultuous and far-reaching transformations. The United States emerged as an international power of economic, industrial, and military might, while also experiencing two world wars and the Great Depression. New technologies fundamentally changed the pace and nature of all aspects of modern life. America’s increasingly diverse and mobile population challenged old social patterns and clamored for the equality and opportunities promised by the American dream. Art witnessed similarly dramatic changes as many artists rejected or reformulated artistic traditions, seeking new ways to make their work relevant in a contemporary context.

The range of works in the exhibition provides the opportunity for a flexible installation of interpretive groupings by themes such as the city, the body, landscape, still life, and Americana. The American city was a common motif in art of this period as artists found new iconographic and aesthetic possibilities in the architectural forms and gridded geometries of the modern metropolis. Other works address the human experience of the city—the vast diversity of urban populations; the hustle and bustle of urban living; and the sociological effects of alienation, lack of privacy, and increasing female independence. Artists captured the nation’s self-confidence in heroic depictions of the muscled, active bodies of laborers who fueled the economy and of athletes who embodied the new cult of physicality.

The conventional artistic genres of landscape and still-life painting also enjoyed revitalization: both nature and everyday objects were the focus of creative experimentation with new styles, decorative compositions, and the formal properties of line, color, and space. In addition, the natural beauty of the seaside, rural locales, and the Southwest inspired many artists to explore universal and spiritual concerns. As a counterpoint to works that address the modern and the new, the exhibition includes images steeped in nostalgia, which evoke the past and simpler ways of life. This highly popular imagery fostered American nationalism and suggested the continuity of cherished traditions during times of war, economic depression, and social change.

Across these themes and iconographies, American Moderns investigates a wide array of artistic styles, including Cubism, Synchromism, Precisionism, Expressionism, and Social Realism. Cubism was particularly influential on modern American art and bred many individualized expressions and variations. Other artists remained committed to realism but took a pared-down, refined approach to their subjects, creating an aesthetic inspired by such diverse sources as folk art or the streamlined forms of the Machine Age.

The exhibition is organized by the Brooklyn Museum and co-curated by Karen Sherry, former Associate Curator of American Art, and Margaret Stenz, former Curatorial Associate, American Art.

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