When most of us think about the roaring twenties, we envision scenes of flappers cutting loose on the dance floor, bustling cities filling with new cars and buildings scraping the sky, Prohibition and citizens fighting for their rights. Right? Well, the interesting thing about Youth and Beauty, now on view, is the exhibition shows us that our visions of the decade ran counter to the twenties that artists chose to describe. As the exhibition’s curator, Terry Carbone, writes in the opening didactic:
In the new realism that typified American art of the decade, liberated modern bodies resonate with classical ideals, the teeming modern city is rendered empty and silent, and still life is pared to an essentialized clarity.
In creating an in-gallery interactive, the challenge was finding an activity that would highlight the disparity between what we’ve come to associate with decade and the idealized vision created by its artists.
The resulting interactive uses the Google Images API as a way to show what’s in the popular imagination of four themes related to the show. A visitor searches for imagery on a theme and is asked to select an image from Google’s results; the selected image is displayed along side a related work from the exhibition and the interactive explores how the popular imagery delivered via Google differs from the artists’ depiction.
Given this is a live search, the results are not always perfectly accurate to the time period, but they are pretty close. We’ve also tweaked it a bit to help the results gain a little more accuracy; turning on Google’s “safe search” and displaying only black and white imagery. The interactive runs on four iPads in the gallery where the devices are embedded into a popular culture timeline in the exhibition. You can also play with it on the web.