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The Machine Age in America, 1918-1941

DATES October 17, 1986 through February 16, 1987
COLLECTIONS Decorative Arts
  • Summer 1986: The Machine Age in America 1918-1941 will offer the first comprehensive perspective in any medium of this critical period in American culture. Opening at The Brooklyn Museum October 17, 1986 and running through February 16, 1987, the pioneering exhibition will examine the impact of the machine as the defining force in American life during the years between the two great wars, a period that witnessed a dramatic transformation in American culture.

    Over 350 objects will provide a kaleidoscopic look at the image of the machine as it permeated all aspects of material culture -- from painting, sculpture, photography, architecture and the decorative arts to fashion and industrial design, to forms of transportation and communication.

    The exhibition will travel to the Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The High Museum of Art in Atlanta. The co-curators are Dianne H. Pilgrim, curator, Department of Decorative Arts, The Brooklyn Museum, and Richard Guy Wilson, professor, School of Architecture, University of Virginia. The exhibition is a natural outgrowth of The American Renaissance 1876-1917 that was co-curated by Ms. Pilgrim and Mr. Wilson under the auspices of The Brooklyn Museum in 1979.

    The exhibition has been made possible in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the J.M. Kaplan Fund.

    Accompanying the exhibition will be a 376 page book, The Machine Age in America 1918-1941 to be copublished by The Brooklyn Museum with Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Written by Mr. Wilson, Ms. Pilgrim and Dickran L. Tashjian, Professor of Comparative Culture and Social Science at the University of California at Irvine, the book provides a detailed analysis as well as a new perspective on the period. With 410 illustrations, the book features many of the objects in the exhibition.

    Whereas America’s rise to international prominence in art is normally dated from the end of World War II, The Machine Age poses the thesis that during the 1920s and the 1930s Americans developed an aesthetics of their own, based on the machine. During these years, artists and designers as well as the American public struggled to acknowledge, understand, accept and finally control a machine-driven world. Their success in doing so laid the foundation for American political, economic and artistic leadership in the 1940s and 1950s, and created a climate in which Europe looked to America for cultural inspiration for the first time.

    Represented in the exhibition are the paintings of Charles Sheeler, Reginald Marsh, Joseph Stella and Louis Lozowick; the sculpture of Alexander Archipenko, Alexander Calder, Man Ray, Theodore Roszack and Morton Schamberg; the photography of Margaret Bourke-White, Anton Bruehl, Alfred Steiglitz, Paul Strand and Edward Weston; the architecture of William Lescaze, Richard Neutra and Frank Lloyd Wright; and the contributions of industrial designers Norman Bel Geddes, Henry Dreyfuss, Raymond Loewy and Russel Wright.

    Images as diverse as Stuart Davis’ Swinq Landscape, Elsie Briggs’ Pittsburgh, Busby Berkeley’s dancers and Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, Donald Deskey’s table lamp, Cedric Gibbon’s Oscar statuette, Noguchi ‘s Portrait of R. Buckminster Fuller and Nathan George Horwitt’s “Beta” chair reflect technology’s permeation of culture from a variety of perspectives.

    With the emergence of industrial design as a profession, aesthetic standards came to be applied to machine-made products. New materials and machine-inspired shapes characterized works of the period. From the verticality and angular geometric patterns of the moderne or Art Deco style during the high-spirited 1920s -- as seen in Paul T. Frankl’s skyscraper-style desk/bookcase or Erik Magnussen’s “Cubic” coffee service--to the horizontal, streamlined format of the Depression era, as in Raymond Loewy’s sleek pencil sharpener, designers responded to the radical changes in American life wrought by the machine. Artists, designers and engineers harnessed both the new industrial materials--plastics, chrome, Formica and stainless steel--and the new processes for shaping and finishing those materials to create a revolutionary aesthetics.

    Although the art and culture of the period 1918-1941 have been examined in other contexts, treatment has tended to be fragmentary, focusing on individual styles and figures. The Machine Age in America 1918-1941 represents the first attempt to cut across categories of style by identifying the machine’s influence as the unifying feature of the era. In addition, it is the first exhibition to assess the objects of that era on their own merits, and not in terms of contemporary European work.

    Photographs and transparencies, as well as selected galleys of the text are available.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1971 - 1988. 1986, 037-40. View Original 1 . View Original 2 . View Original 3 . View Original 4
  • September 1986: American Works on Paper, 1918-1941 from The Brooklyn Museum Collection, a display of 79 prints, drawings and photographs selected from the Department of Prints and Drawings’ extensive holdings of American art from the first half of the century, opened September 19 at The Brooklyn Museum. The presentation has been organized to complement the Museum’s landmark exhibition The Machine Age in America 1918-1941 (October 17, 1986 - February 16, 1987), and will be on view in the newly renovated Prints and Drawings Galleries, located on the second floor, through December 1.

    American Works on Paper, 1918-1941
    illustrates through the work of 48 individual artists the New York scene during an era in urban America that witnessed the boom years of the 1920s, the Great Depression of the 1930s and the surge of industrial growth heralded by the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. And it adds a more personal and specific point of view to the sweeping scale of The Machine Age exhibition. Artists represented in the presentation include Joseph Albers, Milton Avery, Alexander Calder, Adolf Dehn, Edward Hopper, Louis Lozowick, John Mann, Reginald Marsh, Raphael Soyer, Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Weston, among others.

    The exhibition was selected and installed by Linda Konheim Kramer, Curator of Prints and Drawings at The Brooklyn Museum.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1971 - 1988. 1987, 125. View Original
  • Date unknown, 1986: PRESS PREVIEW TRANSPORTATION FROM MANHATTAN TO THE BROOKLYN MUSEUM AND RETURN, WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 15
    A special bus to transport members of the press to the preview of The Machine Age in America 1918-1941 will depart from in front of the Plaza Hotel promptly at 9:30 a.m., and return at 12 noon from The Brooklyn Museum to the same Manhattan location. To reserve seating on the bus, please call (718) 638-5000, ext. 330 by October 13.

    Date: Wednesday, October 15, 1986
    Time: 10 a.m. to 12 noon
    Location: Grand Lobby and adjacent galleries
    Exhibition Dates: October 17, 1986-February 16, 1987

    The first major museum exhibition to identify the machine in all of its many manifestations as the single unifying influence during the years between the two great wars, The Machine Age in America 1918-1941 is also the first exhibition to assess the arts of that era on their own merit and not in terms of European work. This pioneering presentation focusing on the machine as the defining force in American art and culture during this period, will include approximately 275 examples of painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, decorative arts, fashion, industrial design, transportation and communication. After its showing at The Brooklyn Museum it will travel to Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Atlanta.

    The exhibition has been made possible, in part, by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and The J.M. Kaplan Fund, Inc.

    Most notable among the works included in the exhibition are the paintings of Charles Sheeler, Joseph Stella, Louis Lozowick and Gerald Murphy; the sculpture of Alexander Archipenko, Alexander Calder, Man Ray, Theodore Roszak and Morton Schamberg; the photography of Margaret Bourke-White, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand and Edward Weston; the architecture of William Lescaze, Richard Neutra and Frank Lloyd Wright; as well as the contributions of industrial designers Norman Bel Geddes, Henry Dreyfuss, Raymond Loewy, Walter Dorwin Teague and Russel Wright.

    Refreshments will be served.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1971 - 1988. 1986, 077-78. View Original 1 . View Original 2
  • Date unknown, 1986: A pioneering exhibition focusing on the machine as the defining force in American art and culture during the years between the two great wars will open at The Brooklyn Museum on October 17. The Machine Age in America 1918-1941 is the first major museum exhibition to identify the machine in all of its many manifestations as the single unifying influence during this period, and also the first exhibition to assess the arts of that era on their own merit and not in terms of European work. The exhibition will include approximately 275 examples of painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, decorative arts, fashion, industrial design, transportation and communication. This important presentation, which will travel to Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Atlanta, will be on view in Brooklyn through Feburary 16, 1987.

    Most notable among the works included in the exhibition are the paintings of Charles Sheeler, Joseph Stella, Louis Lozowick and Gerald Murphy; the sculpture. of Alexander Archipenko, Alexander Calder, Man Ray, Theodore Roszak and Morton Schamberg; the photography of Margaret Bourke-White, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand and Edward Weston; the architecture of William Lescaze, Richard Neutra and Frank Lloyd Wright; as well as the contributions of industrial designers Norman Bel Geddes, Henry Dreyfuss, Raymond Loewy, Walter Dorwin Teague and Russel Wright.

    The exhibition has been made possible in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and The J.M. Kaplan Fund, Inc.

    During the period 1918-1941 a dramatic transformation took place in American culture. Machines were everywhere, and their products increasingly pervaded all aspects of American life. Artists, designers and the public struggled during those years to acknowledge, understand, accept and finally control their machine-driven world. The impact of machines went beyond their physical existence to challenge perceptions of both the self and the world. Out of this new consciousness arose a new culture in which history seemed irrelevant, and traditional styles and pieties outmoded. The machine in all its manifestations--as an object, a process, and ultimately a symbol--became the fundamental fact of modernism.

    The emergence of industrial design as a profession in the 1920s and 1930s led to the application of aesthetic standards to machine-made products. New materials and machine-inspired shapes characterized works of the period. From the verticality and angular geometric patterns of the moderne or Art Deco style of the 1920s--Paul T. Frankl’s skyscraper-style desk/bookcase or Erik Magnussen’s “Cubic” coffee service--to the horizontal, streamlined format of the Depression era--Raymond Loewy’s sleek pencil sharpener--designers responded to the radical changes in American life wrought by the machine. Artists, designers and engineers harnessed both the new industrial materials--plastics, chrome, Formica and stainless steel--and the new processes for shaping and finishing those materials to create a revolutionary modern aesthetic.

    The Machine Age in America 1918-1941
    has been organized by The Brooklyn Museum. Co-curators for the show are Dianne H. Pilgrim, Curator of Decorative Arts at The Brooklyn Museum, and Richard Guy Wilson, Professor, School of Architecture, University of Virginia. Assisting with the exhibition were Christopher Wilk, Assistant Curator of Decorative Arts at The Brooklyn Museum, and coordinator of the show, and Caroline Mortimer, research associate.

    After closing at The Brooklyn Museum, the exhibition will travel to the Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh (April 4-June 28, 1987); the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (August 16-October 18, 1987); and The High Museum of Art in Atlanta (December 1, 1987-February 14, 1988).

    The Machine Age in America 1918-1941 is accompanied by a 376-page scholarly book, with 410 illustrations ($24.95, softcover). It is co—published by The Brooklyn Museum and Harry N. Abrams, Inc., and contains essays by Mr. Wilson, Mrs. Pilgrim and Dickran L. Tashjian, Professor of Comparative Culture and Social Science at the University of California at Irvine. Also accompanying the exhibition are an illustrated brochure and a complete checklist.

    In conjunction with the exhibition the Museum’s Department of Public Programs has organized series of performances, tours, lectures, and films to take place throughout the course of the show. “Movies of the Machine Age,” a Sunday matinee film series featuring Hollywood classics, documentaries, cartoons and the most influential European films of the period will begin Sunday, October 19. A scholarly symposium will explore the intellectual, social and aesthetic issues raised by the exhibition on November 14 and 15. A concert series featuring jazz, blues, folk, and avant-garde music of the ‘20s and ‘30s will begin in November. “From Ragtime to Jazz,” a dance performance, will be held on January 11. Other programs will include: a seminar on design in the ‘20s and ‘30s; Art Deco walking tours, sponsored by the Art Deco Society; a bus tour of WPA mural paintings in Brooklyn; and gallery talks. For more information on these programs consult the Public Programs Brochure for The Machine Age, or call (718) 638-5000, ext. 232.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1971 - 1988. 1986, 079-81. View Original 1 . View Original 2 . View Original 3
  • Date unknown, 1987: In conjunction with its landmark exhibition The Machine Age in America 1918-1941, The Brooklyn Museum will offer an unusually extensive suite of performances, tours, lectures, and films that will take place throughout the course of the exhibition.

    “Movies of the Machine Age,” a Sunday matinee film series featuring Hollywood classics, documentaries, cartoons, newsreels, and the most influential European films of the period, will begin Sunday, October 19.

    On Saturday, November 1, many of the original performers from Superman and The Shadow will recreate a 1930’s sound stage performance of these two classic science fiction radio dramas. A concert series featuring jazz, blues, folk, and avant-garde music of the twenties and thirties will begin in November, and a dance performance called “From Ragtime to Jazz” will be held January 11.

    A scholarly symposium will explore the intellectual, social, and aesthetic issues raised by the exhibition on November 15 and 16.

    Other programs include a seminar on design in the twenties and thirties, Art Deco walking tours sponsored by the Art Deco Society, a bus tour of WPA mural paintings still extant in Brooklyn, and numerous gallery talks.

    For more information see the Machine Age programs brochure, or call (718) 638—5000, ext. 232.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1971 - 1988. 1987, 116. View Original
  • Date unknown, 1987: On the occasion of the exhibition The Machine Age in America 1918-1941, The Brooklyn Museum is pleased to present three concerts--avant garde, big band and swing, and folk and blues--and a dance performance celebrating the music and popular dance of the period between the two world wars.

    On Sunday, November 9 at 3 p.m., pianist Yvar Mikhashoff will perform a program of avant garde music, much of which was inspired by machines. The program includes works by Charles Ives, George Antheil, Henry Brant, James Sellars, Conlon Mancarrow, and Otto Luening. Mr. Luening will be on hand to discuss his work. Mr. Mikhashoff, who studied music at the Eastman and Juilliard Schools of Music, is known on three continents as an exponent of 20th century music and as a specialist in American music. A founder and director of the North American New Music Festival in Buffalo, Mr. Mikhashoff is an Associate Professor of Piano and Composition at the State University of New York. He has had compositions written for him by many composers, including John Cage, Lukas Foss, Henry Brant, and Conlon Nancarrow.

    Big band and swing fans will have the opportunity on Sunday, November 16 at 3 p.m. to hear some of the greatest musical talents of all time come together for an afternoon of the music of Basie, Goodman, Krupa, Ellington, and others. Wilbur "Buck” Clayton, famed trumpeter of the Count Basie band, will lead a big band including many musicians from the Count Basie orchestra. Among the more illustrious Basie alumni to perform will be the pioneer electric guitarist and trombonist Eddie Durham, one of the very first guitarists to play in a big band. In addition, one of the monumental trumpeters of the century, Roy Eldridge, who played in numerous big bands and who recorded extensively with both Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Holiday, will be on hand with his accomplished and infectiously humorous vocals.

    On Sunday, January 18 at 3 p.m., the legendary folk singer and lyricist Earl Robinson, known for his topical labor and protest songs, will perform the haunting ballads and forceful protest songs that came out of the Depression era, including his own classics “The Ballad of Joe Hill” and “The House I Live In”.

    Dance Through Time, the highly acclaimed West Coast-based dance troupe, brings to The Brooklyn Museum a program entitled “From Ragtime to Jazz” on Sunday, January 11 at 3 p.m. Led by artistic director and dance historian Carol Teten, Dance Through Time will perform a program of some of the most popular social dances of the years between the wars, including the Lindy Hop, the Charleston, the Shimmy, and others.

    For further information, call (718) 638-5000, ext.232.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1971 - 1988. 1987, 117. View Original
  • Date unknown, 1987: Beginning Sunday, October 19, The Brooklyn Museum will present a 12-part film series entitled “Movies of the Machine Age”. Organized in conjunction with the Museum’s landmark exhibition The Machine Age in America 1918-1941, the series includes feature films, cartoons, newsreels, and experimental works that reflect the rise of the American film industry in the 1920s and 30s and the thematic currents of the Machine Age. While the emphasis is on American movies, European films that had an impact on the history of American cinema will also be screened.

    The motion picture, itself the first art form born of the Machine Age, amply recorded and dramatized the impact of the machine on our culture. Speedy new transportation machines figure prominently in the “Movies of the Machine Age”, as seen in John Ford’s The Iron Horse and Raoul Walsh’s They Drive By Night. The moving rhythms and patterns of the urban cityscape intrigued many artists, photographers, and filmmakers; included in the series will be Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera, Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand’s Manhatta, Bryan Foy’s Lights of New York, and Ralph Steiner and Willard Van Dyck’s The City.

    Futuristic science fiction films that fed the escapist imaginations of Depression-weary moviegoers, will also be shown, including William Menzies’ Things to Come, George Méliès' A Trip to the Moon, and the Flash Gordon classic The Purple Death from Outer Space. The glories and hazards of the mechanized world are dramatized and satirized throughout the series, from landmark. films like Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to wacky cartoons such as Dave Fleisher’s Betty Boop’s Crazy Inventions and Chuck Jones’ Dog Gone Modern.

    Films are shown Sundays in the Museum’s Lecture Hall, third floor, at 3 p.m. Tickets, which go on sale on the third floor one-half hour before show time, are $3 for nonmembers, $2 for members and senior citizens, and $1 for students. Museum admission is not included. All programs are subject to change without notice.

    “Movies of the Machine Age” has been organized by Edward A. Aiken, Director, Joe and Emily Lowe Art Gallery, and Chairman, Museum Studies Department, Syracuse University, in conjunction with the Department of Public Programs and Media, The Brooklyn Museum. This film series is made possible, in part, by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency, and the J.M. Kaplan Fund, Inc.

    For further information, call The Brooklyn Museum’s Department of Public Programs at (718) 638-5000, ext. 232.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1971 - 1988. 1987, 118. View Original
The Machine Age in America, 1918-1941