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Making Modern America

Feb 10, 2019 - May 26, 2019

Consider the paradox of progress.

Does the end, or outcome, justify the means?

Philbrook Museum of Art presents Making Modern America. This exhibition examines this paradox of progress through the lens of American industry. It presents the many complex—and often conflicting— ways that artists working from 1910 to 1960 portrayed the social and environmental changes taking place during this pivotal period.

Featuring more than 60 paintings, photographs, design objects, and prints, Making Modern America includes works by iconic artists such as George Bellows, Charles Sheeler, and Thomas Hart Benton, as well as less-established names like Lucienne Bloch, Eldzier Cortor, and Doris Lee. More than half of the works in the exhibition are on loan from prestigious museums including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and Columbus Museum of Art.

Making Modern America is presented in four sections: the rise of the modern city, industrial power, labor, and environmental impacts. Major cities like New York, as well as urban centers like Tulsa, flourished in this post-WWI cultural environment that celebrated technology, streamlined machinery, and modern styles in art and architecture. Rural areas were likewise transformed, as rails, roads, and power lines crisscrossed the country and factories and refineries joined shipyards and granaries to alter the look of the American landscape with manmade landmarks.

Philbrook is the debut and sole venue for this special exhibition, which is organized and curated by Catherine Whitney, Philbrook Chief Curator and Curator of American Art.

Progress promised a better tomorrow. But it also began to stir growing fears. What were the unseen threats that industrial expansions posed to the natural environment—once considered America’s pristine symbol of promise and collective pride–and how might society be changed for better or worse? The question is ever more pressing in the 21st Century, and one that reflects ongoing national conversations about progress, energy, growth and their irreversible impact upon the environment.