What is immediately surprising about the exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, “The Machine Age in America, 1918-1941,” is the title.[1] There is some incongruity in the notion that a period of twenty-three years can encompass an “age.” But the events occurring in the interval between the two world wars do indeed constitute the initial phase of a profound shift in American culture in which the machine played a cardinal role as image, process, product, and symbol. For it was during these years that a particular and unique conjunction of circumstances made the machine the principal agent in bringing a popular modernism to America. Of course many manifestations of modernism occurred prior to 1918, and many more after 1941. But the machine was at the heart of the popular modernism it helped to bring about. For, however important the...


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