Features June 1989
Notes on early American modernism
On “Over Here: Modernism, the First Exile 1914-1919” at Brown University.
We had been sponging on Europe far direction instead of developing our own, and Europe had been handing out nice little packages of spiritual direction to us. But then Europe fell into disorder and lost her way [with the World War], and we were thrown back on ourselves to find inside ourselves sustaining faith.
—Paul Rosenfeld, in Port of New York, 1924
The course traced by the history of early modernist art in the United States is a subject that seems to grow more complicated and less amenable to easy summary or any agreed-upon critical judgment the more we come to know the art itself in greater depth and to acquire a keener understanding of both its aesthetic merits and the cultural circumstances in which it was produced. Some of us can recall a time—it wasn’t in our earliest youth, either—when the very mention of certain names, Marsden Hartley’s or Alfred...
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