The Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia will present the exhibition “Icon of Modernism: Representing the Brooklyn Bridge, 1883–1950,” from Sept. 17 to Dec. 11, 2016.
“Icon of Modernism” includes 42 paintings, watercolors, works on paper and photographs that all take the Brooklyn Bridge as a subject. Sarah Kate Gillespie, the museum’s curator of American art, chose works of art created between the completion of the bridge (1883) and the mid-20th century to show how artistic representations of it changed over time, even as it symbolized modernity for different generations. From American impressionism to abstract expressionism, the details of how artists presented the bridge changed, but its ability to stand for the modern era remained.
“When it opened, the Brooklyn Bridge was a phenomenon, and many commemorative objects featuring the bridge were produced. Other museums have shown the wide variety of these objects, but we decided to focus on the aesthetic portion alone,” explains Gillespie, who was tasked with organizing the exhibition when the museum hired her in 2014.
Although it may seem strange for Athens, Georgia, to host an exhibition on a structure so tied to New York City, descendants of John A. Roebling, who designed the bridge, lived in Athens for many years.
In the words of scholar Alan Trachtenberg, “the Brooklyn Bridge symbolized and enhanced modern America.” From its opening in 1883 to the present day, artists have repeatedly depicted the bridge as a stand-in for both the city of New York and for the idea of modernity as defined by that city’s urban life. Such representation was particularly true during the period this exhibition treats, when artists were engaging with new forms of visual representation such as Impressionism, Cubism and Precisionism. Artists utilized newly built structures such as the bridge, the Woolworth building and the Flatiron building in conjunction with these innovative formal techniques to underscore the contemporary nature of their artistic production. By compiling a selection of works in varying media that feature the Brooklyn Bridge from artists on both sides of the Atlantic, this exhibition examines these modes of representation and how artists grappled with a particularly American brand of modernity as both positive and negative from U.S. and European perspectives.
This show will feature approximately 40 paintings, works on paper and photographs by major American and European artists. Four works in the exhibition come from the museum’s own collection, but the remainder are on loan from museums, corporate collections and private collections across the country.Artists include Edward Steichen, Joseph Stella, George Luks, Jonas Lie, William Louis Sonntag Jr., Reginald Marsh, Louis Lozowick, John Marin, Childe Hassam, Ernest Lawson and Samuel Halpert, among others.
Jonas Lie (American, b. Norway, 1880–1940), Bridge and Tugs, 1911–15. Oil on canvas, 34½ x 41½ inches. Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia; Museum purchase with funds provided by
C. L. Morehead Jr., GMOA 2001.179.
Millard Sheets (American, 1907–1989), Brooklyn Bridge, 1933. Watercolor on paper, 15¾ x 22¾ inches. Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia; Extended loan from the collection of Jason Schoen, GMOA 2005.123E.
Joseph Stella (American, b. Italy, 1877–1946), Study for New York Interpreted: The Bridge, 1917–22.
Watercolor and pencil on paper, 24 x 18 inches. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 85.22
Joseph Stella (American, b. Italy, 1877–1946), Study for New York Interpreted: Brooklyn Bridge, 1920–22. Watercolor and ink on paper, 13 15/16 x 9 15/16”. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 66.4775.
Yun Gee Wheels: Industrial New York
oil on canvas
84 x 48 inches
Photo © MCA Chicago
Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)
charcoal and chalk on paper
39 7/8 x 29 ½ in. (101.3 x 74.9 cm.)
Executed in 1949.
Elie Hirschfeld, private art collection
"Brooklyn Bridge," Ernest Lawson, 1917-20
An illustrated catalogue published by the museum will accompany “Icon of Modernism,” with scholarly essays by Gillespie, Janice Simon (Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Associate Professor of Art History in the Lamar Dodd School of Art, UGA), Meredith Ward and Kimberly Orcutt.