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October 13, 2018

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Exhibit sketches American art’s road to Modernism

THE extravagance and audacity of American art may be familiar to local art lovers, but in fact, the style has taken a long time to fully mature.

“Pathways to Modernism: American Art, 1865-1945” is on show at Shanghai Museum. Visitors get a rich prelude to the American art of the post-war period through 80 paintings and prints, from a crucial time in the history of the United States during which the country evolved from an agrarian society into an industrialized nation.

The exhibition is divided into nine sections: Aftermath of the Civil War, The Modern West, Looking East, Cosmopolitanism, Self-portraiture, Urban Experience, Radical Experimentation, American Scene and New Direction.

Works on display include some created by heavyweight names such as Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), Edward Hopper (1882-1967) and Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986).

The highlight of the exhibition is probably Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks.” It is perhaps Hopper’s best-known work and is one of the most recognizable paintings of all time.

“Nighthawks” depicts an all-night dinner in which three customers, all lost in their own thoughts, have congregated to stare into oblivion.

Fluorescent lights had just come into use in the early 1940s, and the all-night dinner emits an eerie glow.

The artist eliminated any reference to an entrance, and the viewer, drawn to the light, is shut out from the scene by a seamless curtain of glass. The four anonymous and uncommunicative people are akin to four birds, as separate and remote from one another as they are from the viewer.

Edward Hopper said that “Nighthawks” was inspired by a “restaurant on New York’s Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet.”

But the image, with its carefully constructed composition and lack of narrative, has a timeless quality that transcends any particular locale.

“Nighthawks” has been widely referenced and parodied in popular culture. Versions of it have appeared on posters, T-shirts and greeting cards as well as in comic books and advertisements.

The representative work receives a special treat at the exhibition, as a bench is placed in front of the painting for the visitors to better inspect the masterpiece.

All the works in this exhibition are on loan from the Art Institute of Chicago and Terra Foundation for American art.

The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the foremost museums in the United States and contains some of the best-known American modern artworks.

The Terra Foundation for American Arts is a private nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting American academic research, art exhibitions, projects, and publications worldwide.


Date: Through January 6 (close on Mondays) 9am-4pm

Venue: Shanghai Museum

Address: 201 People’s Avenue


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