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Modern Icon: The Machine as Subject in American Art

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Ballet Mechanique

1931
10 1/2 x 10 1/4 in. (26.7 x 26 cm)

Charles Sheeler
American (Philadelphia, PA, 1883 - 1965, Dobbs Ferry, NY)

Object Type: Drawing
Medium and Support: Conte crayon
Credit Line: Gift of Peter Iselin and his sister, Emilie Iselin Wiggin
Accession Number: 1974.96
Link to this object
Location: Not currently on view

In 1927, Charles Sheeler was commissioned to photograph Henry Ford’s River Rouge car factory outside Detroit to advertise the company’s new Model A car. Ford’s innovations in the assembly line were celebrated for their efficiency, productivity, and ability to produce low-cost consumer goods. Yet the dark underside to this progress was unbearable, dehumanizing work conditions.

Ballet Mechanique, based on a photo from Sheeler’s Ford factory series, is a tightly-cropped scene of an industrial system of pipes and metal. By isolating the sleek machinery from actual labor, Sheeler elevates the loud, hot, dangerous factory environment to a cool, sleek, abstract vision of modernity.

Sheeler’s style, Precisionism, was a celebration of the technological sublime with its crisp, pure form and industrial themes. Of American artists in the early years of the 1900s, Charles Sheeler made one of the most dramatic breaks from the traditional assumption that beauty could be found in nature alone.

[label text for Modern Icon: The Machine As Subject in American Art exhibition, February 3 – March 6, 2012]

Marks
Artist's signature, lower right: Sheeler-1931


Provenance
Downtown Gallery, New York, NY; purchased by O'Donnell Iselin, New York, NY; to his children, Peter Iselin and Emily Iselin Wiggin, New York, NY; given to the Gallery in 1972

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Web Links See links to web pages and lesson plans
Seeing America Inservice Materials from a teacher in-service presentation Spring 2008
Seeing America Chapter on Charles Sheeler's Ballet Mechanique, written by Karen Haas.


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