10 1/2 x 10 1/4 in. (26.7 x 26 cm)
(Philadelphia, PA, 1883 - 1965, Dobbs Ferry, NY)
Medium and Support:
Gift of Peter Iselin and his sister, Emilie Iselin Wiggin
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]