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Cover thumbnail for Modern Icon: The Machine as Subject in American Art Modern Icon: The Machine as Subject in American Art

"We must look to the artist brain, of all brains, to grasp the significance to society of this thing we call the Machine…" - architect Frank Lloyd Wright, 1901 In the early 1900s, as American technological and manufacturing prowess transformed modern life, some spoke of industry as a new religion and the machine as an object of worship. New technologies like the steam engine, light bulb, and telephone seemed supernatural and all-powerful. Writer Henry Adams first witnessed electrical generators at the Great Exposition of 1900 and said he felt “the forty-foot dynamos as a moral force, much as the early Christians felt the Cross”; photographer Paul Strand called the camera the “New God”; and writer E.B. White noted, “The church merely holds out the remote promise of salvation: the radio tells you if it’s going to rain tomorrow.” This exhibit contains American works of art of the last 100 years in which the machine, both sublime and perilous, acts as muse. For artists seeking a break from tradition, the machine’s potential to reinvent the world made it an ideal symbol. Industrial complexes, urban architecture, and machine-crafted forms became potent modern subjects. Still, an undercurrent of anxiety and at times outright protest has a tangible presence in this work. Artists, always the emotional barometers of a culture, were sensitive to the potential for unchecked technology and industry to oppress the artistic impulse and to devastate humanity and nature.

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Title Artist Medium & Support Accession Number
Ten Pound Hammer   Benton, Thomas Hart   Lithograph  1975.164
Threshing   Benton, Thomas Hart   Graphite, ink and watercolor   1977.153
Telegraph Pole   Burchfield, Charles Ephraim   Watercolor, charcoal and graphite  1947.105
Third Avenue Elevated #4   Crawford, Ralston   Color Lithograph  1983.9
Landscape III   D'Arcangelo, Allan   Color Serigraph  1971.65
Two Figures and El   Davis, Stuart   Lithograph  1975.142
Locomotive Standing   Faye, Harold   Lithograph  1986.12
Sketch for "Locomotive Standing"   Faye, Harold   Lithographic crayon and graphite   1986.13
Trolley -- New Orleans   Frank, Robert   Gelatin silver print on paper  1978.127
Paul's Corner   Goings, Ralph   Offset lithograph  1975.332.3
New York Sky Line, Dark Buildings   Hassam, Childe   Lithograph  1940.27
Fan, New York, 1937   Kertész, André   Gelatin silver print  1970.12
Aeroplane, Image Thrown on a Screen   Lozowick, Louis   Graphite and black ink with white paint on heavy cream wove paper  2004.1
Downtown, New York   Marin, John   Etching  1975.245
White Collar Boys   Olds, Elizabeth M.   Lithograph  2001.17
Landscape 31   Olson, George   Charcoal and wash   1975.265
Violent Turn   Rosenquist, James   Color Lithograph  1980.33
Desert Wreck   Salt, John   Color lithograph  1975.325.8
Ballet Mechanique   Sheeler, Charles   Conte crayon   1974.96
Totems in Steel   Sheeler, Charles   Gouache   1974.94
Fungus   Steiger, Harwood   Watercolor   1939.8
Asphalt Plant, Painted Post, N.Y.   Wenrich, John C.   Watercolor  1968.43
Almost Home for Christmas   Wenrich, John C.   Watercolor, gouache and graphite   2005.225

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