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Parade Amoureuse

The work of French painter Francis Picabia from 1915 to 1920 displays his fascination with mechanical objects. Parade Amoureuse (1917), shown here, suggests a somewhat mysterious coupling of two machines.


H   Surrealism

The dadaists’ radical critique of art and reason had a strong appeal for an artistic and literary movement that was founded in 1924: surrealism. The surrealists, however, wanted to put a more positive spin on dada's pessimistic message. They were inspired by the writings of Freud, who had argued that the human mind was split between the conscious mind and the inaccessible unconscious mind, where a person’s innermost thoughts, feelings, and desires lay repressed. The surrealists set out to gain access to these private wishes and feelings through dream imagery, random association of words, and art.

Two distinct styles emerged within surrealism. Some artists, such as Dalí and Magritte, attempted to suggest dream imagery by depicting objects accurately, but juxtaposing them in an irrational manner. An example of this strategy is Dalí ’s The Persistence of Memory (1931, Museum of Modern Art, New York City). In this painting, pocket watches hang limply from a dead branch, while insects, a tabletop, and a distorted face lie in a barren landscape that leads back to a seashore and cliffs. The merging of these incongruous elements suggests an alternative, or a sur-reality, as the movement’s name implies.

Other surrealists attempted to allow the hand to wander across the canvas surface without any conscious control, a technique they called automatism. The automatists reasoned that if the conscious mind were allowed to relax its hold, the unconscious could begin to manifest itself. The lines of the painting would then be motivated not by the conscious mind, which conforms to social convention and training, but by the powerful store of emotions hidden in the unconscious.

In the early 20th century, Russian-born American painter Max Weber successfully brought together the latest European developments in art, including cubism and fauvism. Summer, painted in 1909, shows this synthesis, and is part of the collection of the National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.Art Resource, NY/National Museum of American Art, Washington DC

I   Modernism

During the period between the two world wars, modernism burst upon the American scene. Painters discarded realism, choosing instead to break up forms or overlay transparent planes in the manner of European cubism, to distort objects in the manner of European expressionism, and even to paint canvases in which nothing was recognizable. The latter choice was in keeping with the work of Europe's early nonobjective (completely abstract or non-representational) artists, such as Piet Mondrian from The Netherlands or the Russians Kasimir Malevich and Wassily Kandinsky.

Although his works were based on forms derived from nature, Arthur Dove was the first modern American artist to produce abstract paintings. Often painted in colors that seem to pulsate, many of his works include repeating, curved shapes as can be seen in his Sun.

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