Cover image for The American century : art and culture, 1900-1950
The American century : art and culture, 1900-1950
Haskell, Barbara.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Whitney Museum of American Art in association with W.W. Norton, 1999.
Physical Description:
406 pages : color illustrations, portraits ; 29 cm
Added Corporate Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
N6512 .H355 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area-Oversize
N6512 .H355 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize

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The American Century is the subject of a year-long exhibition at the Whitney Museum -- the most comprehensive display of twentieth-century American art ever assembled, incorporating a wide range of masterpieces from all sections of the country, by both familiar and lesser-known artists. This volume, covering the first half of the century, is a history of American art as well as a permanent record of the Whitney show. Here fine arts achievements are seen as part of the larger culture that helped shape them -- the art forms of film, dance, music, literature, photography, decorative arts, architecture, fashion, and industrial design. All are described and set in the context of political and social currents of the era in Barbara Haskell's rich and informative text. Essays by noted experts in many fields illuminate developments in different areas of artistic endeavor while over 750 full-color and duotone illustrations give visual testimony to America's dominant role in the arts.

Author Notes

Barbara Haskell is curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She is the author of many books and catalogues, including works on Marsden Hartley, Milton Avery, Charles Demuth, and Donald Judd. She lives in New York City.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Haskell, curator of prewar art at the Whitney Museum of American Art, has mounted the first half of what promises to be an innovative, dynamic, and paradigm-altering exhibition, "The American Century, Art and Culture," the impetus for this superb volume. Past surveys of twentieth-century American art have focused on painting and sculpture, with peripheral forays into photography and architecture. Haskell's embrace is far more holistic and exciting, gathering up literature, theater, music, dance, and film. This fluid integration of creative modes enables readers to fully understand and appreciate the rapid evolution of this century's aesthetics and to gauge the intimate connection between art and technology in terms not only of media but also of audience--never have so many people had access to such diversity of artistic expression. A cast of 22 experts have contributed fresh and engaging essays that provide a detailed context for more than 700 illustrations. The overall impression is one of vibrant synergy as jazz musicians are shown to have inspired painters, poets served as muses for choreographers, and so on ad infinitum. The second half of the story of how American art came to influence cultures all around the planet will follow in the fall. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

A marvelous visual tour of an America growing in stature and confidence in the art world as it grows politically and economically into a superpower, this exhibition catalogue accompanies the first half of a survey of 20th-century American art and culture at the Whitney Museum. The widely diverse work coveredÄranging from dance and commercial art to the creations of an avant-garde in dialogue with European Modernist factionsÄis presented in more than 700 well-chosen illustrations. Although the book designers have done a wonderful job grouping the reproductionsÄthe pages are often stunningÄthe layout of the text is disorienting, as sidebars (50 short essays written by 22 contributors) often interrupt Haskell's main text. Still, particularly in Haskell's coverage of painting, sculpture and photography, the writers have supplied thorough political, historical and cultural contexts. Haskell shows that regionalist painter and printmaker Thomas Hart Benton found fame as a populist and nationalist, and that his reputation suffered when, faced with WWII, the U.S. public turned internationalist. Haskell also traces the impact of economic conditions on photography's subject matter. During the optimistic Jazz Age, when "an equation of America with the machine and technology" held sway, beautiful, idealizing pictures of machinery were in vogue. With the depression came a loss of faith in technology, and documentary photography capturing the plight of the rural poor became popular. While one cannot do justice to The Great Gatsby in a single sentence, as attempted here, this survey, given its vast scope and ambitious framing must be commended for its effective presentation of the big picture. (May) FYI: The exhibition opened this month. The second half, covering 1951-2000, opens in September and that catalogue, by Lisa Phillips, will follow in October. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

With this showÄand the sister exhibition opening in September that will cover the second half of the centuryÄthe Whitney Museum of American Art aims to revitalize its mission. Will the museum emerge as the staid caretaker of a fixed canon or as a provocateur engaging the current scene and re-evaluating conventional history? This catalog would seem to indicate the former. Curator Haskell is to be commended above all for integrating the social context and cultural developments in a multitude of sidebars by more than 20 experts, and the book manages to bring together a large number of images without devolving into an old-favorites compendium. The problems are less overt. There is the vaguely textbookish toneÄthe gray writing lacks the flashes of wit and opinion to be found in Robert Hughes's American Visions (LJ 5/1/97), for instance. An allegiance to the standard history leaves virtually no room to acknowledge art being produced outside New York or outside canonized movements. A silly, doctrinaire refusal to print non-American illustrations will leave neophytes wondering about the already too-scarce references to European and Asian influences in these years before the U.S. hegemony. An acceptable but disappointing entry, this will nonetheless be requested.ÄEric Bryant, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Despite the controversy that has surrounded the Whitney Museum of American Art's exhibition of the same name, with its overwhelming plethora of art works, the accompanying catalog is a gem! Beautifully designed, well bound, very reasonably priced, replete with more than 720 high-quality color illustrations, it is complemented by a fine index, a very good bibliography, and excellent endnotes. All of this is anchored by Haskell's superb text, which itself is amplified by nearly 60 sidebars by experts in related cultural fields--music, dance, literature, film, and theater. Haskell's text, in four large sections--"America in the Age of Confidence: 1900-1919"; "Jazz Age America: 1920-1929"; "America in Crisis: 1930-1939"; "War and Its Aftermath: 1940-1949"--presents a wonderful discussion of the artists and styles that shaped American painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, decorative arts, and the related fields mentioned above, during the first half of the century. Haskell considers American art of this time as responses to economic, social, and political conditions. Her approach is broadly defined and far reaching. The resulting interdisciplinary presentation is enriching on many levels, and should satisfy a wide range of readers interested in American culture during these 50 years. An important book, recommended for all. General readers; undergraduates through faculty. J. Weidman; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art