Jessica Todd Smith, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Pertaining to Yachts and Yachting, 1922, by Charles Sheeler, American, 1883 - 1965. Oil on canvas, 20 x 24 1/16 inches. Philadelphia Museum of Art: Bequest of Margaretta S. Hinchman, 1955-96-9.
From jazz and the jitterbug to assembly lines and skylines: the first half of the twentieth century was a time of unprecedented social, artistic, technological and cultural upheaval. Against this backdrop of change, traditional forms of representation seemed inadequate. Artists pushed their work in new directions, embracing the revolutionary visual language of abstraction, while retaining connections to artistic traditions. Bound to the past while heading into the future, they created what we now call Modernism.
Modernism in the early 1900s was more than a movement or a style. It was a feeling, an outlook and, for some, a way of life, pervading everything from dress to politics. Artists grappled with what it meant to be Modern and what it was to be American: they tried to capture the newness of these experiences through both the style and the subjects of their work.
This talk looks at the role that Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Museum of Art played in fostering American Modernism as featured in the exhibition Modern Times: American Art 1910–1950. The presentation will begin by looking at the canonical core of the collection – works of art from the estate of the gallerist and photographer Alfred Stieglitz. The conversation then expands to include work in the collection by African American artists, women artists, artist from Philadelphia, and modernists working in a variety of media to help show the breadth of the collection, the diversity of the movement, and the beautiful chaos of innovation that made this period so dynamic and influential.
Jessica Todd Smith is the Susan Gray Detweiler Curator of American Art and Manager of the Center for American Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Recent projects include the exhibition Modern Times: American Art 1910–1950 and the book American Modernism: Highlights from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Prior to her arrival at the Museum in 2016, she was the Virginia Steele Scott Chief Curator of American Art at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. At The Huntington, Smith worked on three major expansions of the American galleries, in addition to exhibitions, publications, and collection development. She earned a B.A. summa cum laude from Harvard University and a Ph.D. from Yale University.