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New Philbrook exhibition explores the pros and cons of progress
Rockwell Kent (American, 1882-1971), Endless Energy for Limitless Living, 1945-1946. Oil on canvas, 44 x 48”. The Dayton Art Institute, Gift of Dane and Kerry Dicke, 1994.60.


TULSA, OKLA.- Consider the paradox of progress. Does the end, or outcome, justify the means? Philbrook Museum of Art opened the original exhibition Making Modern America on Sunday, February 10. This exhibition examines this paradox of progress through the lens of American industry. It presents the many complex—and often conflicting—ways that artists working from 1910 to 1960 portrayed the social and environmental changes taking place during this pivotal period.

Featuring more than 60 paintings, photographs, design objects, and prints, Making Modern America includes works by iconic artists such as George Bellows, Charles Sheeler, Thomas Hart Benton, and Jacob Lawrence, as well as less-established names like Lucienne Bloch, Eldzier Cortor, and Doris Lee. More than half of the works in the exhibition are on loan from prestigious museums including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and Columbus Museum of Art.
 
“Many of the paintings, photographs, and prints on display optimistically celebrate industry with avant-garde or regional styles," said exhibition curator Catherine Whitney. “While others reflect the social and environmental impacts that began to weigh heavily upon the national psyche and the natural environment, particularly during and after the Great Depression.”

Making Modern America is presented in four sections: the rise of the modern city, industrial power, labor, and environmental impacts. Major cities like New York, as well as urban centers like Tulsa, flourished in this post-WWI cultural environment that celebrated technology, streamlined machinery, and modern styles in art and architecture. Rural areas were likewise transformed, as rails, roads, and powerlines crisscrossed the country and factories and refineries joined shipyards and granaries to alter the look of the American landscape with man-made landmarks.

Philbrook is the debut and sole venue for this special exhibition, which is organized and curated by Catherine Whitney, Philbrook Chief Curator and Curator of American Art.
 
“Several years in the making and organized in a time of great change and turmoil in contemporary America,” said Philbrook Director Scott Stulen “Catherine has pulled together a thought-provoking, nostalgic, and challenging hall of mirrors reflecting both a time gone by and who we are now.”
 
Progress promised a better tomorrow. But it also began to stir growing fears. What were the unseen threats that industrial expansions posed to the natural environment—once considered America’s pristine symbol of promise and collective pride–and how might society be changed for better or worse? The question is ever more pressing in the 21st Century, and one that reflects ongoing national conversations about progress, energy, growth and their irreversible impact upon the environment.






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