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"Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties" opens at the Cleveland Museum of Art
Thomas Hart Benton, Self-Portrait with Rita (detail), 1922. Oil on canvas; 124.5 x 100 cm. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jack H. Mooney.

CLEVELAND, OH.- The Cleveland Museum of Art presents Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties, a wide-ranging exhibition which brings together for the first time the work of more than sixty painters, sculptors, and photographers who explored a new approach to realism in the years between World War I and the Great Depression. Youth and Beauty will present more than 130 works by artists including Ansel Adams, George Bellows, Thomas Hart Benton, Stuart Davis, Aaron Douglas, Walker Evans, Edward Hopper, Isamu Noguchi, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Grant Wood. Organized and presented by the Brooklyn Museum, Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties will be on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art from July 1 through September 16, 2012. Cleveland is the final venue to present Youth and Beauty, which traveled previously to the Brooklyn Museum and the Dallas Museum of Art.

The 1920s are often remembered as a raucous, even uproarious decade, one in which a Victorian past was replaced by a distinctly modern present. It is striking that American artists of the period responded to their rapidly changing world by creating works that conversely evoked clarity, order, and stillness. Confronted with situations and environments altered fundamentally by mechanization and urbanization, as well as shifts in attitudes toward the human body and behavior, artists adopted a distilled realism in order to seek out organization amid turmoil. Some looked to Old Master art for inspiration, while others took cues from recent avant-garde developments, as well as motion pictures and advertisements. Most Jazz Age artists were united in their drive to idealize modern existence, and the art in this exhibition highlights human and natural beauty, and captures the youthful potency of America’s emerging industrial landscape.

“Youth and Beauty offers a compelling look at the Roaring Twenties, a decade that still continues to fascinate. A generous survey of great works of art, the exhibition reveals a nation coping with significant social changes that could be both inspiring and sobering,” states Mark Cole, the Associate Curator of American Painting and Sculpture at the Cleveland Museum of Art. “Visitors will discover how people at the time responded to their new modern existence—one brought about by transformations in culture and technology—something that all future generations, including our own, can relate to.”

Loans for the exhibition, almost all of which are making their Cleveland debut, have been secured from a host of distinguished public and private collections across the United States.

Highlights of Youth and Beauty include:

Thomas Hart Benton, Self-Portrait with Rita, 1922. This painting is considered to be among the most startling figure subjects of the early twenties, due to Benton’s presentation of himself and his young wife, Rita, as models of liberated physical vitality. In this work, Benton abandons abstraction for a modern figural style inspired by 16th-century Italian Mannerist art.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Two Calla Lilies on Pink, 1928. O’Keeffe is an artist well represented in Youth and Beauty through a half-dozen of her canvases, as well as a pair of portrait photographs taken by her husband Alfred Stieglitz. Inspired by close-up photography popular in the decade, Two Calla Lilies on Pink, one of her most striking creations, zooms in upon blooms so exuberantly oversized that they appear on the verge of bursting through the composition’s rectangular border.

Nickolas Muray, Gloria Swanson, about 1925. Muray was highly sought after for his photographic portraits, working most frequently with actors and dancers. In this captivating image of a young Gloria Swanson, the artist recorded the sultry perfection of the actress’s visage framed by her sensuously bare shoulder and precisely placed hand.

Charles Sheeler, Church Street El, 1920. In this masterpiece from the Cleveland Museum of Art, Sheeler inventively cast urban architecture as a precisely calculated composition of sleek geometric forms. Shown in a dynamic, upward-tilting perspective, the forms appear crystalline—at once frozen and expansive.

Charles Demuth, My Egypt, 1927. In this work Demuth sought a titular link between industrial forms in his hometown and distant Egyptian monuments—popularized by the 1922 discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb. The artist employed a dramatic upward perspective and intersecting fanlike rays to transform grain elevators in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, into a transcendently radiant icon.

Lewis Hine, Power House Mechanic, 1920–21. The clean muscularity and precise industrial order presented by Hine in this work demonstrates the photographer’s shift in 1919 from a gritty documentary style to what he called “interpretive photography”—an approach intended to raise the stature of industrial workers, who were perhaps overshadowed by the massive machinery they operated.

Edward Hopper, Lighthouse Hill, 1927. Seen from a dramatically low vantage point in strong raking sunlight, the massive tower and the steep-roofed house appear strikingly austere, suggesting the exposure of the site and the elemental existence of its remote inhabitants.

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