Cult of the Machine: Precisionism and American Art

Exhibition Overview


Rolling Power
Charles Sheeler, Rolling Power, 1939, oil on canvas, 15 x 30 in. (38.1 x 76.2 cm)

Characterized by highly structured, geometric compositions with smooth surfaces, linear qualities, and lucid forms, Precisionism—a style that emerged in America in the teens and flourished during the 1920s and 1930s—reconciled realism with abstraction, and wed European art movements, such as Purism, Cubism, and Futurism, to American subject matter to create a streamlined, “machined” aesthetic with themes ranging from the urban and industrial to the pastoral. The tensions and ambivalences about industrialization expressed in works by the Precisionists are particularly fascinating and relevant to a contemporary audience in the midst of a fourth Industrial Revolution, in which robots are replacing human labor for various functions, underscoring many of the same excitements and concerns about modernization that existed nearly one hundred years ago.

Connections between the past and the present will be explored throughout this large-scale survey, which will feature more than 100 masterworks of American Precisionism by such modernists as Charles Sheeler, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Charles Demuth.

For associated program updates check the following link: http://deyoung.famsf.org/exhibitions/cult-machine

(Photo: Charles Sheeler, Rolling Power, 1939, oil on canvas, 15 x 30 in. (38.1 x 76.2 cm). Smith College Museum of Art, North Hampton, Massachusetts, purchased with the Drayton Hillyer Fund, SC 1940:18. Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco)

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