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Modern Art


Nineteenth Century

19th Century

The changing face of 19th century France, following the revolution, the growing city, and the rise of bourgeoisie in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, brought about many changes in French art. The Symbolists fused influences from various sources into personal visions. The Romantics sought inspiration in distant lands and exotic places. The Realists, led by Courbet, painted village life, its inhabitants and its natural environment, and the Barbizon School – Jean Baptiste Camille Corot among them - were the first to go outdoors to paint landscape. These new art movements acted outside of the artistic establishment, basing their art on personal observation; heralding the arrival of Impressionists.

The Impressionists got their name in 1874, on the occasion of their first exhibition. One of the critics described their art contemptuously as “a mere impression", and the artists adopted the term as their movement’s name. Undeniably their painting conveyed the image as seen by the “innocent” eye as opposed depicting the subject as an “all-knowing artist”.

The Impressionists researched color, light and its reflection. They used varying brushstrokes and placed complementary colors side by side. They painted series describing the same subjects at different times of the day and through different seasons. In order to draw The Water Lilies in his garden, Claude Monet left his studio and went outdoors. There he tried to paint what meets the eye without distinguishing between significant, and minor objects, or between reality and its reflections in the water.

Impressionists also described the city and city life. Camille Pissarro positioned himself at the window of a room on the top floor of a hotel, from where he could see the bustling city. He recreated the scene as he saw it, accentuating the steep angle, with the light of a specific time of day – he painted fourteen views at different times throughout the day – rendering the bustle of the street with its individual people disappearing into the crowd, as they filled the city streets and the parks.

Post-Impressionists were influenced by Impressionism, but developed their personal style, each one in a different direction. 20th century art was deeply influenced by the approaches of the following three artists:

Paul Gauguin traveled the non-Western world, in search of innocence and purity which he expected to find there. In Upa Upa (The Fire Dance) he liberated color and shape from the inhibiting Western objective gaze, and filling them with spiritual and mysterious qualities.

Vincent van Gogh’s art was inseparable from his life. He expressed his feelings and emotional turmoil through his color and turbulent brushstrokes. The stalks that fall to the reaper’s scythe, in Harvest in Provence  become an allegory for human life and the cycle of life and death.

Paul Cézanne declared that “a painting is not a window,” and the artist should not attempt to copy nature, but rather, to translate it into the language of art, which seeks form, color, structure, and organization. The artist has to bear in mind that all these are laid out on a flat canvas, to which landscapes and three-dimensional forms have to adapt. In this painting Country House by a River, the reflections in the river are so completely vertical that the water resembles a wall.


20th Century


20th Century Art

Expressionist artists reflected the general atmosphere of anxiety on the eve of the First World War. They tended to favor angular, often distorted forms and jarring, symbolic colors. It is indeed hard to recognize Dresden in Oskar Kokoschka’s The Elbe at Dresden. But the artist never sought to describe the city as it appears, instead he strived to represent what was happening below its surface, its inner life. Egon Schiele too draws a particular place, the town of Krumau, as reflected in his mind; a dense cluster of crooked houses, empty streets in muddy shades of brown, and gutters spilling over red color as if the buildings were bleeding.

The Fauves, “the wild beasts”, got their name - like the Impressionists before them – from a derogatory nickname that they chose to embrace. These artists used bold colors, without relating to the actual color of their subject, and free brushwork, in order to express their feelings towards what they were painting. They considered themselves followers of the post-impressionist tradition. Three trees, L'Estaque by André Derain, explores a new approach to depicting light in painting. Although the work was inspired by a specific landscape, he does not feel obliged to produce a faithful representation of what he sees, rather builds the depth of the image by saturated color plains that lead the viewer into a magical exotic world.

The Paris School gathered artists who came to the avant-garde capital of the world, each with his own unique style of painting. Among them was Chaim Soutine, who exerted a strong influence on other Expressionists. The Boy in Blue  (1924) may be smiling, but he stands in a contorted position, his body is so twisted that only the layers of paint seem to hold him together. Amedeo Modigliani, also a central figure in the group, drew his lover, Jeanne Hébuterne, Seated (1918) many times using flowing lines and rounded, elongated schematic forms, taken from Botticelli, the abstract Cycladic figurines and African masks.

World War II and its horrors brought a profound disenchantment with civilization and its promise of progress, totally undermining the human condition. Man can no longer remain confident and optimistic and becomes a tortured, and helpless creature. Jean Dubuffet seeks the primeval in man from before the advent of civilization.  Trying to break away from professional art he developed Art Brute – a primary, raw style - aspiring to draw again like a child or as mentally ill. He used unconventional materials such as sand and tar, covering the canvas with a coarse texture on top of which he created an arbitrary collage of fragments. Francis Bacon too paints man, and his subject is often in a state of extreme anguish. The distortion of the facial features, even when drawing portraits of known people, making them universal. In Study for the Portrait of Lucien Freud (1964), he is precariously perched on the edge of a bench in a stark, austere claustrophobic interior, with an exposed light bulb dangling above him.

Picasso arrived in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century. He is, arguably, the most prominent and influential of all artists of the century. Together with Georges Braque, he revolutionized art and the way we view the world through the invention of Cubism. They reorganized the angular shapes onto the canvas to create a new visual language. A central principle of Cubist language is the simultaneous view of many perspectives; an impossibility in reality.

The collage is another significant innovation of Cubism. The artists assembled fragments of real objects onto the painting, thus importing reality into art - which until then was impenetrable. In Still Life with Violin (1913), Georges Braque goes one step further, and instead of placing a ready-made object in the image, he paints the object – here the surface of a table – in a trompe l’oeuil, creating a pseudo-collage, building yet another layer of interpretation to the relationship between nature and artistic representation. Braque painted what most interested him – musical instruments - and this work is filled with a sense of rhythm and sound.

Pablo Picasso too painted certain subjects repeatedly, and certain objects often appear in his cubist imagery, as in Glass, Bottle of Bass, Newspaper (1914). The newspaper is represented by the letters, Jou, short for ‘Le Journal’ – the name of the Paris newspaper, as well as for the French word jouer - playing. The rest of the objects are painted in the newly developed cubist language.  The drink in the glass is represented by red and yellow dots, suggesting its transparency, and its luminosity without painting it illusionistically. The glass itself is shown both in profile and from above as well as from underneath.  The bottle too is shown from different angles, and its name Bass is spelt out. 

Abstract Expressionism


Abstract Expressionism

After the Second World War the center of art shifted to The United States; to the city of New York. The artistic schools presented in this hall reflect some of the principles of the new art, particularly the free, direct, personal expression of the artist’s character. The artistic current, Abstract Expressionism, like the Expressionism of the early 20th century in Europe, wished to express the feelings and emotions of the artist, but unlike the early Expressionists, who expressed themselves through distorted shapes and strong colors, they chose abstraction as their style.

Covering the entire surface of the canvas with a composition that did not have a single focal point was a distinctive characteristic of Abstract Expressionism.  Jackson Pollock’s Horizontal Composition (ca. 1949) seems to stretch endlessly. Pollock developed his own personal style of working, which involved dripping the paint on to a canvas spread out on the floor. This technique allowed him to combine body movement, randomness, and control. The movement of the body turns the process of painting into a total activity – termed action painting. This is a randomness combined with choice and control over the distribution of the paint and its thickness. Robert Motherwell, the leading proponent of the new movement, demonstrates in Havana (1951) the two main trends operating in New York; wide brushstrokes resulting from expressive arm movements, and large areas of color connected in complex ways.

Mark Rothko sought to reflect human spirit. His first images were mythical, but they gradually gave way to broad rectangular areas of varying proportions and color, with softened edges, hovering one over the other, like in Untitled (1955).  Rothko meant for the viewer to be enveloped in his colors and be swept into an emotional and existential state. 




Futurism, founded in Italy in 1909, reflected the fascination of those years with technological progress and the machine. These artists focused on momentum and movement.  To express the heightened speed and increased rhythm of life, they incorporated fragmented cubist forms with unique powerful diagonals that indicated movement. Boccioni’s figure in Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913/1972) conveys energy and seems to spread in space through motion. The influence of Cubism is evident in the faceted sculpture’s surfaces.

Russian Constructivists believed that art should reflect modern world in its work methods, materials and form. They used geometric shapes, and tried to replace traditional sculpture techniques - chiseling stone or modeling clay – by creating objects from a combination of different materials. In Constructed Head No.2 (1953-1957) Naum Gabo turns his back on traditional sculpture of mass and volume. He uses interlocking planes that open up to the penetration of light and space. The honeycomb structure allows the viewer to simultaneously see the inside and outside of the sculpture. Gabo successfully merged technology and art in an image that appropriately reflects the modern world in flux.

Minimalist art is deeply rooted in the geometric abstractions of Russian Constructivism, and later, in the Bauhaus movement. They sought to reveal the internal structure of a work of art - painting or sculpture – avoiding the personal or experiential in favor of the building blocks of creativity; essential shapes, the relationship between them and the materials they are made of.

Minimalists sought to reduce the work of art to the smallest number of components, allowing the viewers to experience them without distraction. They preferred simplicity of form and content using pure geometric shapes - square, cube and grid - and color surfaces that were left clean and free of shades. They used industrial materials and the personal element was barely evident.

“The only way to say what abstract art is, is to say what it is not” was Ad Reinhardt’s explanation for the style “no subject, no representation, not figurative, without an image, not expressionist and not subjective. Faith in the supremacy of pure shapes and feelings led the artist to his final reduction in Abstract Painting (1966): the black square . However, close observation reveals that the color is not uniform and the surface is covered with near-imperceptible transitions between black hues. If we keep on looking, we discover a cross drawn on the black surface, adding a spiritual quality to the painting.

Dan Flavin too rejected all associative or evocative forms. In all works of this period, the artist arranged fluorescent tubes in a different constellation in built spaces, ranging from simple to more complex compositions; corner pieces, ceiling pieces, light tunnels and barriers of light. The fluorescent tubes, the light diffused around them or cast onto surfaces, their composition and where they were positioned, are all elements of the artwork (Untitled (To Bob and Pat Rohm) 1969-1970).

Robert Morris advocated artistic activity out of the studio giving the place where the work would stand a decisive role in the finished product. In this work Untitled (1974) Morris used industrial felt, allowing its shape – a long broad strip – and the points from which it hangs on the wall combine with gravity, to shape the end result. The work is thus a product of planning as well as unplanned, leading to unforeseeable results.


Dada and Surrealism

Dada and Surrealism

Dada emerged in Zurich during World War I, seeing the war as conclusive proof of the bankruptcy of bourgeois culture and late 19th century rationalism. Wishing to shatter traditional principles and language of art they abandoned painting and sculpture, preferring provocative collages, assemblages, montages, films, performances, and phonetic poetry. They often included readymade objects, simple, industrially produced day-to-day paraphernalia in their art works.

Marcel Duchamp’s The Fountain (1917) is a urinal which the artist had placed upside down, and presented as a work of art, challenging conventional boundaries between what is ‘proper’ and what is not. The mass-produced object bought in a shop and submitted for an exhibition undermines artistic creativity, giving priority to the conceptual process and centrality of the exhibition space that defines the object as ‘art’.

In Hairy / The Front-Line Soldier (1924) Marcel Janco places elements from the soldier's life at the front –jute, hair, and a button - on a traditionally painted canvas to evoke war, and the fundamental issues surrounding it. Francis Picabia too uses readymade familiar objects – measuring tape and matchboxes – to create a poetic landscape where life meets art.

Absurdity and cynicism driving out logic, order and norm, were the backdrop for the birth of the Surrealist movement. Subverting the art establishment and its conventions drove the artist to seek a new artistic language and creative process. They turned toward the human psyche seeking unmediated creative impulse that lead to art. The surrealist artist tried to work directly from their subconscious, that element in man which Freudian psychology focused on. Joan Miro’s Spanish Dancer (1927) illustrates one such painting method, automatism that connects artistic inspiration as directly as possible to the subconscious. The unmediated movement of the hand produced a white cloud for the dancer’s body. Free association and uncontrolled gestures created the Spanish dancer that leads us straight into the artist’s subconscious.

Dali’s images have a disturbing quality with their changing forms that merge into each other. He often uses Freudian symbols to produce meanings. His shapes are not fixed and they seem to be part of a process led by the subconscious, charged with sexual undertones. In Surrealist Essay (1934) a giant phallic cypress, a symbol that Dalí explains as a childhood memory from a water fountain at a childhood friend’s house, grows in a miniature childhood landscape. Two poles protrude from the cypress - on one of them a melting clock, a classic symbol in Dalí’s art, usually interpreted as fear of impotence.

Surrealists, as their name suggests, also turned their backs on the real world toward an alternative world. In Castle in the Pyrenees (1953) Rene Magritte hung a huge rock in the air over the sea as if gravity did not affect it. The rock, hovering as if weightless, violates the order of nature, and the fortress perched on top gives a sense of unattainable dream. The image shows an alternative reality which we cannot comprehend. 

Dada and Surrealism Collection
This repository includes an extensive library and documentary materials that make the collection an important international research resource.

Pop Art

Pop Art

Pop Art reacted to affluent urban environment and technological innovations of the '60s, especially in the US. The movement’s artists took their images from everyday life and the mass media - television, film, advertising and comic books - they blurred the distinction between high art and popular culture.

Andy Warhol, one of the leaders of Pop Art, often painted icons of mass culture - people or objects. He shows Jacqueline Kennedy at those moments in her life that have become iconic and are engraved on American national memory: smiling in the car next to her husband in Dallas, Texas, then veiled in black, at his funeral, after the assassination. The individual woman’s emotions have become public property, and are distributed to citizens of America on magazine pages. Cheap reproduction; the pseudo-industrial, characterize Warhol’s style. He raises the issues of our mass produced alienated world, and with it the question of the uniqueness and originality of the work of art in such a world.

At first glance one cannot tell whether Wesselmann's Still Life no.33 (1963) is a work of art or an advertisement. The technique combines a large screen print with some areas hand-painted by the artist.  It is a direct and faithful copy, down to its size, of an outdoor poster, but this banner includes some traditional painting as well. Wesselmann criticizes the American way of life which sanctifies abundance to excess - and fast food. He adds the red and the blue of the American flag to indicate national identity.

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen created Apple Core (1992) in a scale similar to Wesselmann’s work. Creating an oversize apple served to undermine traditional attributes of the fruit in western art. The viewer's expectation to find the soft familiar texture is frustrated when he touches the firm sculpture, and instead of a rotting, crumbling core the viewer discovers that he can lean or even climb on the fruit. The result makes Apple Core an endearing, rather than a forbidding piece, inviting tactile exploration. 

 Dr. Adina Kamien-Kazhdan, David Rockefeller Senior Curator,  Stella Fischbach Department of Modern Art

Jacques Lipchitz

Jacques Lipchitz Collection

Jacques Lipchitz's rich collection is presented in a way that evokes the “wonder chamber” of the past – eclectic cabinets of curiosities; filled with all kinds of objects from different cultures. The artist was born in Lithuania in 1891 and moved to Paris as a young man to study art. There he met the important artists of the time, and the art of the early 20th century. Lipchitz was exposed to the principles of Cubism, and was one of the first to apply Cubist principles in three-dimensional form. With the outbreak of World War II Lipchitz fled to New York, where he continued to work up until his death in 1973. 

Like many avant-garde artists of his time, Lipchitz was drawn to ancient and non-Western cultures. He sought to enrich his own creativity by exploring their motifs, techniques, and ways of expression. His collection reflects a fascination with human imagination and artisanship and exemplifies what he called “encounters”, similarities among objects made in very different periods and places.

The rich and diverse display brings together Lipchitz – the collector and Lipchitz – the artist. The encounter of the various collection objects with sculptures of the artist creates a dialogue between the two components of the creative personality displayed side by side. It is not always clear whether the sculpture was inspired by a collection object, or the object was added to the collection because it reminded the artist of one of his art works.

Head from 1914  – which Lipchitz later cited as a developed example of his application of Cubist principles to three-dimensional art – manifests a move toward simplification and purity of form. Similar rigid geometric lines of the nose, mouth, and forehead can be found in a Coptic mask in his collection.

Lipchitz’s bronze Standing Figure, 1929, retains the feel of the clay original, together with the artist’s fingerprints. When he made it, Lipchitz was examining the potentialities of cast metal, and even at the stage of modeling in clay, bore in mind the effect his figure would have in bronze. With its spontaneous, gestural expressiveness, the work is highly characteristic of his oeuvre; at the same time, its twisted pose and unconstrained roughness recall the mid nineteenth- century Maquette for Venus and Cupid by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux.

During the 1920s, Lipchitz became preoccupied with open forms and the interpretation of solids and voids. His exploration of negative sculptural space in Head: Maquette No. 1, 1932, produced an interaction between inner and outer. The massive exterior form opening into an interior void echoes the same counterbalance in a seventeenth-century European decorative iron helmet found in the collection.

This rich, resonant display also gives us a glimpse into the artist’s actual studio, allowing us to share in some measure what Lipchitz himself experienced: “I look at all that surrounds me, and feel the whole of humanity with me. I am never alone, never lost, and given, with a sense of humility, the courage for my every day’s work.”



  Tanya Sirakovich