Industrialism in the Twenty-First Century

The aftermath of World War I gave rise to exciting times in American history. Technological advances energized the construction of giant new industries, architects and designers streamlined shapes and forms, and increased automobile travel offered fresh vistas of rapidly changing urban and industrial landscapes. Americans celebrated the arrival of the 20th Century.

Inspired by the power of fire and steel, and influenced by Art Deco, Cubism, and Futurism, visionary artists broke away from 19th century Romanticism and European post-war abstraction to develop their own, unique aesthetic voice. Precisionism, a term coined in 1927 by Alfred H. Barr, then director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, gave us great artists such as Charles Sheeler, Ralston Crawford, Charles Demuth, and Georgia O’Keefe.

Precisionist compositions distinguished themselves by simplified shapes with clear outlines, geometric structures with minimal detail, and smooth surfaces painted in a technically precise manner. With their celebratory and dramatic art, the Precisionists offered visions of renewed hope through striking representations focusing on unexpected viewpoints with an emphasis on spatial content. Impressive structures—such as skyscrapers and bridges as well as scenes of heavy industry featuring steel mills and coal mines—presented glimpses into a bright new future. 

Precisionists became a movement by way of shared artistic style and subject matter, yet they never formally formed as a group nor released a manifesto. Fast forward to today—inspired by Precisionism a new genre is blossoming: Industrialism. Industrialism is the aptly evocative term coined by artist Allan Gorman to capture the subject matter which distinguishes itself from Precisionism by a more contemporary viewpoint and a more comprehensive array of expressions.

Like the Precisionists, the Industrialists are not a formal group and embrace a wide spectrum of styles, from photorealism to quasi abstraction. They are neutral observers who use mediums such as painting, drawing, printmaking, and photography to instill a sense of awe for both traditional as well as contemporary industrial and architectural technology. The virtual lack of human figures among these manmade structures and artificial settings adds to a sense of isolated quietude, evoking a wide range of emotions—from melancholic despair to idealistic wonder. Yet the human hand is always present in these exceptional interpretations, reminding us of the great leaps in technological advancements humanity continues to make, as well as the great art that is inspired by it.  

This exhibition, entitled Industrialism in the Twenty-first Century, is a wonderful testimony of the lasting impact and influence of Precisionism as portrayed by nine talented contemporary artists from across the US, UK, and Canada.

written by
Lorena Kloosterboer
Antwerp, December 2016