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The Great American Thing: Modern Art and National Identity, 1915-1935 Paperback – October 3, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0520231993 ISBN-10: 0520231996 Edition: New Ed

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The Great American Thing: Modern Art and National Identity, 1915-1935 + Twentieth-Century American Art (Oxford History of Art) + Modern Art in the USA: Issues and Controversies of the 20th Century
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 470 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; New Ed edition (October 3, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520231996
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520231993
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 1.5 x 11 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #483,989 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The story of how Alfred Stieglitz's shifting band of merry ex-pats and homegrown experimenters invented American modernism has been oft and well told, but never with Corn's combination of lucidity, subtlety and clear-eyed sympathy with the workAand the jingoistic America from which it emerged. Corn looks at the work of five American artists, dividing them into the "Transatlantics" and the "Rooted." Like Duchamp and Picabia (who paved the way with "Am?ricanisme"), two other "transatlantics," Gerald Murphy and Joseph Stella, thought that America provided the perfect context for a machine-age art. For Corn, Stella's heroic stylizations of Manhattan's newly built skyscrapers are an attempt to paint through "the European's highly reductive schema of New York," and get at its relentless modernity. The brash flatness of American billboards appears in Murphy's work in Paris, and in that of the "rooted" Demuth, who because of delicate health lived in Pennsylvania. Unlike Demuth, two other "rooted" artists, Corn argues, tried to recover a more historical understanding of what American art wasAGeorgia O'Keeffe looked to a Native American past in New Mexico, and Charles Sheeler incorporated vernacular elements like Shaker furniture into his canvases. Corn matches a terrific sensitivity to form with a winning curiosity about the artists' biographies and nods to period criticism. While a sense of broader social processes shaping artistic production (and the American public) doesn't really come through, Corn's nuanced descriptions of the individual artists, their lives and their materials mirror perfectly their search for "American" modes of expression. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Keying off a phrase by Georgia O'Keeffe regarding the "Americanness of American culture and life," art historian Corn (Stanford Univ.) probes the European roots of interwar American modernism in six chapters, each organized around a single work of art. In Part 1, "The Transatlantics," she demonstrates the cultural dynamism between Paris and New York through analyses of representative work by Duchamp, Gerald Murphy, and Joseph Stella. Part 2, "The Rooted," extends urban art synergy to American regionalism as manifest in works from the late 1920s and early 1930s by Charles Demuth, O'Keeffe, and Charles Sheeler. Although deeply formalistic, Corn's analysis moves successfully beyond individual paintings to explore the artistic, historic, and cultural milieu surrounding each artist. The result is a wide-ranging, accessible, and erudite discourse on both the international and homegrown origins of American modernism. Suitable for research-level collections.ARussell T. Clement, Univ. of Tennessee Lib., Knoxville
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Herbert on July 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Wanda Corn's book is the most extensive atttempt to put early modern art in the United States into its social, historical, and cultural context. In doing this, it has little competition. Most books in this field have been monographic studies of style--in other words mostly formalist analyses purely and totally. It is fortunate that Corn makes the central thesis of her book quite clear in the introduction and first chapter. She believes that there are connections between style and culture and she is determined to connect the visual with the social-historical meanings it often conveys.
Corn has done an enormous amount of research for this book and she provides many new insights. She connects the art to the time and place of creation with insight, enthusiasm and a lot of evidence to back up her opinions and observations. She even identifies, describes and traces the cultural roots of a distinctly American aesthetic in early modern painting that she labels "billboard cubism." The book is structured with a long introduction, six chapters in which a single work by one artist is the focus (although many other works are discussed along the way) and an epilogue to trace how the issues at hand evolved after the period of time covered in this book.
The book has some problems. The basic structure of the book as a series of case studies is somewhat off-putting. It is not clear how relevant the author's arguments focused on six works by six very different artists are to the breadth of art produced at this time. Her decision to make Gerald Murphy and not Stuart Davis the focus of one chapter is perplexing. Davis is much better known, he was more prolific, and there is more literature (although still not enough to answer some enduring questions) on him.
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