Manifest and Mundane: Scenes of Modern America from The Wolfsonian Collection
American artists working in the early twentieth century presented in their work both the manifest and mundane—the remarkable and routine—aspects of American life. They witnessed and recorded the challenges posed to the romantic idea of America by the realities of the time: war, technological advances, environmental distress, economic uncertainty, and corporate intervention. The works they produced provide a record of the nation and also exhibit collectively held attitudes about the landscape, the built environment, domestic life, work, and leisure—themes prevalent throughout The Wolfsonian’s collection. Many of the works on view invoke the myth of the landscape as the basis for meditations on national character. Alongside its symbolic contours as a place of promise and renewal, the land remains a place of plain and earthly dwelling. Its inhabitants live out their days in ordinary ways: nurturing, constructing, cultivating, commuting, sunbathing, and occasionally attending a fair. These diverse pursuits are subject to the everydayness of discord: the demands of social justice interrupt domestic order, industry imposes on the soil, and natural disaster disrupts the arc of human existence. By turn elevated and prosaic, these scenes of modern life trace the collision of the mythic and the commonplace, the harmonious and the dissonant, across the much-contested territories of America. Together they map a range of related attitudes towards the character and prospects of a nation facing the challenges of a rapidly changing world that in its particular mutability is much like our own.
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