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Sept. 5, 2012

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Harn Museum Showcases Photography from Interwar Period

The Modern Impulse Explores the Radical Social and Artistic Developments
in Europe and America between World War I and World War II

GAINESVILLE, Fla.—The Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida will present an exhibition that reflects a transformative moment in photographic history during the tumultuous interwar years. On view from October 9, 2012 through January 6, 2013, The Modern Impulse: Photography from Europe and America Between the Wars will explore how the newly portable 35 mm camera was celebrated as an instrument of poetry, analysis, and social change. Covering the years between 1918 and 1945, the exhibition will highlight over 40 artists who expanded the new medium and changed the way we perceive the world. Celebrating technology while embracing spontaneity and improvisation, these artists captured the spirit, vitality and invention of a new age.

The Modern Impulse showcases more than 135 photographs, books, illustrated magazines and films drawn from four regions that were among the era’s most prominent centers of photographic innovation— France and the Czech Republic in Europe, and New York and California in the United States. Artists featured in The Modern Impulse include such innovative talents as Berenice Abbott, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Imogen Cunningham, František Drtikol, Walker Evans, André Kertész, Helen Levitt, Josef Sudek, and Jaroslav Rössler.

“Photographers from both sides of the Atlantic, caught the fleeting moments of everyday life, focusing on cities, street life and the contours of industrial and natural forms. Their work ranged from abstraction to realism and was influenced by artistic movements such as Surrealism, Constructivism and New Objectivity along with creative approaches to documentary and reportage,” said exhibition curator Kerry Oliver-Smith, curator of contemporary art at the Harn Museum of Art. “Broadly, the work reflects what artist and theorist László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946) described as a ‘new vision,’ a perspective that emerged from the technical culture of the 20th century, incorporating a multitude of unconventional forms and techniques such as unusual cropping and camera angles, high contrast and photomontage in both experimental and straight photography.”

The Modern Impulse offers a window into one of the most artistically fertile periods in the history of photography,” said Rebecca Nagy, director of the Harn Museum of Art. “We’re delighted to share a remarkable exhibition that meaningfully contributes to a greater understanding of 20th century visual culture.”

The works displayed in the exhibition are organized by the following five thematic areas, which reflect the diversity of production and expression under the “new vision” movement:

  • Art and Technology: New Vision and the Modern City

Responding to the new urbanism of the 1920s, photographers in Europe and America reflected the aesthetics of the “new vision” in metropolitan landscapes, creating groundbreaking work that emphasized the abstract forms, geometry, and formal rhythms of city life and industrial production. Berenice Abbott’s photographs of New York City skyscrapers are iconic examples of this approach, which was also adopted by artists such as Alma Lavenson and Peter Stackpole in California and Josef Ehm in the Czech Republic.

  • Pure Photography and New Objectivity

Seeking an objective realism that pinpointed the essence of pure form, photographers like Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, and Ansel Adams formed the Group f.64—referencing an aperture that renders clear and precise representation. They advocated the use of modernist principles to capture the contours and textures of organic and industrial subjects. Their works are notable for the use of close-ups, cropping, and flattening to deemphasize contextual surroundings and focus instead on textural details and form.

  • Dreams, Memory, and Desire: Surrealism in France and the Czech Republic

During the interwar period, artists such as Brassaï, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and André Kertész connected the ordinary and the fantastic, the real and the surreal. They saw the city as a labyrinth of ephemeral moments, obscure places, forgotten objects, and marginal people linking to a deeper mystery behind ordinary appearances. This style was especially prevalent in the Czech Republic, where Jaroslav Rösler, Eugen Wiškovsky and others carried on the Surrealist project beyond the parameters of the two World Wars.

  • Social Activism and Modern Life: Documentary and Reportage

In the 1930s, economic turmoil and political extremism on both sides of the Atlantic inspired many photographers to use the camera as a tool for activism, uniting modernist aesthetics with progressive ideas. American artists like Walker Evans, Marion Post Wolcott, Paul Strand, and Weegee captured the social hardships of the Great Depression, often with support from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Farm Security Administration (FSA).

  • Mass Media: Photography for the Public

The increasing recognition of photography as a new 20th century art form was accompanied by an explosion in the mass distribution of photographic images in the interwar period in magazines such as Life, Look, Vanity Fair, and Harper’s Bazaar, as well as Vu, Minataure, and De Stijl in Europe. These publications introduced new styles of photography to American and European readers, and gave artists a commercial platform on which to establish themselves. Books, magazines and films from this period will be on view.

This exhibition is organized by the Harn Museum of Art and made possible by the Eloise R. Chandler Program Endowment, the Londono Family Endowment, and funds provided by the Harn Annual Appeal. Additional support provided by Ken and Laura Berns, Ed and Joanne Block, John and Eve Cech, Phil and Barbara Emmer, Marty and Sandy Fackler, Larry and Jane Fowler, Shelley Melvin, Dan Purich, Steve and Carol Shey, Bob and Carolyn Thoburn, and Ed and Kathleen Wilkinson.

The museum is offering a number of related programs for audiences of all ages.

Harn Eminent Scholar Lecture, Wednesday, October 10, 6 p.m.
Ariella Azoulay, Leverhulme Research Professor at Durham University and Director of the Photo-Lexic International research Group at the Minerva Center, Tel Aviv University
“Potential History of Palestine”
Azoulay will make the argument for photography as a civic practice, capable of reclaiming power for the purposes of critique, freedom and resistance.
Organized by the Harn Eminent Scholar Chair in Art History committee of the School of Art + Art History in cooperation with the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art.

Museum Nights, Thursday, October 11, 6 – 9 p.m.

This Museum Nights evening features the UF College of Engineering’s faculty and student works of art, including paintings, photographs, poetry, video, research presentations, musical performances and improvisation. Also enjoy programs relating to photography and The Modern Impulse exhibition.

Member pARTy, Friday, October 12, 6 – 8:30 p.m.
Become a member and enjoy a pARTy celebrating the opening. There will be an opportunity to join at the door. Visit the membership section of the Harn’s website at for a list of benefits and information about joining.

Gallery Talk, Sunday, October 21, 3 p.m.
Curator of Contemporary Art Kerry Oliver-Smith will discuss The Modern Impulse.

Gallery Talk, Sunday, November 11, 3 p.m.
Joyce Tsai, Assistant Professor of Art History
“Vertiginous Visions”
Tsai will discuss the significance of the innovative perspectives and angles illustrated in the photography on view.

Family Day, Saturday, November 17, 1 – 4 p.m.

Explore historic photography in The Modern Impulse exhibition and create a fun flipbook of images in motion. A donation of $2 per child or $5 per family is requested if participating in the art-making activity.

Please contact Tami Wroath at for exhibition images to use in media coverage.

About the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art
Founded in 1990, the Harn Museum of Art is an integral part of the University of Florida. The Harn contributes to an interconnected, international community by integrating the arts and culture into curricula throughout the university’s system of colleges and centers. Its holdings include more than 8,300 works in five main collecting areas: Asian art, African art, photography, modern art of the Americas and Europe, and international contemporary art. In addition to rotating installations drawn from its permanent collection, the Harn organizes traveling exhibitions, public lectures, panel discussions, academic symposia and educational programs for adults, students and children.

The Harn Museum, at Southwest 34th Street and Hull Road in Gainesville, Fla., is part of the University of Florida’s Cultural Plaza, which is also home to the Florida Museum of Natural History and the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Admission is free.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. The museum is open until 9 p.m. the second Thursday of every month for Museum Nights. The Camellia Court Café is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information call 352-392-9826 or visit


Media contacts :
Tami Wroath
Harn Museum of Art
(352) 392-9826 x2116

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