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The Industrial Modern

May 28, 2011 – September 4, 2011

installation view of "The Industrial Modern" showing framed artworks on the wall and the title wall text
installation view of "The Industrial Modern" showing framed artworks on the wall and the title wall text


The rapid changes precipitated by the Industrial Revolution transformed the physical, economic, and socio-political landscape of Europe and the United States. These changes, including mechanization, regimented labor, urbanization, coincided with a growing interest among Western artists in visually representing the rhythms and realities of everyday life. Presenting artists’ conflicted responses to industry, labor, and the urban environment from the middle of the nineteenth century to contemporary times, The Industrial Modern explores the tensions inherent in the “culture of progress.”

Focusing on workers and strikers, factories and machines, skyscrapers and city centers, bridges and railroads, docks and shipyards—the shapes of steel, steam, concrete, and human labor—artworks in The Industrial Modern explore scenes previously deemed unworthy of serious artistic representation. William Gropper, for example, a committed left-wing radical, infused his works with a socio-political message, championing the cause of the exploited worker and highlighting the social injustices characteristic of the modern industrial age. In contrast, Donna Dennis eschews reference to human presence, focusing instead on the dingy interior of a vacant subway station. Light from three stark bulbs illuminates the impressive vernacular architecture, while simultaneously calling attention to the emptiness of the cavernous space and hinting at themes of desolation and urban alienation.

Drawn from the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s permanent collection, The Industrial Modern features works by William Gropper, William Klein, Käthe Kollwitz, Ferdinand Léger, Louis Lozowick, Joseph Pennell, and Ben Shahn, among others. Each of these artists takes a unique approach to the questions and challenges surrounding the nature of industrial labor, the dynamism of the urban metropolis, and the power of the machine.

The Industrial Modern is organized by MMoCA’s Curatorial Associate Leah Kolb.

Exhibition Support

Generous support for Picturing Technology and The Industrial Modern has been provided by University Research Park, Inc.; the Madison Print Club; Potter Lawson, Inc.; a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts; and MMoCA Volunteers.