Chronology MMoCA Collects


Modern Art (1880–1970)

Modern art refers to major phase in the history of western art that began in the later nineteenth century and reached a culminating point in the 1960s. Modern art was based on the notion that a work of art is a personal record of an artist's experiences. The previous tradition in western art that originated with the Italian Renaissance held that the work of art reflected the artist's direct observation of nature. Artists sought to depict the nature and the human figure in perceptual terms, creating a facsimile in painting or sculpture of our optical experience of the world. This representational approach was put to the service of primarily visualizing a shared public culture of religion, mythology, and history.

Renaissance realism in art continued into the modern era, but revolutionary new attitudes led to stylistic developments that allowed artists to express private states-of-mind through the simplification and exaggeration of natural color and shape. Some artists took this idea further and created an art of pure color and shape that did not represent the world as seen by the eye.

Art writers in the modern tradition presented the history of new art as a sequence of art movements and radical styles that was progressive—with a premium on innovation. Oil painting dominated discussions of modern art; its contributions were the most significant. Modern art was also a history of male artists of European descent. There were, however, notable exceptions. A small number of women artists bucked the tastes of the art market and the restrictions of art institutions to achieve recognition and a degree of celebrity.