Wednesday , 14 November 2018

Review: Cult of the Machine at the de Young

Let’s flash again to the Machine Age, the interval in American historical past that gave us the meeting line, the primary nonstop transcontinental flight, common radio broadcasts, and the primary robotic able to performing greater than 20 actions. These technological developments impressed a method of artwork known as Precisionism, popularized by massive names like Georgia O’Keefe, Charles Sheeler and Charles Demuth.

The Cult of the Machine exhibit on the de Younger museum in San Francisco is a mirrored image of attitudes towards machines and robotics in the course of the Machine Age, the interval between the 2 world wars throughout which industrial effectivity was the reigning mantra. In an period the place effectivity was seen as each stunning and as a risk, there was an inflow of artwork impressed by anxieties folks had concerning the rise of business expertise. The exhibit rehashes the “are machines a good friend or foe to people?” debate by way of a Precisionist lens with an intensive, probably too thorough, assortment.

Curated by Emma Acker, the exhibit is predominantly Precisionist works. Precisionism is an early 20th century American modernist model that was born from artists who synthesized European cubism and futurism with the American imaginative and prescient of business, city themes. We see smokestacks, factories, bridges and skyscrapers painted with geometric, clean strategies.

Technologists immediately have expressed concern concerning the takeover of robotics, decline in manufacturing jobs, dropping management to AIs, biased algorithms and the loss of craftsmanship to machines. Each tech firm has a method round machine studying and AI. Venture capitalists are investing in robotics startups. There are robots designed to make pizzas. Robots that autonomously deliver goods by way of the final mile. Autonomous automobiles designed to interchange drivers and flying vehicles on the horizon. Tech continues to make our world extra environment friendly and handy, but it surely’s inconceivable to foretell whether or not machines will ultimately assist or hinder us as a species. When strolling by way of the Cult of the Machine exhibit on the de Younger, one begins to surprise if this line of questioning will ever finish.

Duality of machines as gentle and darkish

The de Younger assortment is a steadiness between the anxieties Individuals felt towards expertise in the course of the Machine Age, combined with the hope that expertise dropped at a extra related, handy world. One gallery dives into menacing interpretations of what expertise meant in the course of the interval. Charles Sheeler’s “Suspended Energy,” a 1939 oil on canvas depicts a big machine hanging over just a few small people in a manufacturing unit — a stark illustration of the immense, barely-controlled energy expertise can exert over humanity — and the way with one mis-engineered piece, we may very well be crushed. The piece is the star of the exhibit, encapsulating the looming, unquantifiable risk of the long run.


Artists actually noticed the darkness in America’s worship of trade. Take Charles Demuth’s, “Incense of a New Church,” 1921. Right here a manufacturing unit is in comparison with a church, smoke to incense.

A lot of the exhibit is scenes of factories, smokestacks and concrete landscapes void of people, motion and colour. The items themselves appear to be they have been painted by machines, with no brush strokes to be detected. It may very well be the mix of the monotony of this artwork — the amount of immobile city landscapes — that makes elements of the exhibit really feel empty and tedious. However that simply often is the level.

Clarence Holbrook Carter’s “Conflict Bride,” closes the exhibit. A bride stands to face her groom, a machine.

The absence of human error evokes anonymity and alienation that exist in a technological world. There’s an eerie vacancy to those shut up photographs of mechanical programs. But they’re the small items that make up our world.

Complicated effectivity with magnificence 

Throughout the Machine Age, the demand for effectivity grew to become the driving pressure of the trendy period. Its straightforward to see how effectivity was confused with magnificence, fairly than seen because the success of financial wants. But artists have been discovering that means within the intersection of artwork, commerce and trade.

“I communicate in [the] tongue of my instances. The mechanical, the economic. Something that works effectively is gorgeous.” – Charles Sheeler.

This exhibit just isn’t by any means stunning. There’s nothing right here that one is likely to be impressed to hold on a lounge wall.

Nevertheless, for the primary time “artists began to find magnificence and that means in our American cloth of trade and manufacturing and elevated it to the extent of nice artwork,” says Acker. “The concepts and themes explored within the works from this era appear to resonate a lot with our present second. That’s what I needed to emphasise. Precisionism was the springboard for desirous about bigger themes round our relationship to expertise in the course of the Machine Age and immediately. And the way the excitements and anxieties Individuals skilled round tech innovation are mirrored in our similar social forces immediately.”

Battle between people and machines 

Maybe essentially the most fascinating a part of the exhibit is an interactive characteristic that invitations guests to pick out three phrases out of 30 to precise what expertise means to them. A number of the choices are: inventive, interconnected, revolutionary, automated, isolating, surveillance, collaborative, addicting, alienating, chilly. On the finish of the exhibit essentially the most frequently-selected phrases are displayed in a collective phrase portrait.


The phrase cloud is up to date each three seconds, and is contrasted with one other phrase cloud. The opposite is a composite of Machine Age phrases describing expertise, drawn from 1920s-1930s American periodicals. Measurement and colour of the phrases is decided by how regularly it appeared within the texts. It appears the guests of this exhibit have extra optimistic views of tech than the media in the course of the Machine Age did.

Total the exhibit connects two views of expertise: a cult-like promise of a greater engineered world, and the crushing worry of the unknown threatening humanity’s livelihood.

The place does this depart us now? “We will relate to [the Machine Age] now as we enter this 4th industrial revolution. We’re wanting ahead with pleasure and a few trepidation towards disruption, displacement and modifications on the horizon,” says Acker.

Cult of the Machine: Precisionsim and American Artwork runs by way of August 12, 2018 on the de Younger Museum in San Francisco. For these keen on exploring how tech has formed artwork all through American historical past, this exhibit is one to see.


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