Sunday, April 12, 2015

Shatter | Rupture | Break


"You are in an era of rapid changes in communication and technological innovation, with people, ideas, and goods circulating faster and farther than ever before. The world seems unstable and on edge; the threat of global conflict unsettles daily life in ways large and small. You are bombarded every day with images, words, sounds, and new inventions - all of which are reordering your life and transforming the way you think. This moment is simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating, a source of both grave anxiety and radical innovation." 

A century ago, society was experiencing rapid and radical changes, and the art produced during this transitory period reflects these changes. Similar to today's fast-paced digital age, the modern era (roughly the first half of the 20th century) produced a new understanding of the world in response to the wider circulation of people, goods, and ideas due to new technologies, political issues, and new understandings of psychology and the human mind. Social issues relating to the outbreak of World War I were prominent, and new perspectives were emerging that countered traditional notions. Artists showed their interest in this progressive tide by responding with works that reflected both excitement and anxiety about what was happening within the world. They broke from the restraints set in place by tradition, and created innovative, creative gains on the artistic front. 

These innovative pieces can be found right here in Chicago. In the Art Institute's Modern Wing, the exhibit Shatter Rupture Break highlights this change in art with carefully chosen pieces from early 20th century artists. It is the first exhibit in the Museum's Modern Series, and it is available until May 3, 2015 in Galleries 182 - 184. 

"Everything had broken down and in any case, and new things had to be made out of the fragments." - Kurt Schwitters, 1930

The exhibit features a variety of works, ranging from paintings, sculptures, photos, textiles, films, writings, and various objects that explore the themes of fragmentation and rupture. Kurt Schwitters and George Grosz experiment with collage, using bits of printed material and even trash. Their usage of bits and pieces of materials to create something whole highlights the element of fragmentation by paralleling the social and political upheaval that existed at the turn of the century. The photographs featured in the exhibit are particularly interesting. Photographers such as Hans Bellmer, Salvador Dalí, and Stanislaw Witkiewicz draw their inspiration from the war. New ways of thinking and the literal tearing apart of human bodies that happened in war, sparked the production of photos that showcase the body rendered as fragments. Witkeiwicz's group of self-portraits created by breaking and reassembling a glass negative, create a sense of a shattered psyche. Other artists, such as Robert Delaunay and Gino Severini, do away with traditional notions of depth and perspective by presenting vision as something that is a fragmented. 

The works featured in the exhibit are truly unique. Many of them are disturbing - you get mixed feelings as you view them, and that adds to the overall effect of fragmentation. All of the pieces are originally from the museum, just from various departments. The exhibition is unique because it brings these very different works together and juxtaposes them in provocative groupings. The pieces speak for themselves, but the Institute has also incorporated the artists' voices by including original quotes with the works. 

As Brian Uzzi and Jarrett Spiro write in their articles, creativity can be a consequence of a social system in which people with differing ideas inspire one another. It is not simply the product of a single person's work, but rather something that takes its form through societal issues and changing patterns of thought.

The beginning of the 20th century was fraught with great anxiety as well as great excitement. The modernist movement proved to be a period in which conventional notions of art were challenged and reinvented. The theme of fragmentation permeated life and art at the time by inspiring artists to free themselves from the restraints of tradition. Artists developed revolutionary visual strategies that reflected social change and their new modes of perception. 

Uzzi, Brian, and Jarrett Spiro. "Collaboration and Creativity: The Small World Problem."American Journal of Sociology: 447-504. Print.

"First Look: 'Shatter Rupture Break' at the Art Institute of Chicago - Apollo Magazine." Apollo Magazine. 31 Jan. 2015. Web. 13 Apr. 2015. <>.

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