Celebrating the modern city

New York City as a kaleidoscope of color, sound, and form.

Joseph Stella, The Voice of the City of New York Interpreted, 1920-22, oil and tempera on canvas (five panels), 99.75 x 270 inches overall (Purchase 1937 Felix Fuld Bequest Fund 37.288a-e, Newark Museum), a Seeing America video. Speakers: Dr. Tricia Laughlin Bloom and Dr. Steven Zucker

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Stella, The Voice of the City of New York

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Key Points

  • With electrification and the rise of the skyscraper, New York transformed into a modern urban metropolis in the early 20th century. Many immigrants, who often arrived from rural and agricultural communities, experienced culture shock upon their arrival.
  • Avant-garde artists like Joseph Stella experimented with ways to convey the dynamic experience of the modern city. They sought to celebrate this new industrial world and elevate it as a subject for art, often reinterpreting traditional formats, materials, or symbolism to blend elements of the old with the energy of the new.

Go deeper

This painting at the Newark Museum

See this painting at Google Arts & Culture

Review a lesson plan on Stella’s painting

Learn more about Joseph Stella

Read more about the Flatiron Building and the early skyscrapers of New York

Learn about the engineering innovations of the Brooklyn Bridge

Watch original films from early 20th-century New York

Who were the Italian Futurists?

More to think about

Discuss some of the ways Stella references other art forms to evoke the sounds and energy of New York City in a static painting. How do you think his use of poetry to accompany each panel expands on his visual imagery? If you were hired to create a modern art installation that would celebrate your hometown, what components and materials would you use?

Choose one of the panels in Stella’s painting that seems to sum up your ideas of a big bustling city like New York.  What are your impressions of the city based on–your own experience, images on television, movies, and other popular media?  How do you think the ideas expressed in Stella’s painting from 1920 compares to the atmosphere of the city today?

Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.