Modernisms: 1900-1980

This period witnessed divergent ideologies and terrible global conflicts: WWI and the collapse of the great empires, Totalitarianism, the Holocaust, the dismantling of colonialism, WWII and the Cold War. It was also a time of unprecedented growth in global population, wealth, and communication and it was a period that saw great gains in human rights. Art of the 20th century is full of experimentation, the “isms” of Modernism: Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism and the later Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, and Minimalism to name just a few as artists sought to reflect a world that was being radically transformed.




Frida Kahlo painted 55 self-portraits, demonstrating the importance of this genre to her artistic oeuvre.

Frida Kahlo, introduction


The traditional naturalistic style can't elucidate the deep underlying mysteries of the universe—there are truths inaccessible to the scientific method, and a meta-reality beyond the reach of human perception.

Abstract art and Theosophy



“The Bauhaus believes the machine to be our modern medium of design and seeks to come to terms with it.”

The Bauhaus: Marcel Breuer


Today, Bauhaus designs are so familiar and so simple that they don’t seem to have required a designer, but they were as radical in their time as they are commonplace now.

The Bauhaus, an Introduction


When female applicants at the Bauhaus threatened to equal or even outnumber male applicants, the masters at the school agreed to channel women into the pottery, bookbinding, and weaving workshops.

The Bauhaus: Marianne Brandt


The Constructivists worked to establish a new social role for art and the artist in the communist society of 1920s Soviet Russia.

Constructivism, Part I



Constructivist Kiosks, rubber overshoes, textile designs and posters — all aligned with the ideology of communism and contributing to the creation of a new society.

Constructivism, Part II



The elements of De Stijl are the artist’s equivalent of the physicist’s building blocks: protons, neutrons, and electrons. With a bucket of each of these you could make anything in the universe.

De Stijl, Part I: Total Purity


"If one conceived of these forms as increasingly simple and pure, commencing with the physical visible forms of appearance, then one passes through a world of forms ascending from reality to abstraction. In this manner one approaches Spirit, or purity itself."

De Stijl, Part II: Near-Abstraction and Pure ...



De Stijl believed its utopian aspirations would be achieved by creating total environments, over which the designer (not the inhabitant) had complete control.

De Stijl, Part III: The Total De ...


We may never know who created the first abstract painting. A more interesting question might be: why did abstraction emerge at about the same time in so many places across Europe?

Who created the first abstract artwork?



“I transformed myself in the zero of form . . . I destroyed the ring of the horizon and escaped from the circle of things, from the horizon-ring that confines the artist and the forms of nature.”

Suprematism, Part I: Kasimir Malevich




Tatlin’s Tower symbolizes the utopian aspirations of the communist leaders of Russia’s 1917 October Revolution.

Tatlin’s Tower