Pioneering Modernism: Post Impressionism in Cleveland, 1908-1913

In the modern art movement . . .Cleveland was one of the first American cities to answer the new call, and the group that first saw the light was numerous and able. Louis Rorimer

This exhibition examines an art historical process that has never been closely considered: the moment when modern art first blossomed in Cleveland, in the years from about 1910 to 1913. Because it focuses on these early years, it omits some of the Cleveland figures who are better known such as Charles Burchfield, Viktor Schreckengost, and Margaret Bourke-White. And it also includes a number of notable figures who are not always associated with Cleveland because they moved on and pursued most of their career in other places: figures such as William Zorach and Hugo Robus.

Cleveland was one of the very first American cities to host a group of artists who worked in ultramodern styles such as Fauvism and Cubism. Indeed, even before the famous New York Armory Show of 1913, it had a group of artists who had taken up the cause of ultramodern art.

In the last decades of the 19th-century, America experienced tremendous industrial growth. Cleveland’s growth during this period paralleled that of the rest of the country, but with notable exceptions. It was unique among other American cities, unlike neighboring Pittsburgh and Detroit, in that economic prominence was not tied to one industry such as steel or automobiles. Further, and unlike Boston and Chicago, no one ethnic group rose to prominence such as the Irish or Poles.

Instead Cleveland developed a strong, diversified economy including everything from the manufacture of metals, chemicals, and electrical machines, clothing, and automobiles, manufactured by a population comprising almost equal numbers of Italians, Hungarians, Germans, Irish, Poles, Czechs, Jews, and Slavs. It saw its population explode from 380,000 to over 900,000 in just 30 years and its per capita wealth increase so dramatically that its main street came to be known as Millionaire’s Row. In this boiling caldron that was Cleveland at the start of the 20th-century, a distinctive Modernist movement emerged. A community of young men and women came together, “comrades in art,” living and working within a few miles of each other on the east bank of the Cuyahoga River. Many of the artists came to work in the city’s commercial lithography industries; others came to study at the Cleveland School of Art. In the neighborhoods that surrounded the plants and factories that offered them a livelihood, they took up the torch of Modernism.

Pioneering Modernism: Post Impressionism in Cleveland, 1908-1913

Henry Adams and Larry Waldman, Guest Curators

May 24-July 27, 2013


Cleveland Artists Foundation

17801 Detroit Avenue

Lakewood, Ohio 44107