Messy Modernism: Art in 20th-Century American Magazines
(Norman Rockwell Museum)
Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Invitation to attend -

Virtual panel discussion - April 21, 5-7 pm

Magazines are increasingly emerging as critical sites in developing a new understanding of the dynamic relationship between “fine” art and mass culture. Throughout the 20th century, a wide range of American periodicals commissioned artists to produce work for covers and feature stories, but many of these commissions have been left out of histories of modernism.

This session considers three case studies to convey the rich trajectory of art and magazines: Edward Hopper’s covers for the Wells Fargo Messenger, Mine Okubo’s drawings in Fortune magazine, and Saul Steinberg’s work for such publications as Life, Look, Sports Illustrated, and Time. The papers explore the origins of and motivations behind such commissions and analyzes the art as it was originally published in print, showing how advertisements, adjacent articles, and captions shaped the initial reception and understanding of the works.

The sometimes-incongruous juxtapositions of images, texts, and ads reveal a messy modernism in the making. They also offer a novel view of the convergence of financial, social, cultural, and political forces in 20th-century American history without the (often misleading) order afforded by hindsight. This session brings new works by both well-known and understudied artists to light and broadens the parameters of what is considered “modern” art. Spanning over half a century, it demonstrates the complex relationships among artists, corporations, and magazines in the 20th century.

Presenters and Topics:

Chair: Erika Doss – Professor of American Studies, University of Notre Dame; Rockwell Center Distinguished Fellow

  • Edward Hopper and the “Wells Fargo Way”
    Leo G. Mazow -Louise B. and J. Harwood Cochrane Curator of American Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
  • “Objectivity” in Wartime U.S.A.: Mine Okubo and Fortune Magazine
    Emily Hage – Associate Professor of Art History, Saint Joseph’s University
  • Beyond The New Yorker: Saul Steinberg’s Other Magazine Commissions
    Melissa Renn – Collections Manager, HBS Art and Artifacts Collection, Harvard Business School.

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