STANFORD, CALIF. — Co-organized by the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), “Flesh and Metal: Body and Machine in Early 20th Century Art” presents more than 70 artworks that explore a central dynamic of artmaking in Europe and the Americas between the 1910s and the early 1950s. On view through March 16 at the Cantor Arts Center, the exhibition includes a rich group of paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings, prints, and illustrated books from the collection of SFMOMA.
Featured artists include Margaret Bourke-White, Constantin Brancusi, Fernand Léger, Man Ray and Alexander Rodchenko, among others.
The exhibition is part of the collaborative museum shows and extensive off-site programming presented by SFMOMA while its building is temporarily closed for expansion construction. The works offer a fresh view of how artists negotiated the terrain between the mechanical and the bodily — two oppositional yet inextricably bound forces — to produce a wide range of imagery responding to the complexity of modern experience.
“Flesh and Metal” is organized into four thematic sections dealing with the human figure, the imagination, the urban landscape and the object, which together reveal a range of artists’ responses to the conditions of modernity.
At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, many hailed the machine as a symbol of progress. “Speed” and “efficiency” entered the vocabularies of art movements such as Futurism (in Italy), Purism (in France), Vorticism (in England), and Constructivism (in Russia), all of which adapted the subject matter and formal characteristics of the machine. Factories and laborers were presented positively as emblems of modernity, and mechanization became synonymous with mobility and the possibility of social improvement.
Countering this utopian position were proponents of the Dada and Surrealist movements (based largely in Germany and France), who found mechanical production problematic. For many of these artists the machine was perceived as a threat not only to the body, but to the uniquely human qualities of the mind as well. These artists embraced chance, accident, dream and desire as new paths to freedom and creativity.
Though art from this era is often viewed as representing an opposition between the rational, impersonal world of the machine and the uncontrollable, often troubling realm of the human psyche, the work in this exhibition suggests a more nuanced tension. In fact, artists regularly perceived these polarities in tandem.
The exhibition is on the second floor of the Cantor Arts Center, which is at Lomita Drive at Museum Way. Related films will also be screened. Admission is free.
The Cantor is open Wednesday–Sunday, 11 am to 5 pm, and Thursday until 8 pm. For information, 650-723-4177 or www.museum.stanford.edu.