Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany 1918–1936

Following the chaos of World War I, a move emerged towards figuration, clean lines, and modeled form, and away from the two-dimensional abstracted spaces, fragmented compositions, and splintered bodies of the avant-gardes—particularly Cubism, Futurism, and Expressionism—that dominated the opening years of the 20th century. After the horrors visited upon humanity in the Western hemisphere by new machine-age warfare, a desire reasserted itself to represent the body whole and intact. For the next decade-and-a-half classicism, “return to order,” synthesis, organization, and enduring values, rather than the pre-War emphasis on innovation-at-all-costs, would dominate the discourse of contemporary art. Chaos and Classicism will trace this interwar classical aesthetic as it worked its way from a poetic, mythic idea in the Parisian avant-garde; to a political, historical idea of a revived Roman Empire, under Mussolini; to a neo-Platonic High Modernism at the Bauhaus, and then, chillingly, a pseudo-biological classicism, or Aryanism, in nascent Nazi culture. Interwoven through these closely related but distinct classical paradigms will be the key movements that proclaimed visual and thematic “clarity”: Purism, Novecento, and Neue Sachlichkeit. This vast transformation of contemporary aesthetics in France, Italy, and Germany will encompass painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, film, fashion, and the decorative arts. Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany 1918–1936 will be the first exhibition in the United States to focus upon this international phenomenon and to examine its manifestations in all media.  Among the artists represented are Balthus, Giorgio de Chirico, Jean Cocteau, Otto Dix, Hannah Höch, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Pablo Picasso, and August Sander.  The exhibition is curated by Kenneth E. Silver, Guest Curator and Professor of Modern Art, New York University.

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