At The Harn Museum: Photography From The Interwar Period: The Modern Impulse Explores The Radical Social And Artistic Developments In Europe And America Between World War I And World War II

The Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida will present an exhibition that reflects a transformative moment in photographic history during the tumultuous interwar years. On view from October 9, 2012 through January 6, 2013, The Modern Impulse: Photography from Europe and America Between the Wars will explore how the newly portable 35mm camera was celebrated as an instrument of poetry, analysis, and social change. Covering the years between 1918 and 1945, the exhibition will highlight over 40 artists who expanded the new medium and changed the way we perceive the world. Celebrating technology while embracing spontaneity and improvisation, these artists captured the spirit, vitality, and invention of a new age.

Henri Cartier-Bresson. Place de l’Europe. 1932.
© Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos

The Modern Impulse showcases more than 135 photographs, books, illustrated magazines, and films drawn from four regions that were among the era’s most prominent centers of photographic innovation—France and the Czech Republic in Europe, and New York and California in the United States. Artists featured in The Modern Impulse include such innovative talents as Berenice Abbott, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Imogen Cunningham, František Drtikol, Walker Evans, André Kertész, Helen Levitt, Josef Sudek, and Jaroslav Rössler.

Henri Cartier-Bresson. Alicante, Spain. 1932.
© Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos

“Photographers from both sides of the Atlantic caught the fleeting moments of everyday life, focusing on cities, street life, and the contours of industrial and natural forms. Their work ranged from abstraction to realism and was influenced by artistic movements such as Surrealism, Constructivism, and New Objectivity along with creative approaches to documentary and reportage,” said exhibition curator Kerry Oliver-Smith, curator of contemporary art at the Harn Museum of Art. “Broadly, the work reflects what artist and theorist László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946) described as a ‘new vision,’ a perspective that emerged from the technical culture of the 20th century, incorporating a multitude of unconventional forms and techniques such as unusual cropping and camera angles, high contrast and photomontage in both experimental and straight photography.”

“The Modern Impulse offers a window into one of the most artistically fertile periods in the history of photography,” said Rebecca Nagy, director of the Harn Museum of Art. “We’re delighted to share a remarkable exhibition that meaningfully contributes to a greater understanding of 20th century visual culture.”

Berenice Abbott. Manhattan Bridge. 1936.
© Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics

The works displayed in the exhibition are organized by the following five thematic areas, which reflect the diversity of production and expression under the “new vision” movement: Art and Technology: New Vision and the Modern City; Pure Photography and New Objectivity; Dreams, Memory, and Desire: Surrealism in France and the Czech Republic; Social Activism and Modern Life: Documentary and Reportage; and Mass Media: Photography for the Public.

A lecture series will be offered in conjunction with the exhibition. Ontology of the Image will feature lectures by John Mullarkey, Professor of Film and Television at Kingston University in the United Kingdon, and Ariella Azoulay, Leverhulme Research Professor at Durham University and Director of the Photo-Lexic International Research Group at the Minerva Center, Tel Aviv University.

Berenice Abbott. New York at Night. 1932.
© Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics

About The Samuel P. Harn Museum Of Art
Founded in 1990, the Harn Museum of Art is an integral part of the University of Florida. The Harn contributes to an interconnected, international community by integrating the arts and culture into curricula throughout the university’s system of colleges and centers. Its holdings include more than 8600 works in five main collecting areas: Asian art, African art, photography, modern art of the Americas and Europe, and international contemporary art. In addition to rotating installations drawn from its permanent collection, the Harn organizes traveling exhibitions, public lectures, panel discussions, academic symposia, and educational programs for adults, students, and children.

Marion Post Wolcott. Jitterbugging in a Juke Joint, Clarksdale, Mississippi. 1939.
© Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics

Imogen Cunningham. Amaryllis. 1933.
© 1933, 2012 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

Museum Location & Hours
The Harn Museum, at 3259 Hull Road in Gainesville, Florida, is part of the University of Florida’s Cultural Plaza, which is also home to the Florida Museum of Natural History and the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Admission is free.

Hours are 11am to 5pm Tuesday through Friday, 10am to 5pm Saturday, and 1 to 5pm Sunday. The museum is open until 9pm the second Thursday of every month for Museum Nights. The Camellia Court Café is open seven days a week from 11am to 3pm. For more information, call (352) 392-9826 or visit

Text supplied by Harn Museum Staff. Edited by George Schaub.

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