Timeline of Art History: United States & Canada, 1900 ad – present

List of significant American art, artistic events and influences that mark the last century of American art.

1900 In the design of the Ward W. Willitts House in Highland Park, Illinois, Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959) creates the “Prairie Style,” a modernist aesthetic for architecture and design that complements the Midwestern landscape.

1903 San Francisco–born expatriate Isadora Duncan (1878–1927) delivers a lecture in Berlin entitled “The Dance of the Future” and is soon hailed in the U.S. and Europe as the founder of modern dance.

1908 Lewis Hine (1874–1940) becomes staff photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), traveling through the United States documenting child labor in various industries. Designed to evoke the sympathy of viewers and mobilize activism, Hine’s images are circulated by the NCLC via exhibitions and pamphlets. His last large-scale documentary project will be a record of the construction of the Empire State Building in New York (1930–31), in which workers and labor itself share the spotlight with the awe-inspiring structure.

1908 A group of eight realist painters of urban life, later known as the Ashcan School or “The Eight,” including William Glackens (1870–1938), Robert Henri (1865–1929), George Luks (1867–1933), and John Sloan (1871–1951), organize an exhibition at Macbeth Gallery in New York.

1909 Gertrude Stein (1874–1946) publishes Three Lives, a character study of three women. A native of Pennsylvania, Stein is for many years a prominent member of avant-garde artistic and expatriate circles in Paris.

1910s Greenwich Village in lower Manhattan emerges as an enclave of bohemian and radical culture, home to irreverent small presses, avant-garde art galleries and studios, and experimental theater groups.

1912 New Mexico and Arizona become the forty-seventh and forty-eighth states of the U.S. The unique landscape and culture of the American Southwest will attract many artists, including Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986), who will travel to New Mexico for the first time in 1929 and reside there permanently from 1949.

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Farbstudie Quadrate, c.1913
Wassily Kandinsky
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1913 The International Exposition of Modern Art (the “Armory Show”) is held at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York and introduces Americans to the modernist work of Matisse, Kandinsky, Brancusi, Picasso, Braque, and others on a large scale. Nude Descending a Staircase, a Cubist canvas by Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968), creates a public sensation. Theodore Roosevelt labels the Futurist and Cubist artists in the exhibition “the lunatic fringe.” Smaller versions of the show subsequently travel to Chicago and Boston.


1917 Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) exhibits his first readymade, Fountain, an upturned and signed urinal, at the Society of Independent Artists in New York. This work questions what it means to be an artist and what constitutes a work of art.

1920s–early 1930s Literary, visual, and performing arts flourish in Harlem, the African-American enclave of New York City, spurred by the mass migration of blacks from rural areas to northern cities. Poets, novelists, painters, and musicians of the “New Negro Movement“—later called the Harlem Renaissance—search for new forms of expression to convey their racial experiences and celebrate African-American cultural identity. Major figures of the Harlem Renaissance include poets Langston Hughes (1902–1967) and Countee Cullen (1903–1946), novelist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960), jazz composer Duke Ellington (1899–1974), political activists W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963) and Marcus Garvey (1887–1940), photographer James Van Der Zee (1886–1983), and artists Aaron Douglas (1899–1979) and Archibald Motley (1891–1981).

1928–41 The Cranbrook Academy of Art is designed and constructed in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, by Finnish-American modernist Eliel Saarinen (1873–1950), who also serves as president of the Academy.


1929 The Museum of Modern Art, New York, opens.

1930s The Regionalist movement is embodied in the paintings of Grant Wood (1892–1942), John Steuart Curry (1897–1946), and Thomas Hart Benton (1889–1975). Rejecting the tenets of modernist art and theory, the Regionalists depict indigenous American subjects in a realist mode, often in murals commissioned for post offices, schools, libraries, and other public buildings under the auspices of the Federal Art Project, a Depression-era government program.


1932 The International Style exhibition opens at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Curated by architect Philip Johnson (born 1906) and art historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock (1903–1987), it introduces an American audience to recent developments in European modernist architecture.

1932 Eleven West Coast photographers, including Ansel Adams (1902–1984), Imogen Cunningham (1883–1976), and Edward Weston (1886–1958), hold an exhibition in San Francisco at which they announce the formation of Group f/64, dedicated to a “pure” photography that captures the world “as it is,” and opposed to the aesthetic manipulations of Pictorialism.

1933 A liberal arts college is founded in Black Mountain, North Carolina, and becomes a locus for the dissemination of Bauhaus ideas through its European émigré teaching staff, including the German Josef Albers (1888–1976). Black Mountain College remains a site for the production of experimental multimedia work until it closes in 1957.

1933 Mexican muralist Diego Rivera (1886–1957) is commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller (1908–1979) to create a mural for the RCA Building in New York’s Rockefeller Center. Because the painting, entitled Man at the Crossroads, contains a portrait of Lenin, Rivera is prevented from completing it, and Rockefeller later has it destroyed. The leftist politics and social content of Rivera’s work, along with that of his compatriots José Clemente Orozco (1883–1949) and David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896–1975), who also spend time in the U.S. during the 1930s executing various public commissions, influence many American artists employed in government-sponsored New Deal projects during the Depression.

1935 The federal government launches the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which, like other New Deal programs, provides employment for artists. Ben Shahn (1898–1969), Stuart Davis (1892–1964), and Jackson Pollock (1912–1956), among thousands of other artists, produce murals, sculptures, posters, and other graphic materials for public buildings and for exhibitions held in dozens of community art centers established across the country by the Federal Art Project. Photographers document the living and working conditions of Americans during the Depression with the support of the Resettlement Administration (later called the Farm Security Administration). Among the photographers is Dorothea Lange (1895–1965), whose images of the Dust Bowl exodus become symbols of the migrant experience.

1936 The Photo League, committed to a documentary photography allied to progressive political and social movements, establishes a school in New York under the directorship of Sid Grossman (1913–1955) and begins publication of its provocative journal Photo Notes. Among the League’s projects is Harlem Document, supervised by Aaron Siskind (1903–1991), which records life in New York’s African-American community. In the late 1940s, the League is declared a “subversive” organization by the U.S. Attorney General and many of its members are blacklisted.

1942 Edward Hopper (1882–1967) paints Nighthawks (Art Institute, Chicago), an iconic depiction of loneliness and isolation in contemporary American life. Hopper maintains allegiance to a harsh realist mode throughout his life, creating stark urban and rural scenes scored by bright artificial light and deep shadows.

1942 Peggy Guggenheim (1898–1979) opens the gallery Art of This Century in New York. Romanian-Austrian architect Frederick Kiesler (1890–1965) designed the interiors that were intended to complement the Surrealist and abstract art on display.

1944 The American Society of Industrial Designers is founded to advocate high-quality design of industrial products, a larger concern at mid-century. Among the most advanced designers of the period is Norman Bel Geddes (1893–1958), whose work encompasses the practical design of everyday commodities such as typewriters and radios, and large-scale visionary projects such as the Futurama exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.


1945 The conclusion of World War II begins a prolonged period of economic expansion in the U.S. Among the postwar American art movements that receive popular and critical attention worldwide is Abstract Expressionism, which includes two subgenres: action or gesture painting, associated with the work of Jackson Pollock (1912–1956), Lee Krasner (1908–1984), Willem de Kooning (1904–1997), Franz Kline (1910–1962), and others, and color field painting, represented by the work of Mark Rothko (1903–1970), Barnett Newman (1905–1970), and Ad Reinhardt (1913–1967). Although Abstract Expressionism is mostly thought of as a movement in painting, it has some correlation to the sculpture of David Smith (1906–1965).

1957 Tatyana Grosman (1904–1982) establishes Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE), a printmaking workshop, in West Islip, New York. ULAE sets the standards for a postwar printmaking renaissance in the United States.

1958 The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959), opens in New York. Wright had begun working on the commission for a building to house the Guggenheim’s collection of modernist art in 1943. The museum represents a sculpturally and spatially rich use of concrete.

1959 The first public “happening” is produced by Allan Kaprow (born 1927) at the Reuben Gallery in New York. Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg are among the performers. Influenced by Jackson Pollock’s process of action painting, the teachings of John Cage on chance and indeterminacy in art, and ultimately Dadaism, Kaprow defines a happening as a choreographed event that facilitates spontaneous interactions between objects—which include performers—and visitors.

1960 The Minimalist movement begins and maintains an important place in the art world for about a decade. Practitioners include Carl Andre (born 1935), Robert Morris (born 1931), Dan Flavin (1933–1996), Brice Marden (born 1938), Robert Ryman (born 1930), and others.

1961 The phrase “concept art” is first used by Henry Flynt (born 1940). It comes to have a more general application to the work of artists Sol LeWitt (born 1928), Joseph Kosuth (born 1945), and others. During the following decade, Conceptual and performance art demonstrate the possibilities of making art without producing saleable objects.

1962 Andy Warhol (1928–1987) paints Campbell’s Soup Cans, a key work of the Pop Art movement. Warhol and other artists associated with the movement, including Claes Oldenburg (born 1929) and Roy Lichtenstein (1923–1997), satirize Americans’ voracious consumption of manufactured products in the postwar period.

1962 Yale University’s Art and Architecture Building, designed by Paul Rudolph (1918–1997), opens. It is an important monument of New Brutalism, a style that—in contrast to the trim and sleek aesthetic of 1920s modernism—emphasizes the tactility and roughness of its materials, often poured-in-place concrete.

1964 The term “optical art” is coined in Time magazine to describe painting and sculpture that makes use of optical effects to evoke physiological responses in the viewer. Proponents of Op Art include Bridget Riley (born 1931), Larry Poons (born 1937), and long-time practitioner Victor Vasarely (1908–1997).

1969 A group exhibition devoted to Conceptual art, entitled January 1–31: 0 Objects, 0 Paintings, 0 Sculptures, is mounted by New York dealer Seth Siegelaub and features the work of four artists: Joseph Kosuth (born 1945), Lawrence Weiner (born 1940), Robert Barry (born 1936), and Douglas Huebler (1924–1997). As a movement, Conceptualism critiques the political and economic structures that sustain Western art forms, and Conceptual artists produce works intended to convey ideas—often through the use of text alone—rather than to be appreciated as precious commodities.

1970 Environmental awareness spawns earthworks, sculptural projects on the scale of the landscape itself. Perhaps the best-known example is Robert Smithson’s (1938–1973) large-scale Spiral Jetty, built out of rock and earth in the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

1971 The term “Post-Minimalism” is used by critic Robert Pincus-Witten (born 1935) to describe the contemporary work of Richard Serra (born 1939) and Eva Hesse (1936–1970).

1976 The avant-garde opera Einstein on the Beach, by Robert Wilson (born 1941) and composer Philip Glass (born 1937), premieres.

1977 Walter De Maria (born 1935) installs The Lightning Field near Quemada, New Mexico. In the same year, he re-creates his 1968 Earth Room, a gallery filled with dirt, at the Heiner Friedrich Gallery in New York. With the latter work, De Maria becomes prominently associated with the earthworks movement.

1979 Artist Sherrie Levine (born 1947) rephotographs images by Walker Evans as a means of making art that questions the notion of originality. Over the next decade, Levine, Dana Birnbaum (born 1946), Barbara Kruger (born 1945), and others will become prominent in the Appropriation Art movement.

1985 The Los Angeles County Museum of Art organizes an exhibition of works by Barbara Kruger (born 1945), which combine found photography and succinct, humorous slogans deconstructing the representations of power inherent in mass-media imagery. Kruger is one of many artists of the 1980s, sometimes dubbed the “pictures generation,” who explore the coercive and seductive dynamics of the media.

The “grunge” style, originating in Seattle, Washington, becomes nationally fashionable and has an impact on popular music and clothing.



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