Charles Sheeler: Fashion, Photography, and Sculptural Form is a ground-breaking exploration of Sheeler’s fashion photography for Condé Nast between 1926 and 1931, a body of work that has yet to be considered by scholars of American modernism. Sheeler’s Condé Nast work has been almost universally dismissed as purely commercial, a painter’s “day job,” and nothing more. However, Charles Sheeler: Fashion, Photography, and Sculptural Form will demonstrate that Sheeler’s years at Condé Nast were critical to the development of the aesthetic vision that would guide and inform the rest of his artistic career, helping to shape his compositions and fine-tune his particular style—objective, distant, and rigorously formal—which he then applied to all of his subjects: architectural, industrial, and vernacular.
Philadelphia native and Doylestown resident for sixteen years, Charles Sheeler (1883–1965) is recognized as one of the founding figures of American modernism for his pioneering work as both a painter and a photographer. Trained in an impressionist approach to landscape painting, Sheeler experimented early in his career with compositions inspired by European modernism before developing a linear, hard-edged style now known as Precisionism. While working in this mode, he produced powerful and compelling images of the Machine Age: skyscrapers, factories, locomotive engines, and power plants. These paintings and photographs from the 1920s and 1930s established his reputation as a leading figure in American art.
Charles Sheeler: Fashion, Photography, and Sculptural Form incorporates more than 60 photographs from the archives of Condé Nast, as well additional photographs, paintings, and costumes on loan from leading museum collections. Vignettes of costume, photographs, and paintings will enable visitors to fully explore how the dramatic viewpoints, rhythmic patterning, and abstract compositions seen in his photographs and paintings from the late 1920s and 1930s were influenced by his work at Condé Nast. In the 1920s, fashion became streamlined into simplified shapes and columns, in much the same way as architectural design became streamlined into sleek skyscrapers, or painting was simplified into the faceted form and line of Cubism. All of this filtered into Sheeler’s artistic consciousness, particularly as he was photographing models in new dress styles. The display of costume alongside Sheeler photographs and paintings will enable the viewer to get inside his head by seeing firsthand the role of the photographer in presenting fashion, to discover how light transforms and sculpts objects, and to see how Sheeler dealt with form in his photographs: how he pared his subjects to the barest essentials, seeing them formally, as sculpture: line, form, and light.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website