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Review of Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties at the Brooklyn Museum

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Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties at the Brooklyn Museum, Review

Brooklyn Museum’s Newest Exhibit Presents an American Document of the Jazz Age

Black Prophet (Winold Reiss, 1925). Courtesy of the Reiss Trust/Brooklyn MuseumThis winter, the Brooklyn Museum is celebrating modern realism in fine form with the exhibition Youth and Beauty. The exhibit is an extensive review of American art in one of the most stylish decades—the twenties. It features the work of 68 painters, sculptors, photographers, and in total there are 140 works, by Georgia O’Keefe, Alfred Stieglitz, Gaston Lachaise and Edward Hopper to name a few. It is essentially a mapping of the journey from moderate social repression to the enjoyment of liberation, something of which was deeply present in the work of writers and musicians of the time. Youth and Beauty captures the soberness of post-industrialism phasing out, a phase that took place between the end of the Great War and the beginnings of the Great Depression. Succinctly, the unbridled boom of naïve opulence before the darkness of the Depression.

Moreover, this is probably the first moment that America celebrated its youth culture. Many artists coquettishly approach inhibition with some very appealing nudes that act as modern echoes to nude portraits by the great European masters. Casually doing away with fundamental norms of the time before it, the concept of beauty, optimism and the uncertainty of youth are approached in a new, very urbanized environment. Essentially, people are going to the exhibit to witness the idolization of youth and beauty whilst being in complete awe of both. This movement in art served, not as an echo to modernism in Europe, but as a very visceral approach to realigning aesthetic values with the idealization of them.

The Brooklyn Museum, rich in African-American culture, is also the perfect place for the exhibit’s display of a sound number of African-American works of art. A standout piece was Black Prophet by Winold Reiss, created during the initial emergence of a black middle class and the burgeoning creative scene in Harlem. The prophet in his hero-like stance and pure innocent white head covering re-establishes a new image of the black male. His features are painted so regally demanding much respect from the viewer. The buzz and excitement of cultural invigoration are so well communicated in the exhibit as a whole that most people were moving through the space in an extremely joyous manner.

Also, Woody Allen‘s recent homage (Midnight in Paris) to the Lost Generation has given way to the 1920s becoming quite en vogue. A great time to view the exhibit would be during one of the Target First Saturdays events where people are admitted to the museum for free to enjoy the art, live shows, readings and much more.

Youth and Beauty: The Art of The American Twenties (suggested contribution $12), Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, 11238-6052. Visit for more information.

Nikkita Flavius-Gottschalk is a Contributor to The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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