Collection 1880s–1940s


Living in the Age of the Machine

New on view



Oskar Schlemmer. The Figural Cabinet (Das figurale Kabinett). 1922. Watercolor, pencil, and ink on transparentized paper, 12 1/8 × 17 3/4" (30.8 × 45.1 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Joan and Lester Avnet Collection
  • MoMA, Floor 5, 505 The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries

“We are living in the age of the machine,” remarked Paul Haviland, a New York–based photographer, writer, and art critic, in 1915, the year after World War I began. Artists across Europe, Russia, and the United States responded in various ways to this period’s increasing mechanization, industrialization, and public awareness of the machine’s destructive potential.

Some used the tools of draftsmen or engineers to construct precise, hard-edged images bearing no trace of the artist’s hand. Others embraced the camera or exploited the power of photomechanical reproduction. Still others created works from machine-made objects, redefining the creative act as primarily a matter of selection, not craftsmanship. At stake was not only the role of the artist, but the existential status of the human subject, haunted by the fear that it might soon be replaced or rendered irrelevant—a fear that resonates today in our age of artificial intelligence and rapidly accelerating technologies.

Organized by Anne Umland, The Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture, with Rachel Remick, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Painting and Sculpture.

30 works online


Installation images

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