In the early twentieth century, New York City surpassed London as the world’s most populous city and challenged Paris as the art capital. It leapt to the center of the skyscraper race, built massive new bridges, and replaced elevated trains with subways—feats of engineering that were also symbols of progress and possibility. As New York grew in scale and in creative energy, it attracted and nurtured artists from around the globe. They found plentiful subjects in the city’s colossal buildings, canyon-like streets, and diverse assortment of inhabitants. Many celebrated its ambitions to become a global hub for industry, communications, and finance, while others reflected on the challenges of metropolitan life.
Steel and Sky: Views of New York City showcases the experiences and achievements of a broad cross-section of artists such as Isabel Bishop, Peggy Bacon, Paul Cadmus, William H. Johnson, and John Sloan, who practiced in New York through the early and middle years of the twentieth century. The exhibition features a selection of more than 50 prints and drawings from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s permanent collection that capture the architecture, inhabitants, and imaginative spirit of urban America.