1940s-1950s Art


This period witnessed nothing less than the creation of a new world order. Perhaps most tellingly, this 20-year period is bookended by a “day which would live in infamy”—the United States’ entry into World War II in 1941—and the Explorer 6 satellite’s transmission of the first picture of Earth from orbit in 1959. The global conflict of WWII was marked by unprecedented crimes against humanity and left behind unprecedented destruction when it ended in 1945. In the fall-out, the world was divided into adversarial spheres of influence (the Cold War), while towards the end of the 1950s former European colonies fought for independence. Artistically, this period has typically been viewed as an incubating period between the pre-war avant-garde movements and such breakthrough movements as Abstract Expressionism in the U.S. In fact, the massive migration of artists forced into exile or emigration by these global events offered fertile ground for artistic exchange, despite sometimes-dire conditions. Some of the many movements to emerge during this period are the Gutai Art Group in Japan, Art Informel in Europe, Group Zero in Germany, and a new aesthetic in Mid-Century Modern design. With the reality of the Cold War, by the end of the 1950s art was largely developing along different trajectories in the East and West, with communist countries mandating the practice of Socialist Realism with varying degrees of enforcement.