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Picturing the City

Urban Vision and the Ashcan School

Rebecca Zurier (Author)

Available worldwide

Hardcover, 418 pages
ISBN: 9780520220188
September 2006
$85.00, £70.95
Picturing the City takes an innovative look at the group of urban realists known as the Ashcan School, and at the booming cultures of vision and representation in early twentieth-century New York. Offering fresh insights into the development of modern cities and modern art in America, Rebecca Zurier considers what it meant to live in a city where strangers habitually watched each other and public life seemed to consist of continual display, as new classes of immigrants and working women claimed their places in the metropolis. Through her study of six artists—George Bellows, William Glackens, Robert Henri, George Luks, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan—Zurier illuminates the quest for new forms of realism to describe changes in urban life, commercial culture, and codes of social conduct in the early 1900s.

Synthesizing visual and literary analysis with urban cultural history, Picturing the City focuses new attention on the materiality and design process of pictures. The author scrutinizes all manner of visual activity, from the pandemonium of comics to the mise-en-scene of early movies, from the mark of an individual pen stroke to a glance on the street, from illustrators’ manuals to ambitious paintings that became icons of American art. By situating the Ashcan School within its proper visual culture, Zurier opens up the question of what the artists’ “realism” meant at a time when many other forms of representation, including journalism and cinema, were competing to define “real life” in New York City.

1. Another Look at the Ashcan School
2. Seeing New York: The Turn-of-the-Century Culture of Looking
3. A Walk through the City on Paper: The Tradition of the
Mobile Observer

4. Robert Henri and the Real Thing
5. The Reporter’s Vision: Everett Shinn and the City as Spectacle
6. The Cartoonist’s Vision (Part 1): William Glackens and the
Legible City
7. The Cartoonist’s Vision (Part 2): Bellows, Luks, and Urban Difference

8. The Storyteller’s Vision: John Sloan and the Limits of
Visual Knowledge

Conclusion: The Legacy of the Ashcan School
Selected Bibliography
List of Illustrations
Rebecca Zurier is Associate Professor of the History of Art and Faculty Associate in the Program in American Culture at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Metropolitan Lives: The Ashcan Artists and their New York (with Robert Snyder and Virginia Mecklenburg; 1995), Art for The Masses: A Radical Magazine and its Graphics (1988), and The American Firehouse: An Architectural and Social History (1982).
“Engages in the most valuable kind of interdisciplinary criticism, one whose breadth of attention is united with deep, discipline-specific close reading of technique.”—Modernism/Modernity
“Makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the Ashcan school.”—Art Bulletin (CAA)
“A fascinating, well-researched, and often insightful contribution to Ashcan scholarship.”—AHAA Newsletter
“An excellent, well-written and most useful study. . . . A must have for those who care about American cultural history as well as the history of American art.”—Journal Of American Culture
"Zurier vividly locates the Ashcan School artists within the early twentieth-century crosscurrents of newspaper journalism, literary realism, illustration, sociology, and urban spectatorship. Her compassionate study newly assesses the artists' rejection of 'genteel' New York, their alignments with mass media, and their innovative ways of seeing in the modern city."—Wanda M. Corn, author of The Great American Thing: Modern Art and National Identity, 1915-35

If the Ashcan School brought a special and embracing eye to the city, Rebecca Zurier in her richly contextual and impressively interdisciplinary book explains and evokes that historically specific urban vision in all its richness. Finally, in Picturing the City, we have the study these painters have long deserved. And we gain new and delightful access to New York City at the moment of its emergence as a compelling embodiment of metropolitan modernity."—Thomas Bender, Director, International Center for Advanced Studies, New York University

"Picturing the City is both meticulous and wide-ranging in its assessment of the Ashcan artists and their passionate efforts to represent New York. It charts their pleasures and problems, warmth and prejudices, generosity and differences, originality and formula. It takes seriously their habits as journalists and provides the most complete sense of their immersion in a world of urban spectatorship and vision. Rebecca Zurier has written a wonderful, timely book that will be a benchmark for any future discussions of them."—Anthony W. Lee, author of Picturing Chinatown: Art and Orientalism in San Francisco

"Rebecca Zurier takes us on an intellectually exhilarating and breathtakingly beautiful visual voyage through turn-of-the-century New York City as the Ashcan painters saw it. As we watch them learn a new way of looking in the commercially dynamic, sensual New York of a century ago, we too see that time and place with fresh eyes. Inevitably, thanks to Zurier, the way we look at city life today will change as well."—Lizabeth Cohen, author of A Consumers' Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America

Charles C. Eldredge Prize, Smithsonian American Art Museum

NYC Book Award for Art, New York Society Library

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