“Around 1920 Demuth began with increasing confidence to explore what would become the major theme of his career: the face of industrial America. It may seem odd that Demuth, yearning for Paris, should have become obsessed with grain elevators, water towers, and factory chimneys. But as he wrote to Stieglitz in 1927: “America doesn’t really care – still, if one is really an artist and at the same time an American, just this not caring, even though it drives one mad, can be artistic material.”
Precisionism was by no means just a provincial American response to the European avant-garde – the splintering of planes from French Cubism, the machine ethos from Italian Futurism. Sheeler and Demuth were painting a functional American landscape refracted through a deadpan modernist lingo that, in Demuth’s case, picked up bits of Robert Delaunay and Lyonel Feininger while anticipating some of the essential subjects of Pop art.
The machine emblems of this American landscape had fascinated some of the best minds in Europe (Picabia, Duchamp, Le Corbusier), who saw them either as exotic whiffs of the Future or as instruments of irony. Being American, Demuth took the silos and bridges rather more literally. [Extract : Artchive]