South Wing Galleries

A Matter of Style: Modernism in California Art

February 23, 2024 – August 3, 2024
Curated by Gordon McClelland

The early 20th century witnessed a transformative shift in the art world as modernism swept across various artistic movements. In California, a unique fusion of regional identity and modernist influences gave rise to what is now known as California Scene painting. This art movement emerged in the 1920s and 1930s, reflecting the dynamic interplay between local landscapes, social realities, and the avant-garde principles of modernism.

The debut of the “A MATTER OF STYLE: Modernism in California Art” exhibition as part of the Hilbert Museum’s expansion grand opening lineup creates a unique opportunity for visitors to experience this artistic shift.

Rooted in realism, the movement sought to capture the diverse landscapes and everyday life in California, from urban scenes to rural settings, many of which resonate with today’s museum visitors.

California’s diverse landscapes, ranging from the majestic coastline to arid deserts and fertile valleys, are featured as key subjects by California Scene painters. They moved beyond traditional pastoral scenes to depict the changing face of the Golden State, capturing the effects of industrialization and urbanization. The bustling streets of Los Angeles, the agricultural richness of the Central Valley, and the unique coastal vistas all found their way onto these artists’ canvases.

The California Scene movement was driven by a group of pioneering artists who sought to break free from the constraints of academic traditions and explore new ways of expressing their artistic visions. Among the notable figures on view in this exhibition are Stanton MacDonald-Wright, Susan Hertel, Helen Lundeberg, Lorser Feitelson, Agnes Pelton, Rex Brandt, Keith Crown, Conrad Buff, Millard Sheets, Edward Reep, Karl Kasten and others.

The coming of modernism to California art represented a seismic shift in the region’s artistic landscape. The artists mentioned, along with many others, challenged traditional norms, experimented with new techniques, and contributed to the formation of a diverse and vibrant modernist movement. Their collective efforts not only transformed California’s art scene but also left an indelible mark on the broader trajectory of American modernism.


The Hilbert Museum recommends FREE online reservations for entry. Guests who arrive without a reservation will be assisted by our staff as available and admitted as space permits. We look forward to seeing you!