New MAM Show Will Highlight America’s First Modern Art Movement

The Milwaukee Museum of Art will host a major exhibition of America’s first modern art movement this fall.

“The Ashcan School and The Eight: ‘Creating a National Art’,” which opens September 23 and runs through February 19, draws on the Ash Can School Museum’s extensive collection of works and artists from The Eight, including Robert Henri, Arthur Bowen Davies, William Glackens, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, Everett Shinn and John Sloan.

These artists rejected what came before and used new techniques, including a loose painterly approach to subjects of painting generally avoided by their predecessors, drawing criticism from some (hence the epithet “ashcan”) and praised by others, including one critic who felt they were, “creating national art”.

At a time when America and its teeming cities were home to millions of new immigrants, these artists painted buildings and other urban spaces, as well as the working class, capturing the country at this important moment in its history.


The MAM exhibition will include nearly 150 works – paintings, drawings, prints, pastels – some iconic, others rarely seen.

Some of the works are from the collection of the Abert family of Milwaukee, who purchased nearly 50 works from Ashcan School and The Eight artists with the intention of donating them to the museum.


“The Ashcan School and The Eight: ‘Creating a National Art’, is an opportunity to engage new audiences with key works from our prestigious collection that are emblematic of the seismic shift in the philosophy of this contingent of American artists who were working at the turn of the 20th century,” said exhibition curator Brandon Ruud, a former MAM curator.

“Their break with longstanding tradition to instead portray a more authentic representation of the American experience forged a new national art that prioritized an unfiltered depiction of urban, working-class life and catalyzed the evolution of modern American art in the process.”


I am especially delighted to see George Benjamin Luks’ “Bleecker and Carmine Streets, New York (ca. 1905)” painted in a very familiar corner a few yards from where my grandmother and father grew up. (That’s the job pictured at the top of this post.)


“We are thrilled to welcome visitors from our community in Milwaukee and beyond to explore the unparalleled collection of works by artists from the Ashcan School and The Eight,” said Marcelle Polednik, Director of Donna and Donald Baumgartner from the Milwaukee Art Museum.


“Five decades ago, the Abert family purchased nearly 50 works by members of the Ashcan School for the Museum’s collection, allowing us to tell the rich story of these important artists and their contributions to the field. This exhibition is an exciting opportunity to revisit these and other works we have acquired over the years, and present them in new forms that both educate and inspire our audiences, while celebrating the exemplary gift of the family. Albert at the Museum.

The MAM will publish a 172-page catalog to accompany the exhibition.

Stay tuned for a preview of the exhibit as it nears its opening.

Visit mam.org for more information.

Christopher S. Washington