Databáze uměleckých výstav v českých zemích 1820 – 1950

Art of Modern America

Date:6 March 1947 – 27 March 1947

Place: Prague, Žofín Palace

Organizer:Artistic Forum

Conception:Joseph Leroy Davidson


The Art of Modern America was one of the most important postwar exhibitions through which the Czechoslovak cultural community sought to reconnect with developments in international art. In 1946, the Mánes Fine Arts Association organized the first of these exhibitions, Art of Democratic Spain, followed by British Modern Art, an exhibition of the Umělecká beseda (Artistic Forum). In 1947, the Prague public was able to see Art of Modern America, Paintings by National Artists of the USSR, and French Sculpture from Rodin to the Present. In the Neo-Renaissance Žofín Palace on Slovanský Island, which the Umělecká beseda used for its activities, exhibitions of the art of all the victorious powers were held in the short period between the end of the war and the communist coup. Until 1948, Umělecká beseda received generous state funding and had the capacity to handle the most demanding international projects. 

Art of Modern America is an example of a diplomatic, travelling exhibition focused on national representation. On the brink of the Cold War, this format was seen as a powerful tool of cultural-political propaganda and the new geopolitical reshaping of the world. Supported by the U.S. government, the exhibition aimed to present modern American art in Europe and Latin America. It premiered in October 1946 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York under the title Advancing American Art and was subsequently divided into two parts. One part went to Europe and travelled from Paris to Prague, Brno, Bratislava, Budapest, and then to Poland; the second part went to Havana, Haiti, and further to Latin America [Orišková 2019, p. 50]. The collection of seventy-nine paintings and thirty-nine watercolours was assembled under the supervision of curator Joseph LeRoy Davidson, who had previously worked at the prestigious Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. In March 1947, nearly one hundred works by more than fifty artists, including several women, arrived in Prague. The exhibition was organized by Umělecká beseda and the American Press Information Service under the auspices of Václav Kopecký, Minister of Information; Jan Masaryk, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Jaroslav Stránský, Minister of Education; and J. E. Laurence, the U.S. Ambassador to Prague. 

It is worth mentioning that between 1945 and 1947, the United States provided financial aid to Czechoslovakia, and intensive negotiations were held on the so-called Marshall Plan, which the Czechoslovak government ultimately rejected under pressure from the Soviet Union. The exhibition was a part of these geopolitical negotiations, as evidenced by the fact that Soviet representatives wanted the show on Slovanský Island to be followed by an exhibition entitled Paintings by National Artists of the USSR, although this required a change in the existing exhibition plan. The public response to both exhibitions illustrates the atmosphere in Czechoslovakia at the time. While the American exhibition received only a few reviews and short articles in the daily press, the Soviet exhibition was advertised in numerous newspapers and discussed in most contemporary cultural periodicals, a natural result of its controversial nature. Comparing the two exhibitions, one also notices the similarity of their catalogues, both designed by Karel Šourek. The layout is almost identical, the only difference being the colour of the cover – blue for the American exhibition and beige for the Soviet one.

The fifty black-and-white reproductions in the catalogue show that American modern art in the first half of the twentieth century encompassed a wide range of styles and approaches. Yet very few American artists made a significant impact on the history of European modern art, even though many came from or studied in Europe. American modern art is often associated with imitating European trends, a point Weisgall acknowledges in his text. He adds that the contemporary younger generation is striving for a "new internationalism that aligns art with postwar thinking" [Weisgall 1947, p. 9]. In his opening speech for the exhibition, Vladimir Novotný observed: "At first glance, we can see that the colour composition of these paintings is completely different from ours. Their colour palette is much more intense, and we encounter bright and bold tones that often resemble colours used in graphic design. Form and line are also harder and more robust and often have an uncompromising and logical quality. [...] We also observe a greater formal and individual variety, probably due to the different backgrounds of the artists, who cannot deny their national character even when assimilating into a new environment". [Novotný 1947]. 

Each of the three Czechoslovak stops scheduled between March and May – Prague, Brno, and Bratislava – had its own catalogue. These catalogues contained a detailed list of the exhibited works – forty-nine paintings and fifty seriographs (silkscreen prints), a new technique at the time which was described in detail in the catalogue. The conclusion to the catalogue includes the following statement: “The collection on view is the property of the United States Government. It was assembled under the direction of Joseph LeRoy Davidson of the Office of International Information and Cultural Affairs and purchased to show American art throughout the world. The total of 79 paintings was divided into two collections, the larger of which is on view in this exhibition.  These collections will travel the world for several years, after which the paintings will be assigned to American diplomatic missions abroad.” [Weisgall 1947, p. 9] This plan never came to fruition. Some of the works outraged the conservative wing of the American Congress, and influential media described them as “un-American, obscene, and communist.” As a result, the exhibition was withdrawn from its planned itinerary and sold off [Orišková 2019, p. 50]. 

Although the Exhibition of Modern American Art did not leave a significant mark in Czechoslovak art history, it became one of the battlegrounds of postwar cultural diplomacy. Exhibitions in Prague galleries reflected the complicated negotiations over the future organization of Central Europe, while the press discussed the future direction of Czechoslovakia, which stood at the crossroads between East and West. The 1947 exhibition was ultimately more important for the emancipation of American art, as recent reconstructions and interpretations suggest [Harper et al. 2016]. According to Mária Orišková, who has studied the show in the broader context of postwar diplomacy, this exhibition is now seen as the beginning of the “art war” waged by the Western powers and the Soviet bloc during the Cold War [Orišková 2019, p. 59]. The Art of Modern America is therefore an example of cultural diplomacy using art instead of weapons.

Pavlína Morganová

Works Cited

Harper at al 2016: Dennis Harper – Mark Andrew White – Paul Manoguerra, Art Interrupted: Advancing American Art and the Politics of Cultural Diplomacy (exh. cat.), Athens 2016

Novotný 1947: Vladimír Novotný, Umění moderní Ameriky. Proslov na zahájení výstavy Umění moderní Ameriky na Slovanském ostrově, Život XX, 1947, no. 7–8, p. 179

Orišková 2019: Mária Orišková, Výstavy moderného amerického umenia v Československu počas studenej vojny a ambivalentná agenda kultúrnej diplomacie, Sešit pro umění, teorii a příbuzné zóny, 2019, no. 26, pp. 45–62

Wiesgall 1947: Hugo Wiesgall, Umění moderní Ameriky, in: Umění moderní Ameriky (exh. cat.), Praha 1947, pp. 5–9

Further Reading

Greg Barnhisel, Cold War Modernists: Art, Literature and American Cultural Diplomacy, New York 2015

Jennifer McComas, Reconstructing Cold War Cultural Diplomacy Exhibitions. The Case of Advancing American Art, Stedelijk Studies, 2015, no. 2,

Claudia Hopkins – Iain Boyd Whyte (edd.), Hot Art, Cold War: Southern and Eastern European Writing on American Art 1945–1989, London – New York, 2021

Michael Krenn, Fall-Out Shelters for the Human Spirit. American Art and the Cold War, London 2005

Rudolf Matys, V umění volnost. Kapitoly z dějin Umělecké besedy, Praha 2003

Rudolf Matys, Jen letmo o výstavách se značkou UB, o jedné však podrobněji, Prostor Zlín XX, 2013, no. 4, pp. 51–55

Eva Petrová (ed.), Umělecká beseda 18632003 (exh. cat.), Galerie hlavního města Prahy 2003, p. 50

Archival Sources

Archives of Artistic Forum

Exhibiting authors
Reviews in the press

Anonymous author, Umění moderní Ameriky, Lidová demokracie III, 1947, no. 57, 8. 3., p. 4 


fk, Americké moderní malířství, Svobodné noviny III, 1947, no. 81, 5. 4., p. 5

Hlaváček Zdeněk

Zdeněk Hlaváček, Surrealismu sbohem!, Svět práce III, 1947, no. 12, 20. 3., p. 6 


K, Americká moderna, Slovo národa III, 1947, no. 81, 5. 4., p. 4


Mí, Umění moderní Ameriky, Práce III, 1947, no. 70, 23. 3., p. 7

Mrkvička Otakar

Otakar Mrkvička, Umění moderní Ameriky, Svobodné noviny III, 1947, no. 76, 30. 3., p. 5 

Richter Stanislav

Stanislav Richter, Umění moderní Ameriky, Lidová demokracie III, 1947, no. 62, 14. 3., p. 4


RR, Umění moderní Ameriky na Slovanském ostrově, Skutečnost I, 1946–1947, no. 7–8, březen, p. 11

Svrček J. B.

J. B. Svrček, Výstava Umění moderní Ameriky v Brně, Naše pravda III, 1947, no. 82, 6. 4., p. 6

Views of the exhibition

Opening of the exhibition Art of Modern America


photo: Čechopress

Reproduction: Svět v obrazech III, 1947

Brief notes about the exhibition

Anonymous author, Umění moderní Ameriky, Čin III, 1947, no. 54, 5. 3., p. 3

Anonymous author, Umění moderní Ameriky, Slovo národa III, 1947, no. 59, 11. 3., p. 5

Anonymous author, Kulturní podniky při výstavě Amerického umění, Lidová demokracie III, 1947, no. 69, 22. 3., p. 4 

md, Výstava moderní Ameriky, Práce III, 1947, no. 56, 7. 3., p. 3

ŠOL, Obrazy z USA a ze Švýcar v Praze, Mladá fronta III, no. 68, 21. 3., p. 4

t., Umění moderní Ameriky, My 47, 1947, no. 11, 15. 3., p. 4

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