IN THE 1930s

A Product of the American Studies Program
at the University of Virginia


The Art of Fortune Magazine

Homage to Bleriot
Robert Delaunay 1914

Disks
Fernand Leger 1918

Funeral of the Anarchist Galli
Carlo Carra 1910-11

Horse
Raymond Duchamp-Villon
1914

Unique Forms of
Continuity in Space
Umberto Boccioni 1913

Nude Descending
a Staircase
Marcel Duchamp 1912


In both negative and positive terms, the machine became, in the early twentieth century, of overwhelming economic and symbolic significance, and the artist and intellectual, one way or another, had to come to terms with it.

--Miles Orvell

The images of the Fortune magazine covers fall within a movement in art to come to terms with the presence of the machine in society.

In a sense, some of these Fortune images are the culmination of those images portraying the machine in the garden. In these covers, the pastoral has completely disappeared and the machine takes over. The machine is no longer represented as an object in a literal, pictorial setting, but is removed from any referential and realistic context. It is no longer represented as an identifiable tool for the use of humankind. Rather, it is the most abstract, purely visual and structural aspects of the machine that is being portrayed. Instead of a machine, we have the representation of its parts and movement. In short, not only has the machine taken over the garden, but the machine, itself, has been replaced by mechanization. Thus, the abstraction of the machine depicts the domination of mechanization. So too does the way in which its representation breaks from the bounds of referential context and fills every inch of the canvas or cover.

The abstraction of the machine also suggests a new aesthetic. The presence of mechanization in the canvases and sculpture of high art suggests that the machine is an aesthetic object and mechanization a visual style. Thus, we have not only the machine, but the rest of the world, bridges, horses, boxers, the human figure, and even narrative, pictorial scenes, represented as seen through a mechanized eye, through a mechanized visual vocabulary.

The mechanization of the artist's eye was achieved through the ever-increasing presence and importance of the machine in society, and, specifically, through the advent of the camera. Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase exemplifies this. This piece was influenced, in part, by popular books of photographs, parts of scientific-visual experiments, that showed successive stages of movement broken down into small enough increments that when one flipped the pages, it created the appearance of movement. The advent of the camera changed seeing and reality forever and revolutionized art.

As Alan Trachtenberg explains in The Incorporation of America, the machine was, in part, thought to be an instrument of destruction. It destroyed an agrarian-based way of life, and replaced it with the crime, poverty, and corruption of the city. As Miles Orvell contends in The Real Thing, the machine was part of the destruction of the very notion reality. The machine played a major role in World War I, being quite literally a force of destruction. Finally, the machine took its toll on workers. Not a few hands and fingers were lost to these machines and the frenzied speed of production. Also, more and more jobs were being performed by machines, creating a class of unskilled machine operators.

By representing a mechanized aesthetic, Fortune mimics high art. Fortune appropriates the vocabulary of the machine in art, thereby making its covers and by implication its content, an authority on culture. By representing a mechanized aesthetic, Fortune equated the machine with art and with culture. Such a gesture counters the fears and complaints surrounding the machine as a force of corruption and destruction. In short, by portraying mechanization as a subject and aesthetic of art, Fortune clothes the complex symbol of the machine in artistic and cultural authority.