Spiritual America

Alfred Stieglitz American

Not on view

In the decade leading up to the Great Depression, American modernism was a highly contested concept. Stieglitz, perhaps justifiably, considered himself one of the few qualified to dictate its course, having surrounded himself with a group of like-minded and devoted artists, critics, and writers whom he directed in an almost shamanistic fashion. Spirituality loomed large in his vision of American identity, but he was disheartened and offended with what he viewed as a pent-up, materialist, and culturally bankrupt American way. In a rare attempt at ironic commentary, Stieglitz produced this picture of a harnessed, castrated horse—a pure representation of eradicated sexual prowess and restrained muscular energy—and labeled it Spiritual America. In effect, he suggested that America was lacking in spirit by reinterpreting the horse, a traditional American symbol of unstoppable force, as a trussed-up pattern of slick geometry.

Spiritual America, Alfred Stieglitz (American, Hoboken, New Jersey 1864–1946 New York), Gelatin silver print

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