Precisionism typically characterizes American paintings and works on paper produced between the two World Wars that employ a linear aesthetic, pronounced contours and localized colors to depict architectural, infrastructural, mechanical and often urban imagery. This exhibition of 18 watercolors, prints, drawings, photographs and paintings from VMFA’s collection demonstrates that this term may also describe work produced before 1915 and after 1945, and that the “impulse” also plays out in rural and non-architectural imagery.

Roof and Steeple, 1921, Charles Demuth (American, 1883–1935), pencil and watercolor on paper. Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund, 86.198
Skyscraper, Chanin Building, 1993, Andrew Bordwin (American, born 1964), gelatin silver print. Gift of M. Holt Massey, 96.120 © Andrew Bordwin
City Arabesque, 1938, Bernice Abbott (American, 1898–1991), gelatin silver print. Floyd D. and Anne C. Gottwald Fund, 2012.2 © Bernice Abbott
Drydock and Repair, 20th century, Edmund D. Lewandowski (American, 1914–1998), casein on paperboard. John Barton Payne Fund, 58.20

The Precisionist Impulse shows that, much as the camera crops, distills angles and exaggerates planes, so the 20th-century landscape provokes awe in some unlikely places.

Curated by Dr. Leo Mazow, Louise B. and J. Harwood Cochrane curator of American art at VMFA.