The European love affair with American modernity took many forms: from the ironic humor that European émigrés found in Americans' obsession with a clean, safe, and ordered life, to the admiration among European architects for the rational expression of function in American industrial buildings. Following the 1913 Armory Show, the encounter between European and American artists and architects continued through several fruitful cycles of exchange. Europeans awakened American artists to the vitality of their own popular culture and to the richness of their folk and vernacular traditions. Absorbing the lessons of European modernism, Americans created a transatlantic art that synthesized the perspectives of both Europe and the United States. American artists adopted the irony of their French colleagues as a way of utilizing American subjects while distancing themselves from any direct identification with a culture from which they felt estranged.
In the decades between the wars, the nation's growing economic and social power fed technological and urban optimism, along with a new pride in America's contributions to the world of the future. But shadowing this expansive spirit were reminders of the human costs of mechanization. The Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci warned of the "subjugation of natural instincts ... to ever more complex ... habits of order, exactness and precision."24 American artists between the wars registered a range of reactions to the increasing industrial and urban regimentation of the human body, from celebration to ambivalence to condemnation, as the history of early-twentieth-century artistic responses to the city makes evident.