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TO SEPT. 2
Centuries separate modernity from the Middle Ages, but the cathedrals of commerce were built pretty much the way their Gothic counterparts were. We imagine—as ant colonies—the numberless tradesmen who transformed their eras with towers of steel and stone, as we do with the streams of data that, at least in the fantasies of AT&T’s “Boundless” campaign, threaten the urban raison d’etre with the promise of unfettered global communication. As evidenced by “Metropolis in the Machine Age”—a show drawn largely from the permanent collection of the Hirshhorn—during the first four decades of the 20th century, the sky-flung city itself was the new thing, a collective endeavor that goaded the imaginations of artists as the virtual realm does today. As befits its subject, the show’s best moments often come from its least-seen names: Inspired by the market specialties of individual U.S. cities, Louis Lozowick glorified their vertiginous monuments in dramatic two-point perspective. From the timber mills of Seattle to the slag heaps of Butte, Lozowick’s portrayal of industrial infrastructure takes on epic proportions. Though not immune to architectural exhilaration, Abraham Walkowitz, also a Russian emigre, held a darker view of the appetites of Manhattan. In his expressionistic watercolors and ink drawings (Metropolis No. 2, 1923, is pictured), rivers of human activity roar through the streets, driving the turbines of progress. Anonymous workers are isolated, though scarcely individuated, in the stout bronze maquettes of Belarus-born Saul Baizerman’s The People. For all its gloss and promise, the city of “Metropolis” is a beautiful monster that feeds on the people who created it. See it from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, to Monday, Sept. 2, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 7th and Independence Ave. SW. Free. (202) 357-2700. (Glenn Dixon)