It was a big ask, not only to introduce a group of mainly unknown American artists and their work, to an unknowing British public, but also to deny any human presence.

But this is exactly what Katie Bourguignon, the curator of America’s Cool Modernism, has done, the cool depicted in its title, referring to the word’s original meaning of cold, clean, clear, crisp, detached, impersonal, austere or emotionless.

And yet, the paradox is, that in so doing, she has produced something cool in every sense of the word.

“I really wanted to address what it meant to be American in the 1920s and 30s, to see their national identity through their art, to provide their own answers in an art scene dominated by the Europeans, to bring something different to the table,” she explains. “Because so many people assume that American art started in the 1960s.”

Which explains how this glorious collection of 40 different artists, none of whom can be found in any UK public collection, dazzle in their 80 paintings, sketches, prints, film and photographs, 35 never entering the UK before, 17 having never left America’s shores, 18 loaned from the Metropolitan Museum in New York, bringing this unmistakeably American, pre pop era, defiantly and irreversibly into the light, a glorious litany of statistics.

And what a light it is, Bourgignon’s three year brief from the Terra Foundation For American Art ensured that the works are not only cool but devoid of people, leaving an eerie insight

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into the unstoppable rate of American progress and its unarguable historical context.

From the barren greyness of Georgia O Keefe’s East River from the Shelton Hotel, to Charles Sheeler’s Bucks Country Barn, the lack of figures clears the way for these vast gleaming canvases of colour, light and abstraction, the artists taking their lead from futurism, surrealism and cubism in Europe and applying it in an American context.

Who knew for example that that the famous poet E.E Cummings could paint? And yet his Sound celebrates music, waves, analogy and colour in an inescapable plundering of Leger’s bounty.

Or indeed the predominantly photographic Edward Steichen’s Le Tournesol (sunflowers) whose post-impressionist influence can’t be avoided.

In turn Patrick Henry Bruce’s abstract shapes find a new pastel colour palette, George Josimovich pushing it further by applying cubist logic to American industrial landscape.

And so it begins, this inexorable race away from the glory of the machine and the progress of the modern world towards a more truthful depiction of the transformed American landscape, the pros and cons of progress demonstrated by the flat light, suffocating dimensions, lack of welcome and faceless anonymity.

From the gleaming optimism of I Saw The Figure 5 in Gold in Charles Demuth’s iconic painting, glorifying the advent of Broadway, railways, jazz, billboards, showbusiness, materialism and glamour, the exciting side of America’s new face, we are faced with a grimmer reality in Sheeler’s Water, whose river has been engorged by a mausoleum of concrete and engineering, nature overpowered by an unstoppable barrage of hydro electric power.

George Ault’s Hobroken Factory minimalist aesthetic and menacing air is a warning of the 24/7 mentality beckoning.

Despite depicting such unknown artists, Katie Bourguignon was determined to include a wide remit of available potential, such as Jacob Lawrence whose family migration from countryside to city is powerfully told in his Harlem Renaissance paintings.

Following suit, Berenice Abbot ‘s photographs of New York’s statues dominated by the Wall Street skyline speak volumes, as does Imogen Cunningham’s print of the robotic Fageol Ventilators.

By the time one reaches Ralston Crawford’s De Stijl type blocks of colour, and the pure aesthetic of the grain silos and elevators of the Mid West, Katie Bourguignon’s mission is complete.

Or nearly - Hopper, the best known of the collated artists is almost an anticlimax, despite his three magnificent paintings, all characteristically frozen in time, yet fraught with expectation and emptiness.

Because the freedom Katie Bourguignon’s exhibition affords, and the unromanticised stories the pieces tell, makes you question whether you need human story-telling at all.

It does beg the question why such an extraordinary movement and bank of talent has taken this long to perforate our shores and our collective conscious.