Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to understand why Modernism was such a blast. Post-World War I America was a time of exuberance and excess. Society was pushing and pulling, standards were changing and norms were shifting.

Modernism challenged authority, and sought to replace outdated models of economy and society with progressive ideas. Art was at the center of the cultural outburst on both sides of the Atlantic but especially in New York in the years between World War I and the Great Depression. America’s visual culture emerged in its art, design and architecture.

This summer, the Portland Museum of Art presents three separate exhibitions that, collectively, examine Modernism from the perspective of home and abroad, as well as Maine’s role in the post-modern art world and its continued influence. The exhibitions tell us something about how we lived, how we changed and how Modernist ideas hatched a century ago present themselves today.

“The theme of the summer might be just how profoundly revolutionary Modernism was for our visual culture,” said Jessica May, the museum’s chief curator. “Almost everything you look at that is contemporary, Modernism was the starting point.”

The exhibitions remind us “how much Modernism rocked,” May said.

Modernism promotes ideas that are different than ideas from the past, often representing a self-conscious break from tradition that leads to new forms of expression. In the art world, we see that in a shift away from realistic and representational painting to the abstract. It occurred over time, beginning in Europe and moved to New York in the early 1900s.

The Armory show – the International Exhibition of Modern Art that began in New York in 1913 and traveled to Chicago and to Boston – gave Americans who had not been to Europe their first taste of modern art, and launched the Modernist movement that continued through World War II. The three exhibitions on view at the PMA this summer follow that thread.

The time line begins with Georges Braque, a French painter who lived from 1882 to 1963 and was deeply involved in cubism. Braque is closely associated with Pablo Picasso because of their similar styles.

This is a very small show, only five works, and is more accurately called an installation than an exhibition. But the museum is giving it the attention of a much larger show, borrowing key pieces from the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany, as well as from longtime museum benefactor and collector Scott M. Black.

It opens June 21, and will be hung in a small second-floor gallery that also includes works by contemporaries of Braque, Fernand Leger and Jacques Lipchitz.

Curator Andrew Eschelbacher chose four paintings and one collage that illustrate Braque’s interest in a painting’s surface and how an artist represents space. Those concepts were key in the evolution of Modernism, and demonstrate how Braque wrestled with the relationship between surface and the illusion of space, Eschelbacher said.

In “La Pianiste,” or “The Pianist,” Braque adds sand to his oil surface, and gives his musician multiple facial profiles. Braque makes it so the viewer cannot help but confront the surface and the content, Eschelbacher said. The work alludes to fresco painting, and is filled with references to the past, he said.

In that respect, Braque is an ideal artist to examine from a Modernist lens, because his work touched on many styles and evolved with the times. His career included landscape painting early on and most famously cubism later. The museum will set up a small reading nook near the installation with art-history books to encourage visitors to learn more.

The Braque show complements the museum’s big summer show, “Women Modernists of New York,” opening June 24. This exhibition will feature the rich, dense and luxurious paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe, Florine Stettheimer, Marguerite Zorach and Helen Torr. The show compares their work and offers context for the first wave of feminism in modern art, May said.

O’Keeffe became the star among these four, though all achieved some level of attention, success and fame. “Women Modernists” is about freedom – of artistic expression and of self-expression among women. They all worked in New York in the early 20th century and shared similar concerns and influences. This exhibition celebrates the emerging role of women and “the moment of exhilaration” that accompanied the confluence of feminism and Modernism, May said.

This is a traveling show, organized by the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida. The Norton arranged the exhibition biographically, by artist. May is hanging the show thematically, to emphasize common themes the women explored. It is on view through Sept. 18.

The sleeper of the summer isn’t technically about Modernism, but focuses on a Maine art institution that grew out of Modernism. “Skowhegan at Seventy” celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in central Maine with an array of works from Skowhegan alumnae and friends.

The school began in 1946, a year after the end of World War II and when most art history books say Modernism ended. Skowhegan founders Willard Cummings, Charles Cutler, Henry Varnum Poor and Sidney Simon came to Maine to create a summer residency program that became a model for others like it.

They recruited art students from across the country, brought in leading contemporary artists as teachers and set them loose in the wilds of Skowhegan. In 70 years, the Skowhegan school has quietly influenced generations of American artists.

Without the freedom of expression that Modernism encouraged, places like Skowhegan might not have come to be, May said. “Modernism transformed the very idea of art-making, and you see that in the Skowhegan show,” she said.

The exhibition, on view through Oct. 10, offers a broad perspective of work by Skowhegan-associated artists. It includes work produced at the school or in its honor as well as selections from a recent acquisition, a print portfolio titled “skowheganBOX No. 2.”

As part of “Skowhegan at Seventy,” curators are labeling art throughout the galleries made by artists associated with Skowhegan, whether or not they are directly part of the Skowhegan show. There are dozens – perhaps hundreds – of labels accompanying art by Alex Katz, David Driskell and many others associated with Maine art.

The labels are a quiet reminder of the influence of the school and the artistic continuum from Modernism to contemporary.