The Art Institute of Chicago (06/05/16–09/18/16)
Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris (10/15/16–01/30/17)
Royal Academy of Arts, London (02/25/17–06/04/17)
During the Great Depression, American artists visualized national culture in the context of the economic depression at home, civil war in Spain, and rising fascism in Europe. This exhibition argues that the 1930s, bookended by the economic crash of 1929 and the US’s entry into World War II in 1941, was one of the most vital artistic periods for American artists in the whole of the twentieth century. Featuring approximately 50 paintings—drawn from the holdings of the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as from more than 25 public and private collections—it tells the story of this economically, politically, and aesthetically turbulent decade by surveying the varied works of artists such as
Edward Hopper, Thomas Hart Benton, Ben Shahn, Philip Evergood, Stuart Davis, Charles Demuth, Charles Sheeler, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Grant Wood.
Collectively, the aesthetically and politically varied works produced in the 1930s paint a revealing portrait of the nation’s evolving psyche. Edward Hopper’s reflective, melancholy approach to homegrown subjects is quite different from the bold romanticism of Thomas Hart Benton and his fellow Regionalists, who sought to create a national art that glorified America. Painters such as Philip Evergood and Ben Shahn used social realism to protest political attitudes of the time, highlighting the plights of migrant sharecroppers, Jewish immigrants, and other marginalized members of society.
Racial issues also came to the fore:
Joe Jones chillingly depicted a lynching in American Justice,
while Aaron Douglas inserted a more inclusive vision of black culture into the heroic histories of the United States. History, in fact, was frequently used to speak to present times; realist Charles Sheeler linked the earlier, spare American aesthetic of Shaker objects to his exploration of the contemporary, while Grant Wood took on the country’s founding myths in works such as
Parson Weems’ Fable.
At the same time, other artists reinvigorated the revolt against representational style, championing nonobjective art as a form that spoke deeply to modern concerns. The Park Avenue Cubists continued to evolve a European-based abstraction, and modernists such as Stuart Davis and Charles Demuth applied a precise, geometric vocabulary to American architecture and advertising.
Bringing these diverse works of art together, America after the Fall tells the story of a nation’s fall from grace and irrevocable changes to the American dream. Following its installation at the Art Institute, the exhibition travels to the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris and London’s Royal Academy, marking the first time many of these iconic American works—including Grant Wood’s American Gothic—have journeyed beyond North America. For French and British audiences, this traveling exhibition offers an unprecedented opportunity to experience these masterpieces firsthand. For all the show’s visitors, the presentation affords a trailblazing look at the turbulent economic, political, and aesthetic world of the 1930s and the critical and dynamic process of rethinking modernism that it fostered.
204 pages, 9 3/8 x 12
105 color + 15 b/w illus.