United States 1930s paintings exhibition in London

This video from Britain says about itself:

1 September 2016

The art of 1930s America tells the story of a nation in flux. Artists responded to rapid social change and economic anxiety with some of the 20th century’s most powerful art – brought together now in this once-in-a-generation show. ‘America after the Fall: Painting in the 1930s’ is at the Royal Academy of Arts, London from 25 February — 4 June 2017. Read more here.

By Nick Wright in England:

Facing up to capitalist realities

Saturday 25th March 2017

An exhibition of American paintings from the 1930s crisis era reveals much about the mindset of the time, says NICK WRIGHT

America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s

Royal Academy of Arts London W1


IN ONE gallery at the Royal Academy, there’s the revolutionary sweep of Soviet art which culminated in the 1932 overture to socialist realism. Above it, in the academy’s more compact exhibition space, a slyly subversive selection of paintings describe the decade in which US capitalism faltered only to be rescued by the New Deal and a world war — capitalist realism encapsulated.

That’s patently evident in Gas (1940) by Edward Hopper, where the exterior and interior of a rural filling station are lit as if an electrical storm threatens, or has passed.

Scarlet petrol pumps are tended by a neatly dressed figure — whether employee or proprietor is not signified and the sign tells us the site is owned by the oil monopoly Mobil. The figure is bent over his task and oblivious to an exterior world awaiting the irruption of modernity.

Hopper’s 1939 New York Movie has the sparse audience of film-goers bathed in the cold glow of the screen, while the uniformed usherette is removed from the dreamscape, lost in her own thoughts and sharply defined by warm electrical lighting. Here the audience are consumers, the labour of the alienated worker a commodity.

Reginald Marsh’s big-city Americans in 20-cent Movie are dolled-up New Yorkers hopefully anticipating the arrival of their dates and inhabiting a neon-lit world. That world is darker and hopeless in Philip Evergood’s 1934 Dance Marathon, where the winner takes all and the losers nothing, a painting which anticipates Georg Grosz’s America.

There is something surreal about this show. The selection is not overlarge but it is intelligently constructed — the curators know there is a big audience for Hopper and this is well satisfied, while PR imperatives mean Grant Wood’s American Gothic — a painting that is plagiarised as often as it viewed in its own right — is given star billing. Such is marketing.

A more revealing painting is Wood’s 1935 Death on the Ridge Road which, with its angular vehicles and vertiginous vista, stands as a metaphor for the Great Crash. The truck on the brow of the hill is red.

There are curious echoes of his deeply ambiguous American Gothic in Wood’s group portrait, Daughters of the American Revolution. Here, these “tory gals” present two faces, simultaneously sour and sinister, to the critical viewer.

O. Louis Guglielmi’s Phoenix deploys surrealist devices to suggest — in a direct and even crude manner — cause and effect between a skyline of industrial wastelands and the prospect of revolutionary change.

But the painterly photograph of Lenin, foregrounded against the images of capitalist industrial decay, is empty of much explanatory power.

Not so Joe James’s 1933 American Justice, in which a ghostly moonlight illuminates a dog howling in distress at the fallen body of a lynching victim. In the background, flames light a burning house while a Ku Klux Klan claque is silhouetted against the forest.

Equally compelling and given over to didactic effect is his 1934 painting Roustabouts, which shows dockworkers against the St Louis riverfront.

Racism intersects the overarching realities of class in which casualised labour relations allow some a day’s work while, for others, zero hours means an idle card game with even this diversion under the supervision of the gang master — white, of course.

Alice Neel strikes a different note, though no less realist and unashamedly unambiguous, with her 1935 partisan portrait of the communist seafarers’ organiser Pat Whalen.

A physically small man, the reality of his large presence on the waterfront is expressed by powerful and stylised hands that occupy a foreground defined by the front page of the New York Daily Worker, itself unashamedly didactic in announcing a steelworkers’ strike.

Nostalgia for an imaginary past, with the ethnic cleansing and environmental destruction which accompanied frontier America absent, can be found in full measure.

By contrast, Alexandre Hogue’s dust-bowl painting Erosion No 2 — Mother Earth Laid Bare transmutes the despoiled landscape into a ruined and supine Mother Earth, obscuring nothing.

America After the Fall can be read as the art of New Deal USA, while one floor below Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 marks the transition from war and ruin to socialist construction.

The New Deal was US capitalism’s unspoken tribute to the planned economy and it is not at all reductionist to understand US painting of this era as intersecting a realist arc, in much the same way as Soviet painting was.

Runs until June 4, box office: royalacademy.org.uk

A notice recently went up in the staff rooms of the Tate Modern and Tate Britain asking employees to “put money towards a sailing boat” as a “surprise gift” for director Sir Nicholas Serota, who is leaving after 28 years, sparking anger and derision. It is symptomatic of the growing commercialisation of the arts and insensitivity to the overwhelming majority of workers on poverty wages on the part of the handful of arts “administrators” who have profited from it. Serota, who was paid around £200,000, including bonuses, in the year ending March 2016, heads a 3,100 workforce in four galleries—Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Tate St Ives, Cornwall and Tate Liverpool. Apart from 26 people (up from 17 in 2008) paid more than £60,000, the Tate’s workforce earns on average £24,000, significantly less than the national median of £27,600. For the majority of the Tate’s employees who live in London, one of the most expensive cities in the world, this means poverty wages: here.

2 thoughts on “United States 1930s paintings exhibition in London

  1. Pingback: United States artist Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition in Canada | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Danish artist Per Kirkeby, RIP | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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