Phyllis Cohen Stevens
Deputy Director of News Services
“Working Through the Great Depression"
WPA PRINTS OF NEW YORK FROM THE GODWIN-TERNBACH COLLECTION,
MANY NEVER BEFORE EXHIBITED, ON VIEW FEB. 9-JUNE 9, 2009
-- Artists Include Stuart Davis, Isaac Soyer, Mabel Dwight, and Jacob Kainen; Feb. 18 Curators’ Talk at 5:30 pm Followed by Reception --
FLUSHING, NY, January 21, 2009 – During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) created jobs for millions of Americans. Some 5,000 artists in more than 1,000 cities were employed by the WPA, which nurtured a distinctly modern American art expressed via murals, sculptures, and prints.
The prints depict people at work and play on sidewalks and rooftops, at the Automat, the beach, the parks, and the cultural institutions of New York. Exhibited alongside these works are iconic scenes of New York City and its environs, with views of the 1939 World’s Fair, Coney Island, Greenwich Village, the Harlem River, and Lower Manhattan. But next to such buoyant images are those of economic hardship and deprivation, the inevitable consequences of the Great Depression. These works were selected exclusively from over 300 WPA prints in the museum’s collection and celebrate the success of public art.
Focusing on the last category, Working Through the Great Depression displays 75 compelling works, all part of the Godwin-Ternbach Museum collection, that were created through the New York Regional Graphics Division of the Federal Art Project between 1935 and 1941. Many of these prints have never been on public view. The exhibition is co-curated by Amy Winter, the museum director, and Marilyn L. Simon, an independent curator and scholar who teaches in the Queens College Art Department.
|Harold Anchel (1912-1980)
Dance Hall, ca. 1935-1941
Lithograph, 8 ⅛ x 10”
Godwin-Ternbach Museum, P234
The exhibition includes works by celebrated artists like Stuart Davis, Isaac Soyer, Louis Lozowick, Ida Abelman and Mabel Dwight, as well as paintings and sculpture by WPA-sponsored artists O. Louis Guglielmi and Chaim Gross that are also part of the Godwin-Ternbach collection.
The prints reflect the artists’ diverse gender, ethnicity, and race. Stylistically, some relied on social realism, which directly addressed the problems of the period; others looked to Europe and the avant-garde, experimenting with cubism, surrealism and abstraction, explains Francis V. O’Connor, a pioneering scholar of the WPA and its art.
“If these prints seem tame in comparison to the large, colorful prints of today,” says O’Connor, who wrote the essay in the exhibition brochure, “it should be remembered that these works were considered radical during the 1930s. Project printmakers, inspired by a social commitment more egalitarian than aesthetic, sought to create larger prints depicting subjects relevant to the situation of their times and in all the styles then prevalent.”
|Phil Bard (1912-1966)
Off the Docks, ca. 1935-1941
Lithograph, 13 ⅛ x 10 ⅛”
Godwin-Ternbach Museum, P244
These works have particular resonance at this moment. “Little did we know when planning this exhibition that we would be facing a new era of economic crisis similar to that of the Great Depression,” say Winter and Simon. “The prints in this exhibition document the response of the government and artists to the challenges of hard times. We expect that our collection of WPA prints and related lectures, films and discussion will engage the public in exploration and dialogue. Our hope is to deepen understanding of the historical, political, and cultural issues evident in WPA art and tie these perspectives to contemporary parallels.”
LECTURE SERIES, FILMS AND WALKING TOUR
LECTURE SERIES, WPA Yesterday and Today, 405 Klapper Hall
Featuring illustrated talks by critics and educators noted for their work on the WPA:
February 24, 6 pm, Francis V. O’Connor "Barack Obama's New Deal: The Situation of Federal Art Patronage in Hard Times." Dr. Francis V. O'Connor is the author of three major publications on the New Deal art projects, was a consultant to the New York division of the Federal CETA art programs in the early 1970s, and between 1974 and 1983 he published Federal Art Patronage Notes, a newsletter on government cultural policy.
March 11, 6pm, Michele Cohen, “Government Patronage: The New Deal and Now”- history of government sponsorship of art, focusing on the Great Depression but considering recent controversies as well as the legacy and future of public art.
March 24, 6pm, Bonnie Yochelson - "Berenice Abbott's Changing New York: The Trials and Triumphs of New Deal Patronage"
April 28, 6 pm, Russell Flinchum, - “Art and Industry and the 1939 New York World’s Fair” - history and relations between early 20th-century art and industry and their culmination in the 1939 World's Fair at Flushing Meadows Park, Queens;
May 6, 12:15 pm , Jeffrey Kroessler - "The New Deal Landscape: Building for Prosperity" - public works programs of the New Deal restarted the nation's economy during rampant unemployment and national crisis. New York City historian Kroessler discusses public works programs in Queens during the Depression.
May 12, 6 pm, Thomas Thurston - “Painting a National Portrait: Imagining America during the Great Depression”- the role of art in unifying and defining national identity and purpose during periods of dramatic change and crisis.
FILM SERIES, Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief: All screenings take place in 401 Klapper Hall
March 4, 12:15 pm, The Grapes of Wrath (1940) Director John Ford’s adaptation of John Steinbeck's Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning 1939 novel, with Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine, and others. A moving story about rural America in the 1930s filmed with astute realism and honesty to recreate the socio-economic impact of the Great Depression and a mid-30s drought upon one American family. Considered the most popular left-leaning, socialist-themed film of pre-World War II Hollywood.
April 1, 12:15 pm, My Man Godfrey (1936) with William Powell, Carole Lombard, Alice Brady, and others. A socialite hires a derelict to be her family's butler, only to fall in love with him, much to his dismay. Ranked #44 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 funniest comedies of all times.
April 22, 12:15 pm, The City (1939). This documentary combines powerful visual imagery with revolutionary and poetic, social content showing the experiences shared by all Americans in a New England town, an unplanned industrial community, a congested metropolis, and the “new city.”
April 26, 2 pm, Printmaking Workshop for children and families in the Godwin Ternbach Museum. Led by Nancy Miller and presented in collaboration with Kidsfest. Sponsored by The Student Life Office, Godwin-Ternbach Museum, Kupferberg Center for the Arts, Child Care Center at QC and Metropolitan Food Service.
Bari Koral Family Rock Band, face painting and food also on the Queens College Quad.
Saturday, May 2, Mural Tour “New Deal Murals in Queens with Michele Cohen,” a guided lecture tour of WPA murals in Queens schools, hospitals, and airports.Noteworthy murals in public schools and public buildings include James Brooks’ Flight, LaGuardia Airport; Philip Evergood’s Story of Richmond Hill, Queensboro Public Library; Ben Shahn’s Four Freedoms, Woodhaven Post Office, Jamaica; and William Palmer’s Development of Medicine, Elmhurst Hospital. Call (718) 997-4724 for reservations and information about the tour.
Exhibition support has been generously provided by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the Queens College Office of the President, and the Friends of the Godwin-Ternbach Museum. The lecture series is funded by the New York Council for the Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
This exhibition grew out of a museum studies class project taught by Prof. Simon, in which students worked directly with objects from the Godwin-Ternbach collection.
Working Through the Great Depression will be on view from February 9 through June 9, 2009, at the Godwin-Ternbach Museum. A public reception will be held on February 18, beginning with a gallery talk by co-curators Simon and Winter at 5:30 pm, followed by a reception from 6-7 pm. Exhibition hours are Monday-Thursday, 11 am to 7 pm; Saturday, 11 am to 5 pm. The museum is open on Sundays during related exhibition events. Please call the museum at 718-997-4747 for further information on the exhibition and public programs or visit http://www.qc.cuny.edu/godwin_ternbach. Admission is free.
By car, the Godwin-Ternbach Museum is 40 minutes from midtown Manhattan. Directions are at http://www.qc.cuny.edu/about/directions.php.
The Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College is the only comprehensive collection of art and artifacts in the borough of Queens, housing over 3,700 objects that date from ancient to modern times. The mission of the GTM has grown over time from serving as a teaching museum for the benefit of art and art history students to embracing all disciplines and an increasingly diverse and engaged community. All exhibitions are free, as are their related lectures, symposia, gallery talks, workshops, films, concerts, and tours.