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Coming Home: American Paintings, 1930-1950, from the Schoen Collection
November 27, 2004 - January 23, 2005
John Steuart Curry, Thomas Hart Benton, Charles Burchfield, names that ring like a bell pealing across a prairie landscape, are just a few of the artists whose stirring images of strong, resilient Americans completed during the Depression and World War II are on view at UM's LoweArt Museum from November 27, 2004 through January 23, 2005. Coming Home: American Paintings, 1930-1950, from the Schoen Collection, organized by the Mobile Museum of Art and the Georgia Museum of Art, is on a tour of southeastern venues before its close in 2005. The exhibition includes 128 works by 100 highly-productive artists who were active during this significant period of American art. (right: Helen Forbes, Landscape Mountains and Miner's Shack, 1940, oil on canvas, 34 X 40 inches)
Jason Schoen, from whose collection these works are on loan, has accomplished at mid-life what many serious collectors never realize. A native of Los Angeles, he began precocious shopping forays into the California gallery scene while in high school. As an undergraduate in the history of art at the University of Texas, Schoen spent hours in the library's special collections department immersed in books illustrating the works of Curry, Wood, Benton, and their peers. Neither he nor his professors could have predicted that one day he would own works by these luminaries and exhibit them in museums across the country.
Schoen's collection includes the numerous periods that make up the American scene from 1930 to 1950 when the influences of the Depression and World War II contributed to styles of art variously known as Regionalism, Social Realism, Magic Realism, Surrealism, and Precisionism. Coming Home features a wide range of painting styles that represent the diversity of American art during the 1930s and 1940s, many of which are reflected by works in the Lowe's permanent collection," says Denise Gerson, Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs at the Lowe. "These differences are evident in the naturalistic works, abstract images, and surrealist paintings, all offering a revealing and panoramic look at this tumultuous time in American history." (right: Joseph Hirsh, Lunch Counter, 1941, oil on canvas, 15.75 X 38 inches)
Schoen has been most interested in having his collection foster an understanding of the regionalist impulse that appeared in much of the period's art. "A goal of mine," he writes," has been to create a collection of regional art, which can serve as a study collection and an introduction to an era, as a slice of life and a window onto an important period in American history."
Commonalities between these artists are numerous. An overwhelming number of the artists studied at New York's Art Students League with legendary teachers William Glackens, George Luks, Robert Henri, and John Sloan. Others traveled to study art in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles.
Many of the artists in the exhibition worked on federally-funded projects such as murals for post offices or federal buildings. The Great Depression's New Deal program spawned the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) and the Treasury Department's Section of Fine Arts. Both offered employment opportunities for artists to use public space as a canvas. Clarence Carter painted a post office mural in Ravenna, Ohio, and others had local post office assignments such as Philip Evergood in Jackson, Georgia; Henry Billings in Columbia, Tennessee; and Lucile Blanch in Ft. Pierce, Florida.
Single women were paid wages equal to the men, and there were as many women artists employed as men. Women artists in Coming Home include Agnes Pelton, Grace Clements, Helen Lundeberg, Florence McClung, Helen Forbes, and Ethel Magafan, among others.
The receipt of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation's fellowships for professionals enabled artists to survive the challenging economy of the Depression. Aaron Bohrod, Francis Criss, Jon Corbino, Adolph Dehn, Lucile Blanch, and William Gropper were only a few of the large group included in the exhibition to receive this prestigious award.
Involvement in socialist causes was not unusual, and many artists were active in organizations like the John Reed Club, named for a radical journalist and known for encouraging young leftist talent.
For the artists in Coming Home, their subjects were the people and landscape surrounding them, and the resultant canvases evoke emotional responses that could never be duplicated by camera, even the dramatic authenticity found in the work of photographers Dorothea Lange or Gordon Parks, both working contemporaries.
Now known as the documentary aesthetic, the collective efforts of these artists framed the often intolerable plight of Americans during the Depression. These powerful images render statistics unnecessary, even when they are as compelling as the ones citing the drop in farm land value from $57 million in 1929 to $36 million in 1933.
As illustrators working for magazines and corporations, several artists recorded Americans working in the grain elevators of the Midwest or tending the storage tanks of energy giants Standard Oil and Gulf Oil. From city views of Manhattan to the barren landscape of a California desert, the images in Coming Home reflect America and its people, as commonplace as a wrangler and his cowpony or a flirting couple in Mobile. Andrée Ruellan ventured away from traditional artist enclaves such as Woodstock, New York, to work in the South. Others worked in the midwestern and western states at the behest of federally-funded assignments. Peter Hurd, Maynard Dixon and Clyde Forsythe balanced their eastern counterparts' documentation of city and industry by recording a still open and as yet, under-populated west. John McCrady, William Hollingsworth, Lamar Dodd, and Charles Shannon studied elsewhere but returned to their native South to work.
William U. Eiland, director of the Georgia Museum of Art and one of the show's curators, likens the exhibition to America itself. "The pictures in this collection, through the exhibition, not only document a shared past but also provide assurance of a questioning present and an uncertain future."
A fully-illustrated color catalogue with essays by Erika Doss and Andrew Ladis accompanies the exhibition. Curators for the exhibition are William U. Eiland, director of the Georgia Museum of Art; Paul W. Richelson, curator of art at the Mobile Museum of Art; and Cecilia Hinton, curator of education at the Georgia Museum of Art.
Featuring a wide range of paintings within the scope of the American Scene Movement (between the Great Depression and WW II) and representing various manifestations of realism, including "fantastic realism," with a concentration on Regionalism and Social Realism. Thursday, January 20, 2005. Lecture: 7-8 PM. Join Jason Schoen for a presentation and discussion of his collection. Sponsored by the Fedor Family Endowment for Art Education
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