Wednesday, June 5, 2013
The American Scene: Prints from Hopper to Pollock (Sloan, Bellows, Lewis, Gwathmey, Baskin, Bourgeois)
The American Scene: Prints from Hopper to Pollock appeared at The British Museum 10 April – 7 September 2008.
Featuring 147 works by 74 artists, the exhibition included the work of John Sloan, Edward Hopper, Josef Albers, Louise Bourgeois, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.
The exhibition encompassed the arrival of modernism following the landmark Armory Show of 1913, the rise of the skyscrapers as the symbol of modern progress and prosperity, the Jazz Age, the Depression, and the effect of the rise of Fascism in Europe on artists’ political consciousness and engagement and America’s entry into the Second World War. There were many striking images produced during this period, many of them have become iconic within America, but are still relatively unknown outside. The prints were carefully selected to show the various episodes in American printmaking between 1905 and 1960, as well as providing a visually stunning pictorial anthology.
The exhibition opened in 1905 with John Sloan’s etchings of everyday urban life, marking the genesis of a distinct modern American school, later dubbed the Ashcan School, which launched its first exhibition in New York exactly 100 years ago. The remarkable lithographs produced by George Bellows of prize fights, mental asylums and capital punishment will be displayed alongside remarkable colour woodcuts by women modernist artists such as Blanche Lazzell and Grace Martin Taylor. The inspiration of avant-garde ideas from Paris can be seen in the work of John Marin, Milton Avery, Jan Matulka and Stuart Davis, and the development of the machine-age Precisionist lithographs of Louis Lozowick and Charles Sheeler.
Highlights of the collection included highly evocative scenes of New York at night by Edward Hopper, Martin Lewis and other etchers working between the wars, many of whom had a background in magazine illustration. The urban imagery of these works was contrasted with the romanticized vision of the American Midwest in the work of Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry, Grant Wood and Doris Lee.
Printmaking was encouraged during the Depression through the Federal Art Project which provided relief to unemployed artists under the US Government’s Works Progress Administration. This particularly helped to establish the screenprint as a new technique for artists, and saw the print reach a wider audience. Robert Gwathmey, Blanche Grambs and Dox Thrash were among the many artists of this period making socially conscious prints.
The political engagement of artists in the 1930s and the response to America’s entry into the Second World War after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 are vividly expressed by artists such as Hugh Mesibov, Joseph Vogel, Hugo Gellert and Benton Spruance, including his classic image
Riders of the Apocalypse.
The influx of émigrés from Europe including Josef Albers, who introduced Bauhaus principles to his students at Black Mountain College, North Carolina, and the artistic exchange that took place in Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17 in New York are two further episodes in the narrative. Pollock’s first all-over compositions were produced as engravings in Atelier 17 while Louise Bourgeois made her enigmatic series,
He Disappeared into Complete Silence, shown in its entirety, also at Atelier 17.
The exhibition concluded with abstract expressionism, the first major international art movement generated in the United States. As well as Pollock, other key artists included in the exhibition are Joan Mitchell, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Hans Burkhardt and Emerson Woelffer.
John Sloan. Roofs, Summer Night, 1906
George Bellows, A Stag at Sharkey’s, 1917
George Bellows, Dance in a Madhouse, 1917,
John Sloan, Hell Hole 1917
Edward Hopper, Night on El Train (1918)
Edward Hopper, Night in the Park (1921)
Edward Hopper, Evening Wind (1921)
Louis Lozowick, New York, c. 1925
Charles Sheeler, Delmonico building, 1926
Martin Lewis, Quarter to nine, Saturdays children, 1929
Martin Lewis, Spring night Greenwich Village 1930
Howard Cook, Times Square Sector (1930)
Martin Lewis, Little Penthouse, 1931
Reginald Marsh Breadline- No one has starved (1932)
James E Allen, The Connectors, 1934
Josef Albers, i, 1934
Jackson Pollock, Stacking Hay, 1935-36
Joseph Leboit, Tranquillity (1936)
Robert Gwathmey, The Hitchhiker; 1937
John Steuart Curry, John Brown 1939
Martin Lewis, Shadow Magic, 1939
Hugo Gellert, The Fifth Column 1943
Robert Gwathmey, Sharecroppers; 1944
Hans Burkhardt, After the Bomb, 1948
James McConnell, Combo 1951
Leonard Baskin, Man of Peace (1952)
Leonard Baskin, Hydrogen Man (1954)