Depression-Era Art Carries Timely message (January 2010)

Life, etc. 
Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

By Luciana Chavez, Staff Writer

RALEIGH – Shadows of the past will creep up on the present if an upcoming art exhibit, depicting America after the Great Depression, accomplishes its goal.

Adam Cave Fine Art will display and sell 25 prints depicting “American Realism from the WPA era” starting Jan. 22. The pieces capture America at a time of great economic turmoil, when the U.S. government created agencies such as the Works Progress Administration to put people back to work.

Gallery owner Adam Cave thinks the themes in the show will resonate with Americans wrestling with the current recession.

“In the fine art world, it’s not always easy to put on an exhibit that is timely from a social or political perspective,” Cave says. “We’re excited to be doing that, too.”

A third of the pieces, all owned by a single collector, were made under the auspices of the WPA. The others are similar in theme, content and time period to the WPA works.

The artistic legacy of the WPA era can be seen in murals created for government buildings, in the way the art was shared in schools and libraries, thus making it more democratic and accessible, and through the growth of the American Realism and Regionalism movements.

“The idea that metro areas or institutions like New York City, which had become the major art center of that time, and Wall Street were on the wrong track goes with the idea that an Iowa farmer or Missouri cattle raiser, who represent other parts of America, should be represented in art as well,” says Timothy Riggs, curator of collections at the Ackland Art Museum at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The exhibit features works by Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood, the man behind the iconic piece “American Gothic.” Both are considered experts of Regionalism.

“What regionalists benefitted from to some extent was a general disillusion in the 1930s with the way things were going,” Riggs says.

A worker’s plight

At a time when workers had been knocked back, the art showed their plight and the heroism behind their simple lives. Wood’s piece “In the Spring” shows a smiling farmer posing in front of his farm land.

One of the Benton pieces shows people harvesting wheat, clouds racing across the sky and grain stalks rustling in the breeze. Samuel Margolies’ piece “Builders of Babylon” shows two men atop steel beams high above the New York skyline.

Cave and his wife, Cindy, who own the gallery, are, for the first time, presenting a historical show. The Caves represent local artists and have a specific interest in contemporary North Carolina printmaking. They’ve been fans of printmaking – lithographs, woodcuts, aquatints – for years. The WPA-era prints were a good fit.

“I think as a medium printmaking has been misunderstood by the public,” Cave says, referring to reproduced posters people buy in museum or poster shops. “If you dig a little deeper, it’s a wonderful medium used for hundreds of years but it’s been overshadowed for the last 75 to 100 years. If we can provide a context for the work of contemporary printmakers, it would be great.”


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