Art for the Millions: Capturing the Turbulence of 1930’s America at The Met

The Metropolitan Museum of Art.Photo by TomasEE. file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

In a nation grappling with political unrest and social upheaval, the artistic expressions of the 1930s resonated profoundly, reflecting the unsettled atmosphere of the time. As the Great Depression plunged America into a state of hardship and uncertainty, citizens embarked on a collective quest to redefine their cultural identity. Against a backdrop of divisive politics, threats to democracy, and a surging labor movement, artists found solace and a voice, utilizing diverse media to convey powerful political messages and ideologies. You can revisit these extraordinary times in the exhibition, ‘Art for the Millions: American Culture and Politics in the 1930s,’ hosted at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Unveiling an Unparalleled Collection

Thanks to the generous support of the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation and The Schiff Foundation, this groundbreaking exhibition promises to captivate audiences with over 100 remarkable works sourced from The Met collection and esteemed lenders. From September 7 to December 10, 2023, visitors will have the rare opportunity to delve into the multifaceted world of 1930s American art, immersing themselves in a diverse array of mediums including paintings, sculptures, prints, photographs, films, dance, decorative arts, fashion, and ephemera.

Max Hollein, the highly esteemed Marina Kellen French Director of The Met, emphasizes the profound impact these artists had on their audience during a tumultuous period in history. He remarks, “American artists witnessed astounding hardships in the 1930s and responded fervently. As the nation confronts similar issues of political polarization and widening inequality today, this insightful exhibition serves as a poignant reminder of how artists then, like now, used their craft to connect with audiences, take action, and illuminate social ills. This presentation also brings to the fore women artists and artists of color who were often shut out of the mainstream art world.”

Elizabeth Olds (American, 1896–1991). Miner Joe, 1942. Screenprint. 16 1/2 x 12 1/4 in. (41.9 x 31.1 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum Accession, transferred from the Lending Library Collection (64.500.1)

A Thematic Journey

Curated by Allison Rudnick, Associate Curator of Drawings and Prints at The Met, the exhibition is thoughtfully divided thematically into three galleries. This approach offers visitors an unprecedented overview of the sociopolitical landscape of the era, allowing them to truly grasp the essence of this tumultuous decade. The galleries highlight an impressive array of works by iconic artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Charles Sheeler, Stuart Davis, Elizabeth Olds, Dox Thrash, Riva Helfond, Walker Evans, and Dorothea Lange. Additionally, visitors will have the opportunity to witness rare footage of Martha Graham’s evocative dance piece, “Frontier,” alongside other captivating installations.

Understanding a Decade of Social and Political Messages

Allison Rudnick, the brilliant curator behind this thought-provoking exhibition, emphasizes the significance of the artistic movement during the 1930s. She explains, “While visual culture in the United States has always been suffused with ideology, cultural production in the 1930s is notable for representing an exceptional range of social and political messages. Every visual medium—from prints to film to fashion—played a role in transmitting these messages to millions of Americans. The works provide a unique framework for understanding a fraught and fascinating decade, one that mirrors today’s world in many ways.”

Immerse Yourself in History

As you explore ‘Art for the Millions: American Culture and Politics in the 1930s,’ be sure to also indulge in the meticulously crafted and fully illustrated catalogue, a valuable companion to your journey. Published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press, this catalogue, made possible by the Diane W. and James E. Burke Fund, offers further insights and the opportunity to reference this exhibition in the future.

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