Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

photo: Bill Timmerman ©1999

Scottsdale, AZ



America Seen: People and Place


America Seen: People and Place, the exhibition on view at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art from November 20, 1999 through January 30, 2000, includes a bonanza of works (78 in all) that focus on the traditional aspect of pictorial art that flourished in America between the two world wars.

In America Seen, paintings, prints and photographs by artists that spearheaded the American Scene movement reveal a nation slowly moving toward world leadership. According to Curator of Education at the Sheldon, Karen O. Janovy, the search for a national style of art grew out of a wariness of European abstraction and a tendency toward isolationism. Events and conditions that took place on a daily basis during the years between 1930 and 1950 provided artists something to create that was unique to American culture. Much of this work in the exhibition, now referred to as Social Realism and Regionalism, is by well-known artists such as Grant Wood, Norman Rockwell, John Steuart Curry, Thomas Hart Benton, Charles Sheeler, Alexander Brook, Edward Hopper, Dorothea Lange,Walker Evans and Isabel Bishop. (left: Louise Bouché, McSorley's, 1940, oil on canvas, 41 x 50 inches, F. M. Hall Collection)

The period after World War I witnessed the return of many American artists from Europe, and the immigration of their European counterparts to the New York City area. This situation heralded the advent of a shift in dominance of the art world from Europe to America, and the resulting leadership role played by America would be unrivaled for years to come.

Social Realism artists were concerned with social and political statements that reflected the perceived inadequacies and inequalities of 20th century American society; whereas Regionalists celebrated the diversity of the American landscape and subjects by painting essentially positive, people-oriented scenes of farms, small towns and cities. (left: Reginald Marsh, The Park Bench, 1933, tempera on masonite mounted on panel, 24 x 36 inches, Nebraska Art Association Collection)

Visitors to America Seen will see famous works such as photographer Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother, which was used in the 1930s to publicize the plight of the migrant worker, and gave a face to misery. Norman Rockwell's work The County Agricultural Agent, conveys a nostalgic and sentimental view of the good life. Rockwell said, "I didn't want to paint the evil in the world, I painted the way I would like life to be." Grant Wood, who never forgot his Midwestern roots, was influenced by the painstaking realism, meticulously described detail and high color work of 16th century Flemish painting, but his work was highly indigenous to America.

During the 1930s, the federal government organized the Public Works of Art project to give relief to the unemployed and to maintain the self respect of artists by giving them work. Many of the country's best talents today were helped through a bad time by this project, and many young students were given an opportunity to establish themselves. Some works in the exhibition were created under this project. (left: Charles Sheeler, Barn Reds, 1938, tempera and graphite on board, 10 3/8 x 12 7/8 inches, F. M. Hall Collection)

The show was organized by the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln with the assistance of Smith Kramer, Inc., a fine arts service company, Kansas City, Missouri. Local sponsorship provided in part by the Cultural Exchange Gallery, Scottsdale, Arizona..

You may also enjoy earlier articles: America Seen: People and Place (2/2/99) and America Seen: People and Place (4/14/99) from the Charles H. MacNider Museum and the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum.


Read more about the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art in Resource Library Magazine

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 10/20/10

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