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Pressed in Time: American Prints 1905-1950
October 6, 2007 - January 7, 2008
Works from two important collections of American prints, both promised gifts to The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, along with materials from The Huntington's own collection, are view from October 6, 2007 through January 7, 2008 in a major exhibition, "Pressed in Time: American Prints 1905-1950." Powerful and visually compelling, the 163 works by 82 artists illustrate an especially dynamic moment in American culture and in the history of visual art, with examples by Peggy Bacon, Thomas Hart Benton, George Bellows, Childe Hassam, Edward Hopper, Paul Landacre, and John Sloan, among others.
"The world of printmaking exploded during this period, as artists experimented with and mastered different techniques, and then went about the business of recording in bold black-and-white and full-color images the dramatic social shifts occurring across the nation at that time," says Jessica Todd Smith, Virginia Steele Scott Curator of American Art and co-curator of the exhibition. "These are powerful, iconic works that capture an innovative, turbulent, and vital period in U.S. history."
The first half of the 20th century was a time of rapid and continuous change in the visual arts in the United States and Europe, marked by a succession of provocative artistic movements, which ranged from Fauvism and German Expressionism to Abstraction, Cubism, and Realism. Prints made during the period not only reflected these changes, but also recorded concurrent shifts in the social and cultural environment.
While artists grounded in academic technique and 19th-century values had used printmaking to capture the genteel morals and manners of their era, in the early 20th century, a new group of social realists in America, some of whom were members of the so-called Ashcan School, began to take on the life of the streets as their primary subject and forged a new tradition of artist-made prints. At the same time, printmakers began to explore modernist aesthetics, particularly after the influential Armory Show of 1913. In the age of FDR's New Deal, the Works Progress Administration supported printmaking as a way to make art accessible to more people. During this period, the consequences of economic depression and the millions of people across the nation affected by it were addressed by artists in bold and sometimes deeply disturbing prints.
Pressed in Time: American Prints 1905-1950 is drawn from the Huntington's art collections as well as from the John Sloan collection of Gary, Brenda, and Harrison Ruttenberg and the American print collection of Hannah S. Kully. Both the Ruttenberg and Kully collections are promised gifts to The Huntington.
"The gift of the Ruttenberg's esteemed John Sloan collection will instantly distinguish The Huntington as one of the greatest centers for John Sloan study in the country," said Smith. "And the exciting Hannah S. Kully collection includes some of the most striking prints made in the first half of the 20th century. Together, these collections are a boon for visitors and scholars, and we took great delight in poring over them to create this exhibition."
Seventeen works by Sloan from the Ruttenberg's comprehensive collection of some 400 items will be featured. John Sloan (1871-1951), a member of the Ashcan School, began his career as a newspaper illustrator in Philadelphia and later drew upon his talent in capturing fleeting incidents of urban life to create lively and engrossing images, peppered with social commentary, using a loose, anti-academic technique.
The Hannah S. Kully American print collection, on the other hand, consists of approximately 300 prints by 100 artists and emphasizes quality as the highest priority; so while her collection includes works by many widely recognized artists, such as Grant Wood, Edward Hopper, and Childe Hassam, it is also rich in exquisitely crafted prints by artists less often shown. The exhibition includes 117 works from Kully's collection.
Pressed in Time is organized into four major categories: urban places, urban people, rural places, and rural people. These sections are divided into smaller groups of prints that "converse" with one another, reflecting how various artists addressed subjects in different ways and how a single artist addressed a theme.
In a grouping devoted to urban public life, John Sloan's "The Barber Shop" (1915), infuses the traditional, masculine space with contemporary culture, depicting patrons casually perusing the socialist magazine "The Masses" and the satirical weekly "Puck." Also in this section, works such as George Bellows' "Preliminaries" (1916), Miguel Covarrubias's "The Lindy Hop" (1938) and Harry Shokler's "Coney Island" (ca. 1940) show printmakers' attraction to new urban modes of entertainment: prize fights, the movies, night clubs, and amusement parks.
A section exploring themes of desperation and flight associated with the Great Depression includes some of the most powerful works on view. John Steuart Curry's "The Fugitive" (1935) illustrates the perverse nature of race relations at the time: the painful image of an African American in a Christ-like pose fleeing the mob intent on killing him is made even more dramatic because the outcome is unclear.
"The Depression, the war years, racial strife, poverty, and workers' rights issues couldn't be ignored, and called many artists to action," says Kevin M. Murphy, Bradford and Christine Mishler Curatorial Fellow in American Art and co-curator of the exhibition. "In some cases, very deliberately designed, unforgettable images were intended to arouse our sympathy, direct our attention to the problem, and affect social change."
An "Artists and Art" section to the exhibition will bring to life the technical aspects of printmaking, with tools and equipment displays, video, and hands-on activities that focus on etching, aquatint, and lithography.
The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue, Pressed in Time: American Prints 1900-1950, by Jessica Todd Smith, the Virginia Scott Steele Curator of American Art, and Kevin M. Murphy, the Bradford and Christine Mishler Curatorial Fellow in American Art at The Huntington. (Published by The Huntington Library Press and distributed by the University of California Press).
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