The Momentary - Bentonville, Arkansas - Feb 22, 2020

Renewing the American Spirit: The Art of the Great Depression

  • OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma
  • /
  • May 28, 2019

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John Marin (American, 1870 – 1953). Rough Sea, Cape Split, Maine , 1932. Oil on canvas. Oklahoma City Museum of Art. Museum purchase from the Beaux Arts Society Fund for Acquisitions, 1987.011. Photo: Josep h Mills
Walt Kuhn (American, 1877 – 1949). Tiger Trainer , 1932. Oil on canvas. Oklahoma City Museum of Art. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Friends of the Okla homa Art Center, 1981.035. Photo: Joseph Mills
Stephen Mopope (American, 1898 – 1974). Love - Call , 1931. Tempera on paper. Oklahoma City Museum of Art. Gift of the Oklahoma Art League, 1966.119. Photo: Bryan Cook

This fall, “Renewing the American Spirit: The Art of the Great Depression” explores the physical and social landscape of the United States during the Great Depression through paintings, prints, photographs and other media. This original exhibition includes a selection of works from the Oklahoma City Museum of Art’s excellent collection of WPA art, a recently acquired monumental mural by Gardner Hale, which has not been exhibited publicly since the First President's bicentennial exhibition in 1932, and several loans from regional institutions.

“Renewing the American Spirit” examines the diverse responses of artists to the social upheaval and economic distress that characterized American life in the 1930s. Together, the aesthetically and politically varied works produced in the 1930s paint a revealing portrait of the nation’s evolving psyche as it sought to move ahead through one of the country’s most challenging periods.

“The art of this time period provided artists with relief, documented the social injustices of the time and even functioned as forms of propaganda,” said Michael Anderson, director of curatorial affairs. “‘Renewing the American Spirit’ examines the formation of a new national identity, one that would prove short-lived aesthetically with the rise of the American avant-garde after the end of World War II, but far reaching politically through the creation of the New Deal coalition.”

‘“The Triumph of Washington,’ Gardner Hale’s monumental mural, adds to the Museum’s impressive holdings in Great Depression-era art,” added Anderson. “The painting presents a dynamic and triumphant fictionalized view of the general and head of state, on horseback, amidst flag-bearing soldiers, and in front of a looming twentieth century skyline. We are deeply grateful to D. Wigmore Fine Art for the gift of this major work and excited to include it as a focal point for this new exhibition.”

Gardner Hale was well known for his murals and frescoes in the early 1900s. He had a studio in NYC and was a member of the Architectural League of New York, National Society of Mural Painters, American Federation of Arts, Salons of America and Society of Independent Artists. His work has been exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, Society of Independent Artists and Salons of America.

In addition to the Museum's renowned collection of WPA art and “The Triumph of Washington by Gardner Hale, the exhibition features key examples of Depression-era Native American art, highlighted by the work of Acee Blue Eagle, and paintings and works on paper by Hans Hofmann, John Steuart Curry, Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton and Milton Avery. 

“Renewing the American Spirit” will open Nov. 2, 2019 and close April 26, 2020.


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