Mabel Dwight, “Danse Macabre,” 1934
Jill Bugajski and John Paul Murphy are the curators of the exhibition The Left Front: Radical Art in the Red Decade 1929 to 1940, on view now at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery. The show looks how American leftist artists responded to the chaotic and uncertain decade between the beginning of the great depression and the start of World War II.
Organized around collectives like the John Reed Club and the American Artist’s Congress, the artists of the “red decade” believed that art’s role was to help transform society. For these printmakers, painters, and illustrators, art was inseparable from the historic crises of the day, and it was the responsibility of radical artists to fight for the rights of workers and the underclass while resisting the oppressive forces of capitalism and fascism. Borrowing a page from the Soviet playbook, these artists described themselves as “culture workers” and declared that art was a weapon in the battle for “a new and superior world.”
On this week’s show Jill and John talk about the influence of Soviet communism on American artists, the radical potential of abstract art, and we discuss what the artists of the Great Depression might have to teach the artists of the Great Recession.
Henry Simon, “Industrial Frankenstein I,” 1932
American Artists of the John Reed Club (Amerikanskiye Khudozhniki “Dzhon Rid Klub”), Moscow, 1931
Rockwell Kent, “Solar Flare Up” 1937
Todros Geller Untitled (Factory), c. 1930
Boris Gorelick Industrial Strife, c. 1938
Mitchell Siporin Workers Family, from the portfolio A Gift to Biro-Bidjan, 1937
Music: “Moscow Guitar” – The Jokers
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