American Graphic: Picturing Social Change in the 1920s and 1930s

Old College Gallery
February 8- May 12, 2017

In the 1920s and 1930s, American artists mobilized the media of printmaking and photography to capture the changing realities of modern life and to communicate with wider audiences. This exhibition,  curated by Karli Wurzelbacher, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Art History drawn from the University of Delaware collections, highlights artwork that engaged with economic, political, and social issues in the time of the Great Depression and President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” relief and recovery program. Most of the twenty-three artists included worked for the United States government as part of agencies such as the Farm Security Administration and the Federal Art Project. Many were politically active in liberal and leftist causes. All questioned the role of the artist in society and debated which styles and subjects could most effectively speak to a broad public. In the four interrelated sections of the exhibition—Machine Age Environments, Street Life, Prints for the People, and Documenting America—we see the richness and variety of the artwork that charted interwar America in black and white.

Berenice Abbott. City Arabesque, June 9, 1938. Gelatin silver print, 9 1/8 x 6 ¾ in.
Berenice Abbott. City Arabesque, June 9, 1938. Gelatin silver print, 9 1/8 x 6 ¾ in.

Berenice Abbott and Louis Lozowick were two of the most influential artists grappling with the dramatic transformation of America’s built environment during the Machine Age. Photographs from Abbott’s project Changing New York and eight lithographs by Lozowick register the scale and complexity of skyscrapers, bridges, power plants, and the elevated train. Printmakers Isabel Bishop and Mabel Dwight discovered unique subject matter in increasingly crowded and diverse urban spaces. They brought keen observation and humor to imagery borrowed from daily life in order to interest new viewers in their work. Other artists employed by the government’s Graphic Arts Division created overtly political prints in hopes of shaping popular opinion and official policy on some of the most pressing issues of the day: unemployment, workers’ rights, racism, and the rise of Fascism in Europe. The exhibition also features the photographs of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, Farm Security Administration employees who crisscrossed the country to chronicle rural and industrial living and working conditions. Appearing in newspapers, reports, magazines, and traveling exhibitions, their indelible images “introduced Americans to America.”

Louis Lozowick. Minneapolis, 1924. Lithograph, 11 7/8 x 9 1/8 in.
Louis Lozowick. Minneapolis, 1924. Lithograph, 11 7/8 x 9 1/8 in.


Gallery Reception

February 22, 2017. 5-7pm

5pm – Gallery Tour by curator Karli Wurzelbacher, Doctoral Candidate, Art History

RSVPs appreciated by February 18:

Perspectives on American Graphic

Photography of the 1930s

Jason Hill, Assistant Professor, Department of Art History

Thursday, March 9, 12:00-12:45 p.m.

Old College Gallery

The Soundtrack of the New Deal: Music from the WPA and FSA

Andrew Bozanic, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of History

Thursday, April 27, 12:00-12:45 p. m.

Old College Gallery

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