Welcome to Off the Wall. We’ve skimmed the news around the museum, and want to share the highlights with you.
Written while trying to figure out how to transfer a call (apologies to whoever I just put on hold for eternity).
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“One cannot be an American by going about saying that one is an American. It is necessary to feel America, like America, love America and then work.” –Georgia O’Keeffe
YOUR FACE IS UN-AMERICAN
I know exactly what you were thinking while reading the past couple blog posts. “This is amazing and hilarious, the writer is a genius.” Okay, true. But you were also thinking, “Wow, my favorite part is where she talks about the collections at the end. I really wish she would do an entire post about a collection instead of just a little blurb.” Here at the FJJMA, we want all of your wildest (not too wild, okay, you can’t climb on the Mustang, calm down) dreams to come true. So, for your delight and enjoyment, we’re going to give you all the information you could ever possibly want about our incredible U.S. State Department Collection.
WHERE’D IT COME FROM?
Here in the United States, there are few things we love more than freedom. The U.S. State Department collection was created to gather art that represented our uniquely American freedom of expression. Freedom of expression does not mean that we are free to make whatever faces we want while looking at modern art (this is allowed but it is frowned upon. Get it? Never mind). The collection was assembled in 1946, and featured modernist paintings created by contemporary American artists. J. LeRoy Davidson was the visual art specialist who developed the exhibition. His task was to compile works that demonstrated diversity of American modern art, and showed the power of democracy to nourish freedom of expression. The exhibition, Advancing American Art, was supposed to combat communism. It consisted of 79 oil paintings, and a bunch of other smaller collections made with other media. It didn’t stick around, however, because the U.S. Congress and President Harry S. Truman deemed it to be ‘un-American.’
WHAT WAS UN-AMERICAN ABOUT IT?
There are a lot of great things in Advancing American Art, but like unusual ingredients in food, it wasn’t for everyone. The exhibition went swimmingly for a while. Then this guy named William decided to run images of some of the artwork in The New York-Journal American with, believe it or not, sarcastic captions. I know. The gall. I just hate sarcasm. In a shocking turn of events, some Conservative artists’ groups were unhappy that more traditional art was excluded from the collection, and started writing letters. Congressmen started investigating the backgrounds of the artists, and found that (oh the horror) many of them were immigrants or had left-wing leanings. As if all of that weren’t enough, President Harry Truman expressed his disdain for modern art in public. Some unverifiable sources have suggested that he is quoted saying, “I could do that myself in about five seconds.” It’s probably true, man. Get it? Say it out loud to yourself. Never mind.
SO…HOW DID WE GET IT?
After a bunch of people whined Advancing American Art into extinction, Congress nixed its funding, and the art was left to be auctioned off by the War Assets Administration. This meant that J. LeRoy Davidson lost his job collecting modern art for the egregious crime of collecting modern art. All of this turned out really well for the FJJMA, because the OU Museum of Art got to the auction sooner (yeah??) rather than later, and snatched up 36 fantastic paintings that are still in our present-day permanent collection.
SO WHO’S IN THE COLLECTION?
It’s sad to think that there was a time when the prized works in our U.S. State Department Collection were completely unappreciated by the general public. But it’s not that sad, because we got our awesome Georgia O’Keeffe for — let’s just say it was too good a deal to pass up. It’s not for sale, but hypothetically, in a parallel universe, one MIGHT expect to get a pretty penny for it. It also gave us the opportunity to get our hands (FIGURATIVELY) on works by other important artists, like Romare Bearden, Ben Shahn, Stuart Davis, Edward Hopper, Loren MacIver, Jacob Lawrence, Marsden Hartley and Arthur Dove.
Davidson collected incredible American art–and even though his original plan for its use didn’t pan out, the works ended up scattering across the county. (Didja know we helped reunite most of the original exhibition for a recent traveling “family reunion” of sorts?) This means that countless Americans are now able to enjoy and appreciate the artwork for generations to come. Also, we’re going to start calling people who dislike modern art ‘Harrys.’ Pass it on.
REPEAT AFTER ME…
HOW TO ANSWER ‘WHAT DO I LOOK AT?’ AND ‘WHEN DO I LOOK AT IT?’ WITH ONE RESPONSE…
At five in the afternoon. Or, rather, At Five in the Afternoon. This is a work in the U.S. State Department collection that was created by Romare Bearden. Bearden’s inspiration for the painting was a dramatic poem about a Bullfighter. Bearden purportedly chose the title to signify the climax of a bullfight. He also created other drawings to illustrate the same poem. Bearden’s style was similar to “Synthetic Cubism,” which was invented by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso. Today, the piece would likely be referred to as “collage,” because his solid shapes appear to have been cut out of construction paper. Some would speculate that the style could also be called “excuses for not getting your assignment in on time,” since it’s a bunch of bull.
WHAT TO SAY IF YOU WANT A TATTOO…
House at Provincetown, 1930. This is a painting by Edward Hopper that also appears in the U.S. State Department Collection. The house that the painting is based on is (surprisingly) in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The funny thing is, it’s now being used as a tattoo studio. Nothing on their website suggests that they know the significance behind their location, but those of us who manage the blog are considering taking a road trip to let them know–and who knows, maybe we’ll get matching tattoos.
THINGS TO KNOW
Gouache: This isn’t gnocchi. That’s different. Gouache is a method of painting that uses opaque pigments ground in water and thickened. Several of the pieces in the original Advancing American Art exhibition were created using this style.
Refregier: Not the word ‘refrigerator’ texted to your friend while driving. Anton Refregier was a painter and muralist, whose works appeared in Advancing American Art. Although he considered himself an American, he was also one of those immigrants who made the exhibition so unpalatable to Truman’s administration. He went on to have a prolific career, and in 1945 served as Fortune magazine’s artist correspondent for a conference held in San Francisco. The conference brought world leaders together to write the Charter for the United Nations. End of the Conference, a Refregier in the FJJMA permanent collection, relates to his assignment with Fortune.
artists born several years ago this week:
3/9 David Smith, Tom Roberts | 3/10 William Etty | 3/11 Kenneth Hayes Miller | 3/12 Elaine Fried de Klooning, Pierre Jean David d’Angers | 3/13 Alexej von Jawlensky, Hans Fredrik Gude, Johan Zoffany, William Glackens | 3/14 Adolph Gottlieb, Akira Yoshizawa, Diane Arbus, Ferdinand Hodler, Georges de La Tour, Norval Morriseau, Reginald Marsh | 3/15 Shibata Zeshin