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Wall Street Journal: Exhibit Brings History to Light

‘The Left Front’ opens this weekend with ‘forgotten message from angry 1930s’

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January 17, 2014 | by Judy Moore

EVANSTON, Ill. ---  “The Left Front: Radical Art in the ‘Red Decade,’ 1929-1940,” the “pioneering” exhibition in the main gallery of the Block Museum of Art, features not only the work of artists from the 1930s but also their mostly forgotten messages, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal.

The Block also features “Steichen - Warhol: Picturing Fame,” a second exhibition comparing two icons of modern art. The “Left Front” and “Steichen - Warhol” take a striking look at class and society in the 1930s.

 “The Left Front” is an original, wholly new, exploration of the overlooked political activism that inspired the work of many artists in the 1930s, the Journal said, in its story.

“The show’s two curators believe enough time has passed for a fresh, more objective look at this period in U.S. art history,” according to the Journal article, “Forgotten Messages From the Angry 1930s.”  

“The Left Front” highlights an unstudied corner of a history that appears to be well-trodden. Many of the artists from the 1930s showcased in the exhibit are known for their work with the WPA, but their philosophy and politics have not received the same attention. 

“These artists did self-identify as leftists, and that’s a part of the story that has in a lot of ways dropped out,” said doctoral candidate John Murphy, in the Journal article. Murphy co-curated the “The Left Front” exhibit with doctoral student Jill Bugajski. 

The exhibit highlights works by Chicago-based artists that activate hot-button issues that remain relevant in contemporary Chicago, including joblessness, labor unrest and immigration.

“While art histories of this period have typically zeroed in on New York City, this show broadens that focus,” the Journal article said. “With influential institutions such as Jane Addams’ Hull House, Chicago had its own rich history of social activism, which featured resident artists like Bernece Berkman, Carl Hoeckner and Morris Topchevsky.”

A 1937 woodcut by Mitchell Siporin on view in the main exhibition at Northwestern’s Block Museum of Art was reproduced in The Wall Street Journal article.

“The Left Front: Radical Art in the ‘Red Decade,’ 1929-1940” runs through June 22. It will connect the Block Museum with the communities of Northwestern University and Chicago through pop-up performances, actions, collaborations and lectures both in and outside of the museum. A broad array of programming will draw a line from the exhibition to critical contemporary issues, such as the recent economic downturn and the role of artists as agents for social change.

For more on the winter exhibitions, visit "Block Winter Exhibits Show Chicago Artists as Activists, Tastemakers." 

Topics: Campus Life