The exhibition opens at the downtown Muskegon art museum on Feb. 16, with a reception at 5:30 p.m. and a special lecture at 7 p.m. The reception and lecture will be free and open to the public.
The 55 paintings in “1934: A New Deal for Artists” are drawn from the Smithsonian’s unparalleled collection of art created for the PWAP and form a visual record of America in 1934 — the worst year of the Great Depression. The 1934 exhibition was requested from the Smithsonian for the MMA’s 100th year exhibition roster as a fitting complement to the museum’s collection — particularly one of its best-known paintings, “Tornado Over Kansas.” John Steuart Curry created this painting in 1929 at the beginning of the Great Depression. MMA Director Frank Atwood Almy purchased it in 1935, on the cusp of that historic moment in time.
In 1934, Americans grappled with an economic crisis that feels all too familiar today. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration created the Public Works of Art Project — the first federal government program to support the arts nationally. The program enlisted artists all across America to paint murals and canvases depicting “the American Scene” for display in public buildings. Regional subjects, including labor and leisure, city and rural life, nature and people, reminded the public of quintessential American values of hard work, community and optimism.
Although the PWAP was short-lived — it lasted from December 1933 to June 1934 — the works of art created with government support by grateful artists during the height of the Depression are some of art history’s finest testaments to American life and its can-do pioneer spirit.
The Muskegon dates are a part of a comprehensive program in collaboration with Grand Valley State University. The GVSU Art Gallery, Allendale campus, has organized a special exhibition, “Regionalism and the Art of the WPA: Selections from the Muskegon Museum of Art,” to be presented through March 23.
Additionally, several programs scheduled to coincide with both exhibitions feature GVSU faculty, staff and students, and are open to both GVSU students and the general public.
The Muskegon Museum of Art is at 296 W. Webster Ave. in downtown Muskegon. For open hours and admission prices, call 231-720-2570 or visit www.muskegonartmuseum.org.