The Depiction of Workers in the 1940’s
Gallery 13 on the 5th floor of the Museum of Modern Art is the smallest room of the Painting and Sculpture collection and it solely depicts workers in the United States in the 1940’s. At a time when the United States was fighting a war, American workers hardly seems an appropriate subject for an artist, and yet here in this room both African American, and Caucasian workers are the subject of multiple pieces, but they are portrayed very differently.
The first piece in this room to draw my attention was Workers and Paintings (1943) by Honoré Sharrer. An exceptionally detailed oil painting which appears to have required incredible concentration and attention to detail; to be able to paint other paintings within a painting and to do it accurately and clearly is an accomplishment in itself. The people in the piece are so realistic looking, their faces done with such detail that they are easily identifiable and distinguishable from each other. There is also a sharp contrast in the amount of detail in the people and the lack of detail in the buildings; this leads me to believe that the buildings are not important; this could be any city. With the exception of the rich dynamic reds used in the artworks within the painting, the muted color palette makes everything appear dark and melancholy. Although the label to the piece read “this painting shows ordinary families presenting and reacting to well known paintings” none of the people seem interested in the art that surrounds them except one young girl seated and staring into a painting. The only source of movement or excitement is in the facial expressions of three or four people. They could be waiting on line to sell their art, or trade it for food. You might expect a lack of enthusiasm from the children, but the adults appear preoccupied as well. In fact the elderly couple in the center with their blank expressions could almost be taken directly from Wood’s American Gothic...
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