At a time when the nation is struggling to recover from an economic recession, the Harn Museum of Art
presents a timely exhibition examining the American workforce from a previous generation. Opening June 8, America at Work: Art and Propaganda in the Early-20th Century will feature approximately 50 graphic works related to labor issues and demographics, popular culture, immigration trends and national identity during the first half of the 20th century. The exhibition will feature iconic work incentive posters produced by Mather and Company, as well as WPA prints."
Work is a dominant concern for most Americans today, just as it was during key periods in our past, said Dr. Rebecca Nagy, director of the Harn Museum of Art. With America at Work, the Harn is able to connect people with history through works of art and design that remain relevant today. I think our visitors will find these posters and prints just as engaging as they were more than fifty years ago.
The exhibition will include a group of 30 Mather Work Incentive posters from the mid-1920s, designed to motivate workers, improve productivity, and strengthen morale. The lithographs address workplace behavior with bright, bold graphics and messages such as Dont make excuses, make good, and Lets play to win. At a time when the workforce was undergoing profound change, these posters also functioned as vehicles of propaganda to promote solid American values such as integrity, loyalty, efficiency and teamwork.
Complementing the posters is a selection of about 20 prints created during the Great Depression of the 1930s and 40s. During this period, the Federal Art Projecta division of the Works Progress Administrationprovided work relief and materials for unemployed artists. Among the artists featured in the exhibition are key figures in American printmaking such as Don Freeman, Jacob Kainen, Leonard Pytlak, and Joseph Vogel. Some of the selected prints, such as Vogels Another Day, address negative aspects of work, unemployment and homelessness. Others, such as Freemans Money Magnet, present themes drawn from everyday life and humorous situations, reinforcing the idea that life goes on in spite of great economic hardship.
The powerful and engaging works in this exhibition provide visual testimony of a period in American life that witnessed both economic success and upheaval said Dulce Román, curator of modern art. They convey messages celebrating and reinforcing American morale and values that are especially relevant today.
America at Work will be on display until Sept. 5.