The First Art Newspaper on the Net Established in 1996 United States Friday, October 31, 2014


AXA Equitable donates Thomas Hart Benton's epic mural "America Today" to Met Museum
Thomas Hart Benton, City Activities with Dancehall from America Today, 1930–31. Mural cycle consisting of ten panels. Egg tempera with oil glazing over Permalba on a gesso ground on linen mounted to wood panels with a honeycomb interior. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of AXA Equitable, 2012.
NEW YORK, NY.- American artist Thomas Hart Benton’s epic mural America Today—a sweeping panorama of American life, celebrating the promise of modern industry and technology and the accomplishments of working people in the boom years of the 1920s—has been donated by AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The announcement was made jointly yesterday by Thomas P. Campbell, the Museum’s Director and CEO, and Mark Pearson, AXA Equitable Chairman and CEO.

Benton (1889–1975) created the ten-panel mural cycle in 1930–31 as a commission for the third-floor boardroom of the New School for Social Research in New York City. Referring to sketches he made during his travels around the U.S. in the 1920s, Benton initially executed nine of the panels, which were first seen by the public when the International-style building designed by Joseph Urban at 66 West 12th Street opened on New Year’s Day, 1931; he completed the tenth panel later. The mural cycle filled the four walls of the 30-by-22-foot boardroom. Figures of farmers, coal miners, steelworkers, architects and builders, doctors and teachers surrounded viewers, representing a cross-section of American life. In 1986, American art scholar Lloyd Goodrich remarked that Benton “took the whole face of America and tried to make a work of art out of it….It was a new technique completely in mural painting, of actually taking reality and making mural art directly out of it.” Although Benton received no fee for the commission, America Today established him as his era’s leading American muralist. Its success provided the impetus for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) mural programs of the Great Depression.

In announcing the acquisition, Mr. Campbell stated: “This is a momentous gift to the Met and to New York City. AXA Equitable’s exceptional gift brings to the Museum both a great work of art and a significant cultural landmark, one that forged a new American idiom in the visual arts. It will certainly play a key role in our ideas about modern art at the Met.”

While discussing AXA Equitable’s decision to give Benton’s great painting to the Metropolitan Museum, Mr. Pearson noted: “America Today embodies the very spirit of America and its technological genius. Above all, the mural is a monumental tribute to the American worker, and as such, we felt it was the right moment to make a gift of it to the American people, in keeping with AXA Equitable’s commitment to preserve the masterwork’s legacy for future generations.”

Sheena Wagstaff, Chairman of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Metropolitan Museum , added: “This extraordinary gift greatly enriches the Museum’s narrative of 20th-century American art. It is a work of immense scale and significance, and represents a uniquely American brand of modernism that condenses the spirit of the Jazz Age, anticipates Regionalism, and holds a fascinating and deeply ambivalent relationship to avant-garde European movements as well as to the Mexican mural movement. In addition to presaging subsequent Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, its full blown presentation of American culture includes remarkable allusions to industrialization, race relations, and social values.”

When America Today is installed at the Metropolitan Museum, its original spatial arrangement will be recreated so that the mural cycle can be viewed as Benton conceived it.

The Mural’s History
After more than 50 years at the New School for Social Research in a room used first as the boardroom and later as a classroom, America Today was not receiving the physical protection or public attention it deserved. In 1982, the school announced the sale of the mural cycle to the Manhattan art dealer Maurice Segoura, with the condition that it would not be re-sold outside the United States or as individual panels. But the work proved difficult to sell as a whole and the likelihood increased that the panels would be dispersed.

America Today was acquired by AXA Equitable (then Equitable Life) in 1984, after efforts on the part of then-Mayor Edward I. Koch and others to keep it intact and in New York City. Two years later, after extensive cleaning and restoration, America Today was unveiled to critical acclaim in AXA Equitable’s new headquarters at 787 Seventh Avenue. When the company moved its corporate headquarters again in 1996, to 1290 Avenue of the Americas, America Today was put on display in the lobby. There it remained until January 2012, when the company was asked to remove it to make way for a renovation. The removal triggered AXA Equitable’s decision to place the historic work in a museum collection. Curators Pari Stave, on behalf of AXA Equitable, and H. Barbara Weinberg, on behalf of the Met, were instrumental in moving the project forward.

“This is an example of a dynamic civic partnership between AXA Equitable and the Metropolitan Museum, both venerable institutions with connections to New York City that date back to the mid-19th century," said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. "Thanks to AXA Equitable’s civic leadership, we’ll be able to preserve an important part of our collective cultural legacy. This act is an affirmation that private and public institutions can work together effectively to ensure New York City’s position as a world financial and cultural capital.”

Former Mayor Koch—whose administration’s efforts in the early 1980s to preserve the mural and keep it in New York City have now been made permanent through the gift to the Metropolitan Museum, and who in recent years has worked at 1290 Avenue of the Americas, where the mural has been on view in the lobby—added: “I have had the pleasure of years of exposure to Thomas Hart Benton’s mural—America Today—seeing and appreciating it every morning when entering my office building. Now millions visiting the Met will have that joy.”

America Today
America Today was Thomas Hart Benton’s first major mural commission and the most ambitious he ever executed in New York City. It remains his best-known work.

Not wishing to work in true fresco directly on the wall—as José Clemente Orozco elected to do for his concurrent commission in the New School’s public dining room and student lounge—Benton painted off-site on panels that were to be installed in the boardroom after they were completed. He availed himself of a loft that Alvin Johnson, the school’s director who had commissioned the mural cycle, obtained for his use on the twelfth floor of a nearby building; constructed wallboard panels reinforced by 1-x-3” pine cradling; glued onto the surfaces heavy linen and primed it with seven coats of gesso and two layers of Permalba (a commercial composite oil paint) to create a smooth, white, plaster-like surface; and applied an under painting of distemper (pigments mixed with water and a glue or casein binder) and a final coat of egg tempera (dry pigments mixed with egg and water), a venerable medium of the old masters with which he was eager to experiment. He then enriched the color in some of the darker areas with transparent glazes of oil paint. Finally he treated the murals with a coat of natural resin varnish and a thin layer of wax, producing an almost luminous, eggshell-like surface. Here and there, he attached to the murals straight and curved molding segments covered with aluminum leaf. These helped to organize the complex narratives and to separate the scenes. As Benton scholar Emily Braun noted: “Like a Gershwin tune, the murals evoke a jazzy rhythm syncopated visually by the jaunty silver bolts of the moldings.”

Informed visually by Benton’s characteristic stylized realism, America Today celebrates the development of new technology and of workers in all regions, from the farmers whom the artist knew as a native Midwesterner to steelworkers and construction crews engaged in building modern cities. Instruments of Power, the central and largest panel, faced the viewer entering the boardroom. Occupying the south wall, it extended almost from floor to ceiling and was bracketed by two windows that looked out onto the life of the city. Devoid of human presence, Instruments of Power announced Benton’s passion for the Machine Age by juxtaposing icons of modern industry and transportation, including a rushing train, an airplane, and a dirigible. These and other forms declare that industry and technology will thrust America into the future.

The other three walls of the room were also lined with large panels, but unlike Instruments of Power, these contained figures that crowded the viewer on all sides. The varying scale at which Benton portrayed these figures is typical of his style: some are life-size and loom over the viewer and each panel contains at least one immense, iconic figure. On the west wall were three panels (beginning closest to the door): Deep South, Midwest, and Changing West. These focused on the principal agricultural regions and the West, included vignettes of labor by prosperous and poor, white and black citizens, and underscored the evolution of farming methods from antiquated to modern. On the east wall were three panels (beginning closest to the door): City Building, Steel, and Coal. These distilled activities from the industrial East Coast and included some of the cycle’s strongest social commentary in figures such as an exhausted coal miner. On the north wall, flanking the door, were two panels depicting urban life: City Activities with Dance Hall and City Activities with Subway. Here the settings ranged from speakeasies to movie houses and sleazy dance halls to Wall Street and the dramatis personae—more numerous than in any of the other panels—ranged from boxers to strippers to Salvation Army singers. The tenth panel, an over-door, which was installed between the two urban scenes, was entitled Outreaching Hands. “It wasn’t clear there was a Depression until I was almost finished,” Benton said later, “so I put that breadline over the door.”

Executed before the effects of the 1929 stock market crash and the seriousness of the Great Depression were fully understood, America Today is imbued with the spirit of the Roaring Twenties. This is apparent in the scenes’ kaleidoscopic variety, their surging, cinematic vitality, and the invitation they offer to read them in sequence, crosswise, or around and across the room. Benton scholar Henry Adams described the room as “an all-enveloping visual sensation… unlike anything achieved in American painting.”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Thomas Hart Benton | Thomas P. Campbell | AXA |




Last Week News

December 12, 2012

Johannes Vermeer's masterpiece "Woman in Blue Reading a Letter" travels to Sao Paulo

$6 million vase once owned by First Lady Lou Henry Hoover sells at Bonhams in San Francisco

Corcoran Trustees vote they will focus on approaches that keep the museum in the 17th Street building

Four letters by Tsar Nicholas II sold for record price of CHF 120,000 at Hôtel des Ventes de Genève

Van Gogh dazzles at Netherlands' Kroeller-Mueller; museum announced "Vincent is Back"

First U.S. Viewing of "The Jameel Prize: Art Inspired by Islamic Tradition" opens at Stanford

British artist and Turner Prize winner Simon Starling will create the Tate Britain Commission 2013

Founder of Cirque du Soleil exhibits photos taken on board the International Space Station

The Empty Quarter hosts photographer Steve McCurry's latest exhibition "Unguarded Moments"

Michael Hoppen celebrates 20 years in business with an exhibition from his collection

Zurich misplaces more than 5,000 works of art; expected to find most of the missing artwork

The prodigious son: George Maciunas returns to Cooper Union in a new exhibition

Design Miami/ reaffirms its position as the world's leading fair for collectible design with strong sales

RISD Museum closes year with significant gift to cap Radeke Restoration Project

Renovations at Civil Rights Museum move forward

The jewellery collection of the late Michael Wellby makes three times estimate in £2.8 million sale

New world record set for Howard Schleeter at Clars December 2012 fine art auction

Claudia Kleefeld's "Patterns of Nature: The Spiral and Interconnectedness" on view at LA Artcore

Man strips at Austrian art exhibition of nude men

December 11, 2012

"Cindy Sherman: The Early Works 1975-1977" opens at Centre de la photographie Genève

An aristocratic site in Bassing between independent Gaul and the Roman conquest

Art Basel Miami Beach presented premier quality works and strong programming

Winterthur announces that missing silver snuff box by Barent Ten Eyck has been located

Art auctions still soaring at Ketterer Kunst: High increases and many new customers

Exhibition in Milan explores the synthesis between colour, pictorial act, matter and form

Beauty and the beast: Roman goddesses and court dwarves at Bonhams sale

Russia's Hermitage denounces probe over modern art exhibit by Britain's Jake and Dinos Chapman

A tribute to the late Swiss artist Josephsohn on view at Hauser & Wirth in London

Early impressions by James R. Jackson on view at the Manly Art Gallery & Museum

French courts to rule in Chinese artist family feud between his third wife and his son from a previous marriage

Last King of France's ice buckets re-discovered and red-hot at Bonhams sale

Centre Pompidou Foundation appoints Sylvia Chivaratanond as the first Adjunct Curator of American Art

National Portrait Gallery presents 89 sitters in one innovative group video portrait

Painting of epic battle between British and American warships in 1813 for sale at Bonhams

Sound installation conceived by Hans Tutschku for the rooftop of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts

Christie's New York wraps 2012 with over $163 million in jewelry auction sales

House of Illustration raises 68,750 in "What are they like?" Celebrity Auction at Sotheby's London

Pulse Miami 2012 closes with record attendance, high museum sales and sold-out booths

December 10, 2012

Constable, Gainsborough, Turner and the Making of Landscape at the Royal Academy of Arts

Arte Primitivo announces auction of Tribal and pre-Columbian, Classical, Egyptian and Asian antiquities

National Endowment for the Humanities awards grant to Teenie Harris Archive at Carnegie Museum

Cleveland Museum of Natural History announces capital campaign, leadership team

Austrian artist Yadegar Asisi presents 360 degree panorama of baroque Dresden

Christie's sale of masterpieces formerly in the Collection of Monsieur and Madame Riahi realises $31.9 M

Indianapolis Museum of Art premieres first major exhibition focusing on the use of graphite

Christie's presents a week-long series of auctions devoted to magnificent jewels, watches, wine and design

Phillips de Pury & Co. announces highlights from its New York December Design Auctions

Japanese art exhibitions during New York's Asia Week celebrations announced

Simon Lee Gallery presents an exhibition of new work by the American artist Sherrie Levine

What is Grey Exactly? The (non-)colour grey in Swiss art from the 1960s to the present

Fiona Rukschcio retapes Yoko Ono's film "Rape" for new exhibition at the Secession

Exhibition at MICA and University of the Arts honors legendary fiber artist Lenore Tawney

Amicable settlement between auction house Lempertz and buyer of false Heinrich Campendonk painting

First institutional exhibition of works by artist Cheyney Thompson opens at Kunstverein Braunschweig

Patek Philippe dome clock by graffiti artist John "CRASH" Matos offered in Antiquorum's December auction

Seventh Asia Pacific Triennial opens in Queensland

Nightfall: New tendencies in figurative painting at MODEM Centre for Modern and Contemporary Arts

End may be sight for FBI's unloved Hoover building

December 9, 2012

Park Avenue Armory presents Ann Hamilton's first installation in New York in over a decade

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art celebrates 15 years of the Logan Collection

Industrial history brings new life to Parisian suburb just a 20-minute metro ride from the city centre

The Heckscher Museum of Art presents "Modernizing America: Artists of the Armory Show"

Tortoiseshell craftsmen adapt to new century turning out only 100 pairs of hand made glasses per year

Head of the Institute of Archeology of Belize sues over Indiana Jones crystal skull

Six and seven figure sales dominate the first three days of contemporary and modern art fair Art Miami

Georgia Museum of Art exhibits works by American painter and printmaker Minna Citron

Air de Paris exhibits works by Adriana Lara, Guy de Cointet, Trisha Donnelly and Allen Ruppersberg

Franklin Bowles Gallery in New York opens exhibition by the Spanish artist Miquel Gelabert

First major UK solo exhibition by Libyan Italian artist Adelita Husni-Bey opens at Gasworks

Recent acquisitions and a new exhibition announced at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Liz Deschenes’s photographic works on view in new exhibition at Vienna's Secession

Galerie Michel Rein in Paris opens exhibition by Christian Hidaka

Discovery in New England brings to light an obscure California-made motorcycle once thought 'extinct'

Grosvenor Gallery presents works by one of the greatest masters of postwar Greek art

One-time refugee from punk and sometime band member Ted Riederer exhibits at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery

Great Dam of China opens the floodgates for artist Donald Wyland

New Museum announces limited-edition wearable MP3 player featuring fifteen live performances

Michaan's Tiffany Auction produces multimillion dollar sale

December 8, 2012

Archaeologists find Maya ceramics and mural paintings in three underwater caves in Mexico

Fortuny and Wagner:Wagnerism in the visual arts in Italy opens at Palazzo Fortuny in Venice

Discovered: French and Italian archaeologists find the lost port of ancient Rome

Ringling organizes America's first comprehensive Veronese exhibition in two decades

New role for Curator Scott Rothkopf at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York

Rio bids final farewell to star architect Niemeyer with national tribute worthy of a head of state

Flowers Gallery presents a selection of photographs from Edmund Clark's Guantanamo: If The Light Goes Out

Exhibition of recent works by Giovanni Anselmo, Jannis Kounellis, Giuseppe Penone and Emilio Prini at Sprovieri

Peabody Essex Museum appoints Austen Barron Bailly as its first Curator of American Art

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush to lead Philadelphia's National Constitution Center

Dazzling prices in £6m Bonhams Fine Jewellery Sale with over £1m for Van Cleef & Arpels brooch

If you will it, it is not a dream: Yael Bartana opens solo exhibition at Vienna's Secession

Portland Museum of Art breaks records for the month of November with Winslow Homer exhibition

Alaska reclaims missing moon rocks since 1973

Aargauer Kunsthaus opens survey of current art practices in the Canton of Aargau

Shortlist of The Art India Breakthrough Artist Award at the Skoda Prize announced

Pérez Art Museum Miami capital campaign receives $5 million contribution

Winchester rifle belonging to "Doc" Carver, partner of Buffalo Bill, to be sold at auction

Navajo child's blanket leads Bonhams $1.28 million Native American Art Sale in San Francisco

December 7, 2012

11th annual Art Basel Miami Beach features 257 leading international galleries

Cavemen better at drawing animal movement: study by open access journal PLoS ONE

Restoration of Jacopo da Pontormo altarpiece reveals unrecorded drawing clearly visible at the top

Berlin marks 100 years since Nefertiti find with major exhibition 'In The Light of Amarna'

Italian police recover 2,000-year-old Egyptian sphinx stolen from Etruscan necropolis of Montem Rossulum

Painting attributed to El Greco smashes pre-sale estimate at Bonhams Old Masters Sale

After a 4.8 million dollar makeover, London's Charles Dickens Museum reopens

1933 King Kong three sheet brings $388,375 to set house record at Heritage Auctions

Glassblowing comes to the iPhone: VMFA and The Martin Agency launch app inspired by Dale Chihuly's artwork

Swiss contemporary art generates enthusiasm among collectors at Sotheby's

The New Art Dealers Alliance returns to Miami Beach for the 10th edition of NADA Miami Beach

Bernar Venet invited by Bugatti to create a work of art on view at the Rubell Family Collection

Aqua's 8th installment packs another powerful punch during Art Basel Miami week

Tamara Beckwith, co-owner of the Little Black Gallery, joins Channel 4's Four Rooms

Sweden's Nationalmuseum announces acquisition of photographic portraits by Hans Gedda

RISD Museum bids farewell and warm wishes to Curator Judith Tannenbaum

The Helmut Newton Foundation opens exhibition of works by François-Marie Banier and Helmut Newton

World's most important porcelain tea service sells at Bonhams for £541,250

Just discovered Scharl Portrait of Einstein up for sale for first time

Most Popular Last Seven Days



1.- Image of a Christ without a beard, short hair and wearing a toga unearthed in Spain

2.- Giant mosaic unearthed in mysterious tomb in Amphipolis in northern Macedonia

3.- Bonhams sale of 18th century French decorative arts to benefit Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

4.- Paris flustered by erection of 'sex-toy' sculpture; Paul McCarthy slapped by a passer-by

5.- High art or vile pornography? Marquis de Sade explored in Orsay museum exhibition

6.- 'Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection' opens at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

7.- Greek culture minister says Elgin Marbles return a matter of 'global heritage'

8.- Vandals deflate Paris 'sex-toy' sculpture by American artist Paul McCarthy after outrage

9.- Exhibition at National Gallery in London explores Rembrandt's final years of painting

10.- 'Hans Memling: A Flemish Renaissance' opens at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome

Related Stories



Exhibition of Forbidden City Treasures Goes on View at Metropolitan Museum in February

New Installation Features Cabinets and Caskets from Metropolitan Museum's Collection

New Installation Features Cabinets, Caskets, and Cases from Metropolitan Museum's Collection

Gifts Enhance Metropolitan Museum's Scholarly Activities in Cycladic and Early Greek Art

Metropolitan Museum to Undertake Major Redesign and Reconstruction of its Fifth Avenue Outdoor Plaza and Fountains

Alexander McQueen's Iconic Designs to be Celebrated in Spring 2011 at the Metropolitan

Metropolitan and Egypt Announce Initiative to Recognize Egypt's Title to Objects from Tut's Tomb

Sculptural Installations by Contemporary Icelandic Artist Katrin Sigurdardottir on View at Metropolitan

Innovative Furniture by American Designer Charles Rohlfs Displayed at Metropolitan Museum

First Exhibition in 45 Years Devoted to Renaissance Master Jan Gossart on View at Metropolitan Museum



Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .

 

Founder:
Ignacio Villarreal
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal - Consultant: Ignacio Villarreal Jr.
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez - Marketing: Carla Gutiérrez
Special Contributor: Liz Gangemi - Special Advisor: Carlos Amador
Contributing Editor: Carolina Farias

Royalville Communications, Inc
produces:

ignaciovillarreal.org theavemaria.org juncodelavega.org facundocabral-elfinal.org
Founder's Site. The most varied versions
of this beautiful prayer.
Hommage
to a Mexican poet.
Hommage
       

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site