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New Deal Exhibition at Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art Explores 1930s Art
Joseph Hirsch, "Street Scene", 1938. Oil on canvas, 22 x 24 inches. Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, The University of Oklahoma, Norman; WPA Collection, 1942.

NORMAN, OK.- In light of the current U.S. economy and its historic correlation to the 1930s, the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art premieres a new exhibition of New Deal-era artwork this spring. Revisiting the New Deal: Government Patronage and the Fine Arts, 1933-1943 opens Friday, Feb. 5, with a special public opening reception at 7 p.m.

Revisiting the New Deal surveys the large collection of painting, sculpture and prints that the museum acquired from the federal government between 1935 and 1943. Selections from the exhibition include works by Stuart Davis, Joseph Hirsch, Jon Corbino, Louis Lozowick, Paul Goodbear and Patrociño Barela. A collection of posters designed by Louis Siegriest and reproductions of Navajo blankets by Louis Ewing are highlighted as well.

During the Great Depression, the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt offered a New Deal to the American people to help alleviate the economic turmoil of the 1930s. The Works Progress Administration was a national program that modernized and extended the country’s infrastructure in urban and rural areas and, by extension, created jobs for unemployed Americans.

“President Obama has suggested publicly that we may need a new ‘New Deal,’ which makes this exhibit both timely and relevant,” said White.

Since the fine arts had little presence in American communities outside the major metropolitan centers, culture was included in the program.

“The artists who participated in the various WPA programs were ethnically diverse and it gave minorities a pictorial voice that they never really had in American visual culture before this time,” White said. “This exhibition contains numerous works by artists of Hispanic, Jewish, Native American and even Chinese heritage. Many of the artists were first-generation Americans, which also gives us the opportunity to engage the issue of immigration.”

For the visual arts, the federal government extended economic relief and opportunity to American artists under four distinct programs: the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP, December 1933- June 1934); the Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Arts (1934-43); the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP, July 1935- June 1939); and the Federal Art Project (FAP, 1935-43).

Artists who worked for these programs produced murals, paintings, prints and posters, much of which dispersed to federal and state buildings, museums and other cultural institutions in 1942-43.

“The various cultural projects were an attempt to assess and record the complicated cultural geography of the United States, both of the recent past and of the present,” White said. “In other words, the WPA asked the question: What is America?”

Revisiting the New Deal celebrates the 75th anniversary of the FAP and its significance for American artists and is drawn from the sizeable amount of WPA material in the collections of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.

The WPA collection may be credited to the efforts of former museum director Oscar B. Jacobson, who had helped administer PWAP funds in Oklahoma in 1934 and then acted as a supervisor for TRAP in 1935. A sizeable group of PWAP prints and paintings came to the University of Oklahoma in 1935, followed by a series of larger collections from the FAP’s painting division in 1938 and 1942-43.

Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art | Stuart Davis | Joseph Hirsch | Jon Corbino | Louis Lozowick | Paul Goodbear | Patrociño Barela |

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