Athens, Ga. – The Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia will serve as the closing venue for the exhibition “Art Interrupted: Advancing American Art and the Politics of Cultural Diplomacy,” a traveling show that focuses on 1940s art, politics and censorship, from Jan. 25- April 20.
In 1946, J. LeRoy Davidson at the U.S. State Department put together a traveling exhibition of contemporary American paintings known as Advancing American Art. Intended to foster goodwill among the U.S., Europe and Latin America, the exhibition demonstrated the power of democracy to foster great art, but the result was not what the organizers had hoped. Provoked by the press, members of the U.S. Congress and President Harry Truman deemed the art in the show un-American. By 1948, the works had been auctioned off to buyers across the nation, Davidson forced to resign, his position abolished and the entire project a laughingstock in the media. “Art Interrupted” reunites nearly all of the paintings Davidson purchased, re-creating his original proposed exhibition and investigating the U.S. State Department’s use of fine art as a valuable tool in the Cold War.
Davidson, who served the State Department as a visual arts specialist, was responsible for developing a set of touring exhibitions to demonstrate not only the diversity of American modern art, but also the power of democracy to nourish freedom of expression. Advancing American Art originally consisted of 79 oil paintings, and the State Department paired it with smaller collections of works in watercolor, tempera, gouache and other media, with intentions to travel them to Europe, Asia and South America.
Advancing American Art initially met with positive press, such as its premiere at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in October 1946 and its brief appearances in Paris and Prague. But criticism followed soon after. William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal-American ran images of the work with sarcastic captions. Conservative artists’ groups, unhappy with the exclusion of more traditionally rendered material, mounted letter-writing campaigns. Congressmen investigated the backgrounds of the artists, many of whom were immigrants or had left-wing leanings, and even Truman expressed his disdain for modern art in public. The ensuing debacle led Congress to eliminate funding for the project, leaving the art to be auctioned off by the War Assets Administration and Davidson without a job.
“Art Interrupted” showcases works by artists including Romare Bearden to Ben Shahn, Stuart Davis, Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Loren MacIver, Jacob Lawrence, Marsden Hartley and Arthur Dove. Many of the artists were important in the development of American modernism. The exhibition also serves, in the end, as a testament to Davidson’s goals.
Although his plan to promote the vitality of American art abroad failed, Davidson’s project had a second life as the works were dispersed across the nation. In the collections of, primarily, university museums and galleries, including the three organizing institutions, they exemplified the principles for which he had intended them and reached countless young Americans.
The exhibition is organized by the Jule Collins Smith Museum at Auburn University, the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia and the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma and was made possible by grants from the Henry Luce Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts as part of American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius.
Events associated with the exhibition include a preview/opening reception Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. ($5, free for members of the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art); a panel discussion focusing on issues of censorship on Jan. 26; a lecture by Louis Menand, a New Yorker writer and Harvard English professor, Feb. 6 at 6 p.m.; “Family Day: Modern Masterpieces,” Feb. 8 from 10 a.m.-noon; Teen Studio, March 6 from 5:30-8:30 p.m.; a film series featuring “Ninotchka” and “Notorious”; and “While Silent, They Speak: Art and Diplomacy,” an emerging scholars symposium organized by the Association of Graduate Art Students at UGA in partnership with the museum, March 28 and 29.
The Henry Luce Foundation was established in 1936 by Henry R. Luce, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time Inc., to honor his parents, who were missionary educators in China. The foundation builds upon the vision and values of four generations of the Luce family: broadening knowledge and encouraging the highest standards of service and leadership. A not-for-profit corporation, the Luce Foundation operates under the laws of the state of New York and aims to exemplify the best practices of responsible, effective philanthropy. The Henry Luce Foundation seeks to bring important ideas to the center of American life, strengthen international understanding and foster innovation and leadership in academic, policy, religious and art communities.
The National Endowment for the Arts was established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government. To date, the NEA has awarded more than $4 billion to support artistic excellence, creativity and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities. The NEA extends its work through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies and the philanthropic sector. American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius is an NEA initiative designed to acquaint Americans with the best of their cultural and artistic legacy. Through American Masterpieces, the NEA sponsors performances, exhibitions, tours and educational programs that reach large and small communities in all 50 states.
Partial support for the exhibitions and programs at the Georgia Museum of Art is provided by the W. Newton Morris Charitable Foundation and the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art. Individuals, foundations and corporations provide additional museum support through their gifts to the University of Georgia Foundation. The Georgia Museum of Art is located in the Performing and Visual Art Complex on the East Campus of the University of Georgia. The address is 90 Carlton St., University of Georgia, Athens, Ga. 30602- 6719. For more information, including hours, see http://georgiamuseum.org or call 706-542-4662.