The Great Depression, fascism in Europe, America’s entry into world war—the dark forces that changed the western world forever in the decade from 1930 to 1940—upended America’s art establishment as artists channeled moral outrage into a new sense of social purpose. Some of the most radical artists of the day were those who organized on behalf of workers’ rights and civil rights, and the ideals of a free society, including freedom of artistic expression.
This installation features works by these socially and politically engaged artists. Drawn entirely from SAM’s collection, it is occasioned by the recent gift of works by Mervin Jules and Joseph Hirsch, from Allan and Nenette Harvey of Seattle. These are joined with paintings and drawings by Seattle artists Abe Blashko, Rudolph Zallinger, and Alton Pickens.
Social Realism is the term traditionally applied to the work of these artists, who chose to work in a style that forcefully conveyed human suffering and moral character, but that is an inadequate description. They filtered reality through the imagination, and their portrayals are startling exaggerations—personifications of the forces of good and evil within all of us, as individuals and as a society.