Bea Mandelman: The Social Realist Prints
In 1935 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration. Renamed the Work Projects Administration WPA in 1939, it employed millions of workers for public works projects. The Federal Art Project (FAP), operating from August 29, 1935 until June 30, 1943, was the visual arts arm of the WPA program. Artists contracted through the FAP project created more than 200,000 works including posters, murals and paintings. Many of the murals survive and constitute a significant part of the historic art works in America.
Bea Mandelman’s professional career as an artist became historically significant when she was employed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1935, first as a muralist and then as a printmaker with the Graphic Division of the New York Project. Mandelman was also one of the original members of the Silk Screen Unit under Anthony Velonis. She continued her career as an artist with the WPA until 1942, when the program came to a close. Her husband Louis Ribak also worked as a WPA artist, creating murals. In 1933, just before his contract with the WPA concluded, Ribak assisted Diego Rivera on the mural for the lobby of Rockefeller Center.
Both Mandelman and Ribak felt a strong common bond to the proletariat, a feeling that was typical among the artists’ community of the day. During the WPA years Mandelman worked in a style based on Social Realism, yet was keenly aware of the aesthetic changes in the New York art scene, having befriended many of the major figures in Abstract Expressionism. The prints in this exhibition demonstrate both Beatrice Mandelman’s virtuoso draftsmanship and her contribution to the legacy of Social Realism.