The American Scene

  • Exhib_slideshow_exhibition_americanscene_benton_wheat

    Thomas Hart Benton (1889‑1975). 'Cradling Wheat,' 1939. Lithograph. Purchase, 1940 (11416). © T.H. Benton and R.P. Benton Testamentary Trusts/UMB Bank Trustee/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

July 07, 2016 - October 02, 2016
Honolulu Museum of Art


Exhibition Overview

Through a selection of prints from the museum’s permanent collection, this exhibition traces the proliferation of Realism in America between the two World Wars, when American artists, seeking to picture national identity, turned to representational modes to celebrate the complexity of the country’s characteristic spaces. Many of them—such as Edward Hopper, Charles Demuth, Martin Lewis, and Raphael Soyer—were captivated by the city, and they explored novel compositional and technical devices to record the complexity and psychic intensity of their surroundings. In their work, the precision of etching was marshalled to capture the streamlined aloofness and imposing technology of American architecture, and the tonal variances of aquatint became equivalents for urban isolation. 

During the Depression, the shifting metropolitan environment endured in the work of Armin Landeck, Isabel Bishop, Mabel Dwight, and Reginald Marsh, while Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry, and Grant Wood developed regionalist styles that reflected the outsized myths and received narratives of the agrarian outlands. Their emphasis on this instantly recognizable and easily accessible “American Scene” guaranteed them work on government-sponsored public art projects and ensured the purchase of their reasonably priced prints by an increasingly cash-strapped public. By the end of the Depression, however, interest in Realism and its democratic ethos was waning, as the individualism of abstraction was being revived by a new generation of artists.