WORKERS OF THE WORLD
Modern Images of Labor
April 2 through June 15, 2002
The Galerie St. Etienne's spring exhibition, WORKERS OF THE WORLD: Modern Images of Labor, examines a theme that is of particular relevance to today's increasingly globalized economy. Included are works by Gerd Arntz, Sue Coe, Honoré Daumier, Philip Evergood, Conrad Felixmüller, William Gropper, George Grosz, John Heartfield, Gustav Klutsis, Käthe Kollwitz, Jean-François Millet, Camille Pissarro, Diego Rivera, Ben Shahn and others.
Although work is a central fact of modern life, its popularity as an artistic subject has waxed and waned over the course of the last 150 years. Not surprisingly, labor first began to seriously interest European artists following the Revolution of 1848. WORKERS OF THE WORLD begins in the late 19th century, with pieces by such artists as Millet and Pissarro, and traces the theme through the political upheavals of the 1920s and '30s. The heyday of labor as an artistic subject undoubtedly came in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution in 1917. The Soviets extolled the domestic proletariat as a way of cementing support for the new regime and advertising its industrial accomplishments. In Germany, where hopes for a true Socialist revolution proved short-lived, artists set about documenting the economic failings of the Weimar-era social order. The Depression of the 1930s produced another surge of labor-oriented imagery in the US. Here, patriotism was often wedded to concerns for social justice, particularly after the Roosevelt Administration stepped in to stabilize the American economy. Artists tended to see themselves as no different from other unemployed workers, and were treated as such by the New Deal programs of the Works Progress Administration. However, the outbreak of World War II shifted concerns elsewhere, and Cold-War era political priorities demanded a very different sort of art. Socially conscious imagery--with its Marxist connotations--was clearly "out," while abstraction had a welcome neutrality that could be used to champion the virtues of democratic freedom. With certain notable exceptions--such as the artist Sue Coe--contemporary art has never regained the sense of social relevance and connectedness that it lost during the Cold War..
WORKERS OF THE WORLD: Modern Images of Laboris documented by a comprehensive checklist, which is available free of charge upon request.