CHICAGO — Images of city life, labor and the workplace, and protests against social injustice will be among the fine-art prints in an exhibition opening Sept. 11 at the DePaul Art Museum.
The 56 prints in the exhibition were produced during the Depression, when the federal government was providing financial support to a wide range of artistic projects, from fiction to fine art, through the Works Progress Administration-Federal Arts Project (WPA-FAP).
“The prints are a window into the 1930s, a turbulent and complex time in American history,” said curator Louise Lincoln, director of the museum on DePaul University’s Lincoln Park Campus. “It’s easy to see the hardships in the lives of ordinary people, the social and political controversies, even the disagreements among artists about what the role of art should be,” she said.
Many works addressed the nation’s economic inequality, leading some politicians to denounce the WPA as subversive, according to Lincoln. A congressional committee investigated the program as a Communist threat, and a 1938 story in the Chicago Tribune called it “a vampire political machine,” she said.
But many artists and critics believed that the WPA had helped to develop something distinctly American in American art, and artists were deeply grateful for the opportunity to earn their livelihood, Lincoln said. Franklin D. Roosevelt predicted that “one hundred years from now my administration will be known for its art, not for its relief programs.”
The exhibition includes works by such well-known artists as Stuart Davis and Rockwell Kent, and is drawn from a donation of 100 prints to the museum from the collection of Belverd Needles Jr. and Marian Powers Needles. Belverd Needles is the EY Distinguished Professor of Accountancy at the Driehaus College of Business at DePaul University; Marian Needles is an adjunct professor of executive education at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
“This wonderfully generous gift carves out a new area in the museum’s collection, and will provide a rich source of exploration and enjoyment for our students and visitors,” Lincoln said.
As part of the Sept. 11 opening, a lecture on how prints were viewed by audiences in the 1930s will be presented by Helen Langa, an associate professor of art history at American University in Washington, D.C. The lecture begins at 5:30 p.m. and a public reception will follow.
On Oct. 15, a lecture on the controversies over political content in the prints will be presented by Liz Seaton, curator at Kansas State University’s Beach Museum of Art. The lecture begins at 5:30 p.m. All events are free and open to the public.
The exhibition — Ink, Paper, Politics: WPA-era Printmaking from the Needles Collection — runs through Dec 21.
The DePaul Art Museum at 935 W. Fullerton, just east of the CTA Fullerton ‘L’ stop, is open Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. For more information, call 773-325-7506 or visit www.depaul.edu/museum.