THE ART OF WORK
Helicline Fine Art in New York shines a light on a forgotten era of American art, with an exhibition of work that celebrates the impact of the Works Progress Administration on artists.
Cecil Bell (1906 – 1970)
Under the El
18 x 24 inches
Oil on Canvas
Signed and dated 1943 lower right and on the stretcher
From a riotously colorful New York City subway rush-hour scene to a contemplative moment captured in a barbershop and the joyfully jumbled composition of an open cellar on a sidewalk, a new exhibition of early 20thcentury paintings and sculptures evokes the simple, everyday moments of a bygone era. The exhibition—American Art: The WPA Era and Beyond—is currently on show online and by appointment at the Helicline Fine Art private gallery in Midtown Manhattan, New York.
The Works Progress Administration was established by President Roosevelt in 1935, in the midst of the Great Depression—and the ambitious employment program created jobs carrying out public works projects for around 8.5 million Americans over eight years. While its role in providing relief from unemployment is well documented, its impact on the art world, largely through paid commissions for public artwork, is less recognized.
Ralph Fasanella (1914-1997)
Victory and After
26 1/2 x 36 inches
Gouache on paper
Signed, titled and dated 1945 lower left
Thornton Oakley (1881 – 1953)
40 x 30 inches
Gouache and pastel on paper, c. 1940s
Signed lower left
“The WPA period is off the radar of most museum curators and is one the least popular periods of American art today,” explains Keith Sherman, who founded Helicline Fine Art with Roy Goldberg in 2008. “That’s reason for celebrating it, along with the spirit of the worker, the forgotten person, simple moments of everyday life, industry, muscular men, abstracts, mural studies, and more. Actually, artwork from the first half of the 20th century is the stuff in our hearts and has been for years.”
The groundbreaking exhibition features the work of many artists who were commissioned to create artwork for public spaces in the 1930s and ‘40s as part of the WPA. Highlights include pieces by Ralph Fasanella, whose paintings celebrate the working classes and social movements of the time; William Zorach, whose sculptural work was featured in Radio City Music Hall; and Reginald Marsh, who captured the bustling streets of New York.
Trew Hocker (1913 – 1963)
New York Subway
36 x 48 inches
Oil on Masonite, c.
Signed and dated ’47 upper left
Paul Meltsner (1905 – 1966)
35 1/4 x 30 inches
Oil on canvas, 1942
Signed lower right
Titled and signed on the stretcher
Like all the pieces in the Helicline Fine Art collection, Sherman and Goldberg have chosen each piece in the exhibition for the personal connection they feel to it—a connection that benefits from the couple’s 35+ years of experience in the art world. “We never buy anything just to sell it,” says Goldberg. “We’re happy to live with it for a period of time and let it speak to us.”
American Art: The WPA Era and Beyond is on show at the private gallery in New York by appointment only.
William Zorach (1887 – 1966)New York Pioneer Family
23 1/2h x 15w x 10d inches
Plaster. c. 1927
The Smithsonian has a cast of this sculpture in its collection Pictured on the cover of “The Sculpture of William Zorach”