This exhibition was inspired by original drawings created for distribution in newspapers by Herbert L. Block (1909–2001), who won three Pulitzer Prizes and became known simply as "Herblock." His artistic credentials included early studies at the Art Institute of Chicago and a one-man show in 1950 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. During Herblock's seventy-two-year career, he created incisive editorial cartoons about life-changing events, controversial issues, and public figures. Many of his key themes have also inspired established and upcoming artists in the world of fine art—sparking powerful reflections on society's most urgent concerns that move viewers to think, feel, and, sometimes, take action. Civil rights, gender and women's issues, the environment, health, the impact of war, education, and the role of media are among the challenging, complex topics that drew the enduring attention of Herblock along with generations of other artists.
Art in Action thematically pairs Herblock's political cartoons with artists' prints, drawings, and posters. These juxtapositions underscore how various artists across time and place can be kindred spirits in expressing concerns about the world they inhabit. Examples of the global tradition of socially-engaged art feature works by such influential past masters as Jacques Callot, Francisco de Goya, Käthe Kollwitz, Leopoldo Méndez, and Pablo Picasso. The exhibition also showcases the work of contemporary sociopolitical artists who include Eric Avery, Sandow Birk, Enrique Chagoya, Shepard Fairey, Juan Fuentes, Kerry James Marshall, John Isaiah Pepion, and Helen Zughaib. Using diverse styles, techniques, and ideological perspectives, these creators have raised their visual voices to speak out for crucial causes, many of which still resonate today.
All works in this exhibition are from the Prints and Photographs Division collections at the Library of Congress. The generous support of the Herb Block Foundation has made possible an ongoing series of triennial exhibitions based on the Library's extensive archive of Herblock's work.