Labor advocate and garment manufacturer Ben
Goldstein, with the support of his wife Beatrice, left to The Library of Congress -- and the nation
-- a collection of American prints and drawings informed by a sympathy for the condition of
working people. A native New Yorker, over decades he collected works that stirred his very
personal interest in the city of his birth, the American people, and the human condition during the
first half of the twentieth century. His concerns encompassed a broad spectrum of social and
political issues that touched on life in urban centers and in rural areas, American labor and
industry, and the experience and achievements of minority groups.
Along with landmark images in the history of
American political art, Ben Goldstein assembled outstanding holdings of works by creators who
shared his social concerns. Among these artists were women, African Americans, and the
Mexican muralists who were so influential at the time. The collection is particularly rich in
images from the 1930s, when the turmoil and uncertainty of the Depression led increasing
numbers of artists to turn toward socially relevant subject matter. Their images include moving
portraits, scathing satires, haunting images of social ills, and more lighthearted depictions of life
in the first half of the twentieth century.
The collection represents the legacy of realist
artists Robert Henri, John Sloan, and Thomas Hart Benton, under whom many of the artists in
the exhibition studied and who stood as advocates of representational art. These artists rejected
abstraction–in spite of its growing influence in America–as irrelevant and inaccessible. Their
empathetic depictions of ordinary men and women enduring or enjoying their everyday lives
expressed the pain and rare pleasures experienced by Americans during a period that witnessed
two world wars and a devastating economic depression. Artists used their art to fight for civil
rights and against social or economic injustice. In a time of almost universal hardship their
images conveyed understanding. These prints and drawings let people know for a moment that
they were not alone.
Life of the People: Realist Prints and Drawings from the Ben and Beatrice Goldstein Collection, 1912-1948
All of the exhibition's fifty-nine works on paper are reproduced in the catalog with captions and essays.
Harry L. Katz, curator of popular and applied graphic art at the Library of Congress and curator of the exhibition.
Bernard F. Reilly, director of research and access at the Chicago Historical Society and the author of American Political Prints, 1766-1876.
Garnett McCoy, curator emeritus of the Archives of American Art and author of David Smith, a documentary monograph, Archives of American Art: a Directory of Resources, and such articles as "The Rockwell Kent Papers" ( Journal of the Archives of American Art ).
Published by the Library of Congress
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