January 31, 2019 New Exhibition "Art in Action" Examines Socially-Engaged Art

Works Include Editorial Cartoons Paired with Historical and Contemporary Artwork

Press Contact: Brett Zongker, (202) 707-1639
Website: Library of Congress Exhibitions

A new exhibition, “Art in Action: Herblock and Fellow Artists Respond to Their Times,” pairs original drawings by editorial cartoonist Herblock with historical and contemporary artists’ prints, drawings and posters that respond to major issues from the 17th century to the present day. “Art in Action” opens at the Library of Congress on Jan. 31.

As a political cartoonist for The Washington Post and other newspapers, Herbert L. Block – who won three Pulitzer Prizes and became known simply as “Herblock” – devoted his 72-year career to creating social commentary through his drawings. The Library houses most of Herblock’s lifework. Key topics that drew Herblock’s attention provide the organizing framework for the exhibition, including civil rights, gender and women’s rights, health, environment, the impact of war, refugees, education and the role of media. In “Art in Action,” Herblock’s cartoons provide a call and response with other socially-engaged artists who have wielded brush, pen, burin and pixel to express their viewpoints and engage with many of the same issues. These juxtapositions underscore how diverse artists across time and place can be kindred spirits in expressing concerns about the world they inhabit.

The exhibition includes depictions of Pablo Picasso and works in the grand, global tradition of political art by such artists as Jacques Callot, Leopoldo Méndez and Francisco de Goya – as well as modern and contemporary American artists including Alexander Calder, Enrique Chagoya, Shepard Fairey, Kerry James Marshall, Juan Fuentes, Favianna Rodriguez and Helen Zughaib, among others.

“Like poets, novelists, and other creative voices, visual artists have long had a special ability to reflect society and culture with powerful immediacy,” said Katherine Blood, curator of fine prints. “In dialogue with Herblock’s drawings, a number of the contemporary artworks also reference historical images to generate fresh energy and conversations.”

Exhibition Director Kim Curry noted this is one in a series of exhibitions featuring Herblock’s work alongside examples by other visual artists. 

“With sharp insight into his subjects and masterful technique, Herblock’s drawings show a remarkable ability to create visual metaphors. He commented on topics that he deemed most urgent and often proved prescient in identifying recurring issues of vital importance,” said Martha H. Kennedy, curator of popular and applied graphic art.

Selected works for this exhibition draw from the Library’s extensive holdings of artists’ prints, drawings and posters.

The exhibition will feature 39 items, including 12 drawings by Herblock and works by 25 other artists, during its run from Jan. 31 through Aug. 17, in the Graphic Arts Galleries of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. The exhibition is free and open to the public Monday through Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tickets are not needed.

Artists and works featured include:

  • Tony Auth’s depiction of Herblock taking on presidents of all stripes;
  • Alexander Calder’s Cold War-era artwork supporting the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy in 1975;
  • David Seymour’s 1937 photograph of Picasso with a glimpse of the painting “Guernica,” showing the terror of war in a famous example of protest art – and Herblock’s 1973 tribute to Picasso’s impact;  
  • Kerry James Marshall’s somber tribute to civil rights champions Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy in 1997;
  • Herblock’s “Reminder, 1942,” declaring his deep appreciation for those serving in the U.S. armed forces during World War II;
  • California artist Juan Fuentes’ insight into the role of artist as social commentator in 2013;
  • Ruth Lynne McIntosh’s portrait created as part of the Combat Paper Project for veterans to produce art with paper made of old uniforms;
  • Lebanese-American artist Helen Zughaib’s memorialization of Syrian refugees.

The exhibition is part of a yearlong initiative in 2019 inviting visitors to Explore America’s Changemakers with a series of exhibitions, events and programs.

“Art in Action” is made possible through the generous support of The Herb Block Foundation. An online exhibition will be available at loc.gov. Follow the exhibition on social media with the hashtag #ArtInAction.

The exhibited items were selected from the picture collections in the Prints and Photographs Division, which number more than 16 million images. Unique in their scope and richness, these visual materials are particularly strong in the history of the United States and the lives, interests and achievements of the American people. For more information, visit loc.gov/rr/print.

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States – and extensive materials from around the world – both on site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov, access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.


PR 19-013
ISSN 0731-3527