It can be argued there are two kinds of history. The first, written by journalists and historians, appears in books recounting the events that shaped our view of the world. The second, by artists, reveals how the world looked and felt at those times. Perhaps because this nation dominated the art world in the latter half of the 20th century, American art from the first half has been overshadowed. A time profoundly shaped by world wars and the Great Depression, that America seemed remote — until recently. Now that bank failures and vanished fortunes are making the era of Herbert Hoover and FDR seem familiar once again, much of The Recording of America expo of 60 works on paper from the Herbert D. Halpern collection seems eerily resonant.
Manhattan always had its bright lights. In 2 a.m. Saturday Night by Martin Lewis, it is 1932 and three post-flapper women are crossing Broadway as a street cleaner hoses it down. While nothing much is happening, the buoyancy of the women amid the gloom of the street conveys a sense of the times. Less sanguine is Claire Leighton's contemporaneous Bread Line, New York, a stark view of an endless queue of men huddled against the cold under jagged skyscrapers. Ditto Mabel Dwight's grimly colorful lithograph Derelict Banana Men, New Orleans (pictured), a view of ragged workers hauling produce in a scene recalling some of Goya's darker ruminations. Howard Cook's stark Southern Pioneers etching of an Arkansas couple hints at Grant Wood and the great WPA photographers. Raphael Soyer takes us back to Manhattan in his evocative, circa-1936 Dancers Resting lithograph, in which the subjects are urbane but the feel is no less austere, harking to Edward Hopper's silences amid the cacophony.
Legendary artists like Reginald Marsh, John Steuart Curry, George Bellows, John Sloan and Mabel Dwight, among others, captured the spirit of their time no less than Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg decades later. — D. Eric Bookhardt
THE RECORDING OF AMERICA: Prints from the Herbert D. Halpern Collection
Through March 26
Loyola University, Diboll Art Gallery, 861-5456; www.loyno.edu/dibollgallery