Chazen Museum of Art


1934: A New Deal for Artists

February 16 to April 28 | Pleasant T. Rowland Galleries

February 16 through April 28, 2013

During the Great Depression, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt promised a “new deal for the American people,” initiating government programs to foster economic recovery. Realizing that Americans needed not only employment but also the inspiration art could provide, the administration created the Public Works of Art Project, the first federal program to support the arts. Although short-lived, the PWAP employed thousands of artists to paint regional, recognizable subjects—from portraits to cityscapes and street scenes to landscapes and rural life. These artworks were displayed in schools, libraries, post offices, museums, and government buildings, vividly capturing the realities and ideals of the era. 1934: A New Deal for Artists celebrates the 75th anniversary of the PWAP, presenting 56 vibrant paintings from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s unparalleled collection.

Free Public Programs

Thursday, February 21: Lecture and Reception

  • 5:30 p.m. “Discoveries about the Public Works of Art Project,” lecture by Ann Prentice Wagner, curator of drawings, Arkansas Arts Center, and exhibition curatorial associate. Auditorium 
    Wagner will give a brief history of the Public Works of Art Project and discuss art works in the exhibition and the places depicted as the artists strove to represent, as the PWAP asked them, “the American scene.” The PWAP set many precedents for the more famous Works Progress Administration art project and others that followed during the Great Depression.
  • 6:30–8 p.m. Reception for the exhibition 1934: A New Deal for Artists, with music by Bill Malone and the New Mad City Ramblers, refreshments, and a cash bar

Docent tours: Thursdays in March and April, 4 p.m. Docents lead 40-minute drop-in tours of 1934: A New Deal for Artists. Rowland Galleries.

Selected Thursdays at 7 p.m.: New Deal Cinema

  • February 28: Stand Up and Cheer (USA, 1934, 35mm, 68 min.)
    Director: Hamilton MacFadden. Cast: Warner Baxer, James Dunn, Shirley Temple
    President Roosevelt names a brash Broadway producer as the country’s first Secretary of Amusement. Facing antagonistic lobbyists, he enlists a father-daughter act who wow the nation. Preceded by Betty Boop in her only Technicolor cartoon, Poor Cinderella (1934, 11 min.)
  • March 14: The President Vanishes (USA, 1934, 35mm, 80 min.)
    Director: William A. Wellman. Cast: Edward Arnold, Arthur Byron, Rosalind Russell
    The President stages his own kidnapping to stall the plans of manipulative war mongerers.
  • April 4: Fashions of 1934 (USA, 1934, 35mm, 78 min.)
    Director: William Dieterle. Cast: William Powell, Bette Davis, Frank McHugh
    A swindler and his assistant attempt to steal the latest Paris fashion designs and sell cut-rate knock-offs. Caught in the act, the duo must put on a legitimate fashion show.
  • April 25: King of the Hill (USA, 1993, 35mm, 103 min.)
    Director: Steven Soderbergh. Cast: Jesse Bradford, Karen Allen, Spalding Gray
    Twelve-year-old Aaron (Bradford) uses his ingenuity and imagination to survive during the Depression when he is separated from his family. Based on the memoir of writer A.E. Hotchner.

March 21, 7 p.m. Bridge Poetry Series: Invited Wisconsin poets will read original poems inspired by the exhibition. This is a semiannual reading of poetry written in response to art.

April 18, 4:30 p.m.: Panel Discussion
“Wisconsin Seen: Homegrown Interpretations from the Federal Arts Projects and Social Policy” Panelists will address how the federal arts projects and social policy affected Wisconsin in the 1930s and after. Auditorium
Lauren Kroiz, assistant professor of art history, UW–Madison, on John Steuart Curry and the Wisconsin Rural Art Program; Thomas Lidtke, director emeritus, Museum of Wisconsin Art, on New Deal Art and the Milwaukee Paradigm; and Arnold Alanen, emeritus professor of landscape architecture, UW–Madison, on the New Deal Community of Greendale, Wisconsin.

Additional information and resources about the exhibition are available at the Smithsonian American Art Museum Web page:

1934: A New Deal for Artists is organized and circulated by the Smithsonian American Art Museum with support from the William R. Kenan Jr. Endowment Fund and the Smithsonian Council for American Art. The C.F. Foundation in Atlanta supports the museum’s traveling exhibition program, Treasures to Go.

IMAGES: Above: Lily Furedi, Subway, 1934, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum. Transfer from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service

Image on homepage slide: Harry Gottlieb, Filling the Ice House, 1934, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum. Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor

Exhibitions page thumbnail: Paul Kelpe, Machinery (Abstract #2), 1933–1934, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum. Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor

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