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    American Artists' Congress: An organization founded in 1936 in the USA in response to the call of the Popular Front and the American Communist Party for formations of literary and artistic groups against the spread of Fascism. In May 1935 a group of New York artists met to draw up the 'Call for an American Artists' Congress'; among the initiators were George Ault (1891-1948), Peter Blume, Stuart Davis (1894-1964), Adolph Denn, William Gropper (b. 1897), Jerome Klein, Louis Lozowick (1892-1973), Moses Soyer, Niles Spencer and Harry Sternberg (b. 1904). Davis became one of the most vociferous promoters of the Congress and was not only the national executive secretary but also the editor of the organization's magazine, Art Front, until 1939 when he became disillusinoned and resigned.

  • Artists Against War and Fascism: Papers of the First American Artists' Congress by Matthew Baigell, New York, Matthew Baigell (Photographer), Julia Williams (Photographer) List Price: $40.00

  • Artists Respond to the Great Depression . . .

    Art and politics could not avoid each other during the Great Depression and the rise of fascism in the 1930s. All shades of the cultural liberal and left-wing, affected by radical politics, worked together on common goals. Between 1933-1938 the John Reed Club, the Artists' Union, the Harlem Artists' Guild, and the American Artists' Congress Against War and Fascism influenced the New Deal's WPA/FAP. Popular Front ideas linked them with artists' organizations in Europe and Mexico. Artists had an idealistic view of working-class culture and found a role model in the insurgent labor movement. Social realism dominated painting and sculpture. A window to this shift in artists's patronage, subject matter, and position in American society is the unique art magazine Art Front.

  • The Bomb and Abstract Expressionists

    The phenomenon of artists as wealthy members of the establishment, living in multi-million dollar lofts in Tribeca and being featured in upscale fashion magazines, has not always been with us. In the US in the '30s, artists were generally just scraping by, living off the federally sponsored WPA (painting post office murals, for instance), and most often Marxists. Neither were artists typically loners, the way they are today: many were involved in a number of quite vocal and significant artist groups - the American Artists Congress, and then later, a group that broke away from it, the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors. The AAC held substantial political sway, aligning with the Popular Front Movement (along with the notorious Communist, Picasso), which proclaimed a necessity to make peace with all liberal and democratic forces in order to create a unified front against Fascism, which in the '30s was rising up rapaciously. After 1935, with the official formation of the United Front, artists in the US went from referring to themselves as revolutionaries, to seeing themselves as "the guardians of liberal and democratic ideals." A combination of this altercation of political commitment (confounded by the Hitler-Stalin Pact), and the wartime demise of WPA funding, left artists not only isolated agents on the free market, but also bitter and cynical towards political solutions in general. As the artists' target audience turned from the masses (whom they were trying to influence) to the elite (whom they were trying to sell to), they became wary of losing their individuality by joining groups. Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko, who went on to become superstars of Abstract Expressionism, led the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors fervently against the communist presence in the art world. Even before the tremendous disillusionment that prevailed at the end of the War, the late '30s brought artists a sense of betrayal by the Soviet Union. They thus took a turn toward Trotskyism, which upheld the belief that art in and of itself was subversive, and should be left free to develop on its own without political restrictions. From there, a new ethos took root: the individual as king.

    All this was happening in America. In the Soviet Union and among Communist parties around the world, artists who upheld politically committed and realist art were standing strongly behind their beliefs. The French Communist Party stated, "An answer to the fake prophets of skepticism, anguish, and despair, our realism is a realism of affirmation, construction, and joy." In Mexico, Diego Rivera, Carlos Romero Orozco, and David Alfero Siquieros were stunning the world with their enormously powerful murals that fought so effectively against American imperialism.

  • The Collector's Guide | New Deal Art in New Mexico

  • The Federation in Retrospect by Dore Ashton

    Early in April, 1940, a New York Times headline announced: "17 Members Bolt Artists' Congress." Behind the headline lay a complex history of artistic, social and political upheavals rarely matched in the century. The imbroglios that led to the dramatic disruption of the Artists' Congress also led, during the late Spring of 1940, to the establishment of a new group, The Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors, Inc., which would attempt to evade the debilitating conflicts inherent in the activities of the 1930's...

    On April 4, 1940 the American Artists' Congress held a fateful meeting during which they passed a resolution which, to many of its dissenting members, appeared to sanction the Russian invasion of Finland. Among others, Meyer Schapiro, Lewis Mumford, Adolph Gottlieb, Stuart Davis and Balcomb Greene resigned immediately. Within days a statement was issued explaining the move, and calling for a new organization: The American Artists' Congress, which was founded to oppose war and fascism and to advance the professional interests of artists, at its last membership meeting on April 4, endorsed the Russian invasion of Finland and implicitly defended Hitler's position by assigning the responsibility for the war to England and France. The Congress has also revised its policy of boycotting Fascist and Nazi exhibitions (e.g. Venice and Berlin, 1936), It has failed to react to the Moscow meeting of Soviet and Nazi art officials and official artists, which inaugurated the new esthetic policy of cementing totalitarian relations through exchange exhibitions. Moreover, congress officials have informed members that participation in a projected fascist show at Venice is a matter of individual taste. The Congress no longer deserves the support of free artists. We, therefore, declare our secession from the congress and call on fellow-artists to join us in considering ways and means of furthering mutual interests which the congress can only damage. Among the signers of this statement- Milton Avery, Peggy Bacon, lIya Bolotowsky, Morris Davidson, Dorothy Eisner, Paula Eliasoph, Ernest Fiene, Hans Foy, Adolph Gottlieb, Louis Harris, M. Rothkowitz (Rothko), Manfred Schwartz, Jose De Creeft-a large portion were to be founding members of The Federation. "We thought we ought to have an artists' organization not hostile to cultural freedom," Meyer Schapiro recalls, "and we had many meetings to define the organization." Bolotowsky thinks of the beginnings as decidedly "anti-authoritarian and anti-Stalinist."

    The first formative meetings eventuated in a vision of an organization which would or should successfully avoid any restrictions artistically, but which still maintained the old ethical positions of the 1930's which demanded of artists that they attend to social and political questions conscientiously. The certificate of incorporation of June 14, 1940 stated that the organization was to: promote the welfare of free progressive artists working in America; to strive to protect the artist's general and cultural interests and to facilitate the showing of his work; and to take all legitimate action in furtherance of such purpose. As broad and generally innocuous as this statement was, the constitution itself was specific, and held the germs of continuing controversy. Its preamble stated: We recognize the dangers of growing reactionary movements in the United States and condemn every effort to curtail the freedom and the cultural and economic opportunities of artists in the name of race or nation, or in the interests of special groups in the community. We condemn artistic nationalism which negates the world traditions of art at the base of modern art movements. We affirm our faith in the democratic way of life and its principle of freedom of artistic expression, and therefore, oppose totalitarianism of thought and action, as practiced in the present day dictatorships of Germany, Russia,Italy, Spain and Japan, believing it to be the enemy of the artist, interested in him only as a craftsman who may be exploited. ... And, in a wary tone, the organization affirmed its will to "guard itself from patent or concealed political control." The explosion that destroyed the Artists' Congress had also destroyed the faith in political action which had once motivated artists' groupings.

      . Some former members of the Federation of Modern Paintiners and Sculptors

  • [pdf] Press Release: Fighting Words

  • Graphic Witness: Social/political art Bibliography

  • LIFE OF THE PEOPLE   (Library of Congress exhibit)

    [pdf] Life of the People   Realist Prints and Drawings from the Ben and Beatrice Goldstein Collection, 1912-1949

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