Met Exhibition Examines Artists’ Response to Great Depression

Walker Evans (American, 1903–1975), Floyd and Lucille Burroughs on Porch, Hale County, Alabama, 1936, Gelatin silver print, 7 7/16 x 9 5/16 in. (18.9 x 23.7 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Marlene Nathan Meyerson Family Foundation Gift, in memory of David Nathan Meyerson; and Pat and John Rosenwald and Lila Acheson Wallace Gifts, 1999 (1999.237.4) © Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The 1930s was a decade of political and social upheaval in the United States, and the art and visual culture of the time reflected the unsettled environment. Americans searched for their cultural identity during the Great Depression, a period marked by divisive politics, threats to democracy, and intensified social activism, including a powerful labour movement. Featuring more than 100 works from The Met collection and several lenders, Art for the Millions: American Culture and Politics in the 1930s will explore how artists expressed political messages and ideologies through a range of media, from paintings, sculptures, prints, and photographs to film, dance, decorative arts, fashion, and ephemera. It will be on view September 7th to December 10th, 2023.

The exhibition is made possible by the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation and The Schiff Foundation.

Dox Thrash (American, 1893–1965) 
Untitled (Strike), ca. 1940 
17 1/8 in. x 12 in. (43.5 x 30.5 cm) 
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Museum Purchase 

“American artists witnessed astounding hardships in the 1930s and responded fervently,” said Max Hollein, The Met’s Marina Kellen French Director and CEO. “As the nation confronts similar issues of political polarization and widening inequality today, this insightful exhibition serves as a poignant reminder of how artists then, like now, used their craft to connect with audiences, take action, and illuminate social ills. This presentation also brings to the fore women artists and artists of color who were often shut out of the mainstream art world.”

Organised thematically across three galleries, the exhibition will provide an unprecedented overview of the era’s sociopolitical landscape. Highlights will include paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, Charles Sheeler, and Stuart Davis; prints by Elizabeth Olds, Dox Thrash, and Riva Helfond; photographs by Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange; footage of Martha Graham’s dance Frontier; and much more.


Allison Rudnick, Associate Curator of Drawings and Prints, said: “While visual culture in the United States has always been suffused with ideology, cultural production in the 1930s is notable for representing an exceptional range of social and political messages. Every visual medium—from prints to film to fashion—played a role in transmitting these messages to millions of Americans. The works provide a unique framework for understanding a fraught and fascinating decade, one that mirrors today’s world in many ways.”

Art for the Millions: American Culture and Politics in the 1930s is curated by Allison Rudnick, Associate Curator in The Met’s Department of Drawings and Prints.


Augusta Savage (American, 1892–1962) 
Lift Every Voice and Sing (The Harp), 1939 
Patinated metal 
10 3/4 x 9 1/2 x 4 in. (27.3 x 24.1 x 10.2 cm) 
New-York Historical Society, Purchase, Coaching Club Acquisition Fund 

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue. Published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press, the catalogue will be available for purchase from The Met Store.

The catalogue is made possible by the Diane W. and James E. Burke Fund.

The Museum will offer a variety of related programs, including performances by dancers from the Martha Graham Dance Company, a series of Sight and Sound concerts by conductor Leon Botstein and The Orchestra Now, an Artists on Artworks event featuring Chase Hall, and more. Programming details will be posted on The Met website as they become available.

Elizabeth Olds (American, 1896–1991)
Miner Joe, 1942
18 3/4 x 12 3/4 in. (47.6 x 32.4 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,
Museum Accession, transferred from the
Lending Library Collection (64.500.1)
© The Estate of Elizabeth Olds

The exhibition is featured on The Met website, as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter using the hashtag #ArtForTheMillions.

Exhibition Dates: September 7th–December 10th, 2023
: The Met Fifth Avenue, Galleries 691–93, The Charles Z. Offin Gallery, Karen B. Cohen Gallery, and Harriette and Noel Levine Gallery

See also: Carola Pimentel – the Stylist of Tropical Modernism

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