CITY LIFE: Martin Lewis’s “On the Roof” [circa 1937] at RISD.
The RISD Museum’s exhibit “Urban America, 1930-1970” examines 20th-century American art through the subject of cities. It documents how urban life forced the mixing of classes and ethnicities in subways, taverns, schools, and beaches. Though the exhibit doesn’t make a point of it, it suggests how the migration of African Americans into Northern cities energized American culture.
Ralston Crawford’s 1950s photos of New Orleans funeral procession brass bands stress the black performers’ pride and joy. Then when you see a 1957 shot of white abstract expressionists Joan Mitchell and Franz Kline whooping it up in a tavern, you’re reminded that the soundtrack for their painting was jazz. The music was a conduit for the interchange of avant-garde ideas about composition.
We all know this racial interchange wasn’t smooth. A 1947 photo of white and black children happily playing together on a San Francisco street is a dream of racial harmony, but Wilmer Jennings, one of the first African Americans to study at RISD in the 1930s, presents a dark wood engraving of a speaker haranguing a small crowd of black laborers in the North, probably about worker’s rights. A 1965 etching by Vincent Smith shows black children being escorted to school past a rabid white mob.
The black civil rights movement sparked feminist efforts. The state of gender relations at the end of the ’60s is evidenced in two Garry Winogrand photos. In one, he sneaks a look up the skirt of a woman in a phone booth outside a bar. In the other, a male reporter aggressively waves his long phallic-symbol microphone in the face of a woman speaking to a tense crowd at a women’s liberation march.
“Purpose Considered" at Grimshaw-Gudewicz Art Gallary | Bristol Community College | 777 Elsbree St, Fall River, MA | Through February 23
“Urban America, 1930-1970” at The RISD Museum | 224 Benenf St, Providence | Through February 23
: Museum And Gallery
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