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Contemporary American Sculpture

A painting of an art gallery with wood floors and pinkish walls and nine wood pedestals sporting stone statues, some missing appendages. On the far wall are two unframed works of art, one depicting a figure against a rural backdrop, the other, two figures in hats against a brick wall. On the left wall an apartment building is visible in what is likely an artwork hung with the canvas flush against the floor, but it might instead be an improbable passageway outside—there is no dimension to indicate one or the other, so it almost seems to be both.

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  • A painting of an art gallery with wood floors and pinkish walls and nine wood pedestals sporting stone statues, some missing appendages. On the far wall are two unframed works of art, one depicting a figure against a rural backdrop, the other, two figures in hats against a brick wall. On the left wall an apartment building is visible in what is likely an artwork hung with the canvas flush against the floor, but it might instead be an improbable passageway outside—there is no dimension to indicate one or the other, so it almost seems to be both.

Date:

1940

Artist:

Ben Shahn (American, 1898–1969)

About this artwork

In this work, Ben Shahn blended fact and fiction to offer a pointed commentary on the inclusions and exclusions of the art world. This enigmatic composition features eight known sculptures by leading artists of the day that were all displayed at a 1940 exhibition at the Whitney Museum. Three large, unframed painted images on the back walls of the gallery appear to be part of the show, but they were not actual paintings. Instead, they derive from Shahn’s photographs of working-class people around the United States, which he had taken while employed by the federal government as part of the New Deal, an economic program intended to revitalize the economy during the Great Depression. The invented works serve as portals to different worlds. The figures portrayed in them are positioned to see into the gallery but they are excluded from the “real” space of the museum and the modern art on view because of race, class, and geography.

Status

On View, Gallery 262

Department

Arts of the Americas

Artist

Ben Shahn

Title

Contemporary American Sculpture

Place

United States (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.

1940

Medium

Tempera on paper mounted to hardboard

Inscriptions

Signed and inscribed recto, bottom-right corner, in black pigment: Ben Shahn ‘40

Dimensions

53.2 × 76.5 cm (21 × 30 1/8 in.)

Credit Line

Arts of the Americas Discretionary Fund; Wesley M. Dixon Jr., Roger and J. Peter McCormick, Goodman, and Mr. and Mrs. Frederick G. Wacker endowment funds; through prior gift of Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson; Ada Turnbull Hertle, Stan and Polly Stone, Mr. and Mrs. John W. Puth, and Jay W. McGreevy endowment funds; Luella Thomas Fund; Delphine G. Schoen Trust and Dr. Julian Archie endowment funds

Reference Number

2023.1

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.

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