IU Art Museum exhibition brings history to life

The IU Art Museum’s fall exhibition, “Art Interrupted: Advancing American Art and the Politics of Cultural Diplomacy,” represents a unique chance to see history come to life.

The show reconstructs a 1946-47 exhibit that included more than 100 examples of stylistically diverse American paintings from the late-1930s to the early-1940s.

Guglielmi "Subway Exit"

O. Louis Guglielmi. Subway Exit, 1946. Oil on canvas

With the emergence of the Cold War, art became a powerful tool for cultural diplomacy. Beginning in the mid-1940s, the State Department, and later the CIA, used art exhibitions as a means of disseminating information about democracy, freedom and American culture to countries deemed susceptible to Communism. “Advancing American Art” was one of the earliest examples conceived as a sort of propaganda for American culture. The wide diversity of artistic styles and subjects selected was meant to celebrate the freedom that artists in the U.S. enjoyed in contrast to the Socialist Realist style mandated in the Soviet Union.

“We chose to bring ‘Art Interrupted’ to the IU Art Museum because it provides an excellent opportunity for audiences to learn about the intersection of art and politics, and brings up important questions about censorship and control of the arts, even in the United States,” said Jenny McComas, the IU Art Museum’s Class of 1949 Curator of Western Art after 1800. “The opening symposium on Sept. 13 will explore these issues in more depth as they pertain to the Cold War.

“It is also not every day that we are able to see all the works that comprised historic exhibitions together in one place. The reconstruction of the 1946-47 exhibition ‘Advancing American Art’ is a rare opportunity that will also give visitors a comprehensive view of the art that was being created in the United States in the late 1930s and early 1940s.”

The exhibition on display at the IU Art Museum was organized by the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University, the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia and the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at University of Oklahoma, with funding provided by the Henry C. Luce Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

An opening reception is set at 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13, at the IU Art Museum. It is preceded by a symposium from 2 to 5 p.m. in IU’s Hope School of Fine Arts Auditorium Room 015, titled “Art and Cultural Diplomacy in the Cold War.” Both the symposium and the reception are free and open to the public.

The exhibition is on display through Dec. 15.

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