Radical viewing

('The damage is already done', Oklahoma 1936, Dorothea Lang)

There are two exhibitions, currently in London with fascinating crossovers: 'The Radical Eye' at Tate Modern: modernist photographs from the 1920s to 50s (the private collection of Elton John and David Furnish) and 'America after the Fall' at the Royal Academy, with wide ranging paintings from the 1930s by such artists as Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keeffe, Alice Neel and the iconic 'American Gothic' by Grant Wood.

('American Gothic' 1930, Grant Wood. Art Institute of Chicago)

What I found fascinating was how many subjects from the 1920s to 1950s were echoed by photographers and painters alike from so many different countries, and how relevant those themes are in 2017: immigration, war, poverty, power & powerlessness, urban & rural, political manipulation, sexual identity, environmental concerns.

(Philip Guston, Bombardment, 1937, Philadelphia Museum of Art. Gift of Musa and Tom Mayer, 2011. © The Estate of Philip Guston.)

But there was also humour, beauty and intense creativity. Paintings and photographs highlighting the struggle for life and the power of art to capture and captivate the human spirit. Elements within both exhibitions offer perspectives of hope and present a lasting challenge to the de-humanising effects of power and greed. There were also positive views of industry, its productivity and capacity to raise the standard of living for many urban dwellers, but not without stern warnings to respect the environment and men and women working 'at the coal face' of industry... can we still use that phrase in an increasingly 'post-carbon' society? Go and see either or better still, both exhibitions, you'll gain so much.

Oops, cheeky! (Diver, Ferenc Csik, 1936)

#photography #painting #socialcommentary #surrealism #modernism #industrial #humour #racism

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