American life in the 20th century are beautifully captured in exhibitions at two New York City museums: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of the City of New York.
America Today, at the Met, is a ten-panel mural painted by Thomas Hart Benton in the late 1920’s before his career really took off. The murals are hung in one large gallery in the American Wing at the museum, replicating how they appeared when they were first hung in the boardroom of New York’s New School for Social Research. The impact of standing in the room, and having an almost panoramic view of these paintings, is spectacular. Each panel vividly brings to life scenes from America in the 1920’s. In an adjacent gallery, you can see sketches and early paintings Benton did to prepare for the murals. I enjoyed seeing these, almost as much as the panels themselves, because you could see how Benton composed many of the scenes. There’s also a room with other works from the Met’s permanent collection that relate to America Today. It was interesting to learn that Jackson Pollack (one painting on view) had been a student of Benton’s and served as a model for his teacher’s mural. This exhibit is on view through April 19, 2015.
Mac Conner: A New York Life, at the Museum of the City of New York, is the first exhibition of illustrator McCauley Conner. It contains more than 70 original artworks depicting American life from the 1940’s-1960’s. Conner, a New York native, was an original “Mad Men,” as much of his work was done for advertising agencies. Many of the pieces on view are editorial illustrations, bringing to life, stories that appeared in magazines like Good Housekeeping and Redbook. I was particularly drawn to the sparse line drawings, with limited colors, that captured a moment in time. For more information on Conner, read an MCNY blog post Mac Conner, One of New York’s Original ‘Mad Men.’ The exhibit is open through January 19, 2015.