This unmissable show is a time capsule of 1930 s America, from the Dust Bowl to Jean Harlow at the movies

A stupendous battalion of Wrigleys gum hovers like a Zeppelin before the Manhattan skyline. The sky is cloudless cobalt, the East river lies tranquil below. Here is the perfect gum( or so the slogan boasts) in an ideal eyesight where everything is reduced to pristine rectangles, from the rising skyscrapers to the gum to the abstract reflections. Pop fused with minimalism three decades in advance: what a staggering start to this show.

Charles G Shaw, otherwise known as one of the Park Avenue cubists, is not a reputation on everyones lips. Certainly the majority of members of America After the Autumn: Paint in the 1930 s comes as a revelation , not least because so little labours have jaunted outside the US before. This is our first chance to see Grant Woods nightmarishly exuberant gondola clang, in which a scarlet truck boomings over the hill towards an impending pile-up, or his great American Gothic , the long-faced pair standing sentinels before their famous wooden home.

Death on the Ridge Road, 1935 by Grant Wood. Image: Collection of Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts

And who has come across Alexandre Hogues Mother Earth Laid Bare , in which the raped landscape lies dead in the junk, all her dark-green garments rend away; or O Louis Guglielmis presentiment of Brooklyn Bridge as a shattered debris? A woman sits dazzled on one of its mutilated struts, an unexploded missile in her back. It is 1938: Roosevelt is prophesying war.

This show runs from the Great Depression to the onset of the second world war. Prolonged drought and relentless wind scourged the prairies, leaving them barren. Poverty-stricken farmers absconded the Dust Bowl more than a million people displaced in Oklahoma alone. Municipalities expanded to take in county migrants and refugees from communist, tyrant and Nazi Europe. It was a appalling decade for America, and yet obviously great for its painting.

America after the Fall exhibit video

In the truest appreciation, these works are clues of the times. They prop an entire American decade intact with their portraits of factories, piers, gas pumps and turbines, of brand-new skyscrapers heroically silhouetted against midwestern skies, and cities on slopes radiant with limelight. Sailors take shore leave with Lucky Strikes and lascivious squints; stenographers crowd around the new beauty parlour; black roustabouts lug coal on the waterfront for the purposes of the lily-white superior pitiless eye.

In Philip Evergoods Dance Marathon , the living dead finalists are only just harbouring one another up as a skeleton hangs the prize money from its bony digits. The New Yorkers in Reginald Marshs In Fourteenth Street pour out of the metro looking for love, and quite possibly Antoines permanent waves at $1.75. In Marshs Twenty Cent Movie , daughters in flimsies wait for their years beneath postings for Dangerous Arches A drama of human spirits STRIPPED BARE. Billboards teem in the sulphurous light.

This is committed realism by comparison with Edward Hoppers strange New York Movie : the usherette alone in her half-lit boundary by the departure while the crowds watch some murky black-and-white cinema( Frank Capras Lost Horizon , according to the sees vigilant curators ). Shadows move across the screen and through her nature, as it seems, this lone digit lost in the city.

William H Johnsons Street Life, Harlem, 1939. Picture: 2017. Photo Smithsonian American Art Museum/ Art Resource/ Scala, Florence

This is as much a show of history depict as Revolution: Russian Prowes 1917 -1 932, its timely attendant at the Royal Academy. But it also presents, as ever been, the marvelou various forms of Americas 30 s avant garde. In one gallery alone you are able to leap from Hopper to OKeeffe to the quasi-abstract precisionists, early Jackson Pollock, political Philip Guston and the dense impasto of William H Johnsons post-cubist couple beneath a chunky Harlem moon.

Several of these painters had been to Europe. Stuart Daviss New York: Paris No 3 is a stunning toil, brilliantly designed in all its syncopated flatness. But despite the designation, it brings little back from France. In Daviss transglobal streetscape, Paris is nothing but an old hotel ad Vins compared to the America of sparkling gas stations, signposts, mailboxes, high-rises, rising planes and sheer graphic zip. America is gorgeously new.

This picture was constructed in 1931, the year The Star-Spangled Banner became Americas national chant and Charles Demuth acquired its lyrics for And the Home of the Brave . This view of a modern plant makes a formidably suave geometry of the chilling tower, telegraph post, spaces and sunlights, all summarised as an display of incisive airplanes and curves. Modernized, hard-edged and luxurious, its a chant to the industrial age.

Hanging next to it is Charles Sheelers legendary American Landscape , in which the Ford Motor factory shows luminous and frozen as a Seurat( minus the pointillism ). Sheeler is just as exacting as Demuth, but there is a hint of spiritual bleaknes in his magnificently silent background, devoid of all human spirit bar a scooting fleck. After the clang of 1929, Henry Ford shot millions of workers and trade set machine guns against protesters at the factory gates.

American Landscape, 1930 by Charles Sheeler: excellently silent. Image: Museum of Modern Art, New York/ Scala, Florence

Superbly curated by the Art Institute of Chicago, this is a show of ever-changing perceptions, tempers, ideas and modes. It is also perfectly choreographed so that the poor pitch-black cotton pickers of Thomas Hart Benton appear in direct contrast to Grant Woods cheerful white-hot sharecroppers, say, and the gothic openings in Paul Samples Church Supper speak straight to the window in Woods American Gothic .

It is only when you meet Groves masterpiece surrounded by contemporary portraits of vacated farms and rural devastation that its down-home, backward-looking quaintness truly registries. And what a beautiful painting it is: linear as a Botticelli and so radiantly clear.

In a reveal full of fiercely trenchant paints Alice Neels gallant likenes of the union organiser Pat Whalen, fists assuming down on the newspaper headlines; Mussolini as a green-faced jack-in-a-box; Gustons frightening Guernica tondo Woods lyrical ruralism still impounds its own. The monarch and queen of the midwest, their home a clapboard castle, his pitchfork a sceptre.


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