Contemporary American Sculpture, 1940
Tempera on board
21 1/2 x 30 inches
Signed and dated lower right
One of the most important Social Realist artists of the 1930s and 40s, Ben Shahn has strikingly put forth an example of social and personal realism in Contemporary American Sculpture. In this large tempera, Shahn has constructed a museum setting, depicting eight sculptures alongside painted images of photographs that he took in the 1930s during his time as a photographer for the federal government. Each sculpture has been identified and all were exhibited at the Whitney Annual of 1940. On the walls, images of a tenant farmer from Arkansas and a pair of elderly, impoverished women outside a hospital on Roosevelt Island face out towards the viewer, and look upon a pristine gallery setting. In portraying these “outsiders looking in” Shahn has used the art museum as a forum to address issues of social and artistic inclusion, and exclusion. He has fused together his two prime artistic concerns, his two variants of realism, into one spectacular easel painting.