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Art Interrupted displays previously forbidden exhibit


Traveling art exhibition "Art Interrupted: Advancing American Art and the Politics of Cultural Diplomacy" begins its three-month run at the IU Art Museum Saturday. Courtesy Photo Buy Photos

“Art Interrupted” is the resurrection of a 1946 show that attempted to establish an American cultural identity, but died a premature death because Congress thought it too controversial. It will be on display at the IU Art Museum Sept. 14 through Dec. 15.
The collection features more than 100 pieces of American art from the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s.

The original show, “Advancing American Art,” was created by a then-hopeful U.S. State Department. Intentions were good.

“It was meant to function as a tool of cultural diplomacy,” said Jenny McComas, curator of Western art after 1800.

After World War II, America was tasting the fruits of a newfound confidence, and the State Department wanted to showcase the rich, artful culture that had developed here, McComas said.

It was something that countries like Germany and the Soviet Union, where art was largely government controlled, didn’t have, so Art Curator J. Leroy Davidson was hired to construct a traveling exhibit showing off American art.

“Davidson selected works that expressed a wide range of styles and subject matters to show American democracy fostered freedom of expression,” McComas said. “He had a specific message in mind.”

But the execution of the message wasn’t to everyone’s liking. A public debate was sparked.

“Advancing American Art” was supposed to travel to Latin America and Europe, but it only made it to Haiti, Cuba and Czechoslovakia.

Since the show featured many left-minded artists, many thought it had Communist undertones that misrepresented the United States. The show was ripped from its tour months after it started.

It was supposed to last five years.

“It will remind audiences that art and politics often have a relationship, one that continues to be relevant to us now,” McComas said. “There is often great resistance to publicly fund the arts today, just as there was in the mid-twentieth century.”

The show contains 117 paintings by masters of their time, including Georgia O’Keefe, Ben Shahn and Stuart Davis.

Other featured artists aren’t as well-known, but their works all depict a space in time when America was still trying to find its place in the art world.

Though the current exhibit doesn’t contain all the original pieces from “Advancing American Art,” as many of the pieces were auctioned off by the War Assets Administration, “Art Interrupted” still presents the messages of its predecessor.
“This exhibition gives us the opportunity to rediscover them all,” McComas said.

Follow reporter Ashley Jenkins on Twitter @ashmorganj.

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