Artist | Ben Shahn (1898 - 1969)

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    • Ben Shahn

      The Passion of Sacco & Vanzetti1932

About the work (english / deutsch)

About the work (english / deutsch)

The passion of Sacco and Vanzetti
Ben Shahn's picture The passion of Sacco and Vanzetti, made in 1931-2, dares to be critical of the trial only a few years after the death of the two Labor leaders, for it denounces quite strikingly the persons on the investigation panel responsible for the miscarriage of justice and the judge, shown behind a window giving his oath to ensure thati ustice prevails. Prior to painting the picture, Shahn had, within seven months, produced a series of 23 gouaches based on newspaper photos: they were his first public success as artist. Before that time, he had been active as an illustrator. At that time he wrote: "Then I got thinking about the SaccoVanzetti case. They’d been electrocuted in 1927, and in Europe of course I’d seen all the demonstrations against the trial - a lot more than there were over here. Ever since I could remember I’d wished that I’d be lucky enough to be alive at a great time - when something big was going on, like the crucifixion. And suddenly I realized I was! Here I was living through another crucifixion. Here was something to paint!“ The picture was made directly after Shahn's second trip to Europe, when he had become acquainted with the reactions among many Europeans to the trial and the scandalous miscarriage of justice. As early as 1927, George Grosz had produced a drawing of a bleeding Statue of Liberty, its raised hand holding an electric chair, thus expressing a biting commentary on the political scandal in America. The picture went on display for the first time along with a draft for a mural in a show at the MOMA, New York, in 1932.
Shahn's picture must be seen conditioned by the tradition of American realism known under the scornful nickname of "Ash Can School". While its members mainly took their cue from Manet's paintings, Shahn developed an extremely critical, socially and politically engaged realism. The contents were motives of the liberty of the individual in society as suppressed by other people. While Armajani draws in his installation on the revolutionary formal idiom of the Constructivists, Shahn gave his picture the feel of a stylized and colored drawing charged with symbolic meaning such is typical in a certain way of political posters, too. And precisely at this level, Armajanis Reading Room and Shahn's picture combine to form a room imbued with a forceful critical symbolism, which clearly adumbrates the meaning of laws made and interpreted by humans, not to mention the consequences of an antidemocratic stance.


The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti
Ben Shahns Bild The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti aus den Jahren 1931/32 wagt mehr als zehn Jahre nach dem Tod der beiden Arbeiterführer ein kritisches Statement, indem es die für den Justizirrtum verantwortlichen Personen eines Prüfungsausschusses und den hinter einem Fenster im Hintergrund den Schwur auf die Gerechtigkeit leistenden Richter in drastischer Weise anprangert. Shahn, der in den frühen zwanziger Jahren zunächst als Illustrator tätig war, hatte vor der Entstehung des Bildes Mithilfe von Zeitungsfotos, die er als Vorlage benutzte, innerhalb von sieben Monaten eine Serie von 23 Gouachen gemalt und damit seinen ersten öffentlichen Erfolg als Künstler begründet. Er schrieb damals: "Then I got thinking about the Sacco-Vanzetti case. They'd been electrocuted in 1927, and in Europe of course I'd seen all the demonstrations against the trial - a lot more than there were over here. Ever since I could remember I'd wished that I'd be lucky enough to be alive at a great time - when something big was going on, like the crucifixion. And suddenly I realized I was! Here I was living through another crucifixion. Here was something to paint!" Shahns Bild entstand allerdings erst unmittelbar nach seiner zweiten Europareise, während der er die Reaktionen vieler Menschen auf den Prozeß und den Justizskandal kennengelernt hatte. (Bereits im Jahr 1927 hatte etwa George Grosz eine Zeichnung mit der blutenden und in der rechten erhobenen Hand einen elektrischen Stuhl haltenden Freiheitsstatue als einen bissigen Kommentar auf den politischen Skandal in Amerika angefertigt.) Das Bild wurde zusammen mit dem Entwurf für ein Wandbild erstmals in einer Ausstellung im MOMA, New York, 1932 gezeigt.

The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti steht in gewisser Weise in der Tradition der unter dem Spottnamen 'Ash Can School' ('Mülltonnenschule') bekannt gewordenen amerikanischen Realisten. Während diese sich aber im Ansatz noch an der Malerei Manets orientierten, entwickelte Shahn einen äußerst kritischen, sozial und politisch engagierten Realismus, der inhaltlich Motive der durch Menschen unterdrückten Freiheit des Individuums in der Gesellschaft behandelte. Bediente sich Armajani bei seiner Installation der revolutionären Formensprache der Konstruktivisten, so gestaltete Shahn sein Bild als stilisierte und kolorierte Zeichnung mit einem stark symbolhaltigen Ausdruck, der grundsätzlich an politische Plakate erinnert. Gerade auf dieser Ebene verbinden sich dann der Leseraum Armajanis und Shahns Bild zu einem Raum mit einer verdichteten kritischen Symbolik, die die Bedeutung der von Menschen gemachten und interpretierten Gesetze sowie die Konsequenzen einer antidemokratischen Haltung deutlich macht.

German text by Rolf Lauter/ Translation by Jeremy Gaines
(Extract - Full printed version available in the Museum)
MMK - Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main

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SUMMARY based on artist-info records. More details and Visualizing Art Networks on demand.
Venue types: Gallery / Museum / Non-Profit / Collector
Exhibitions in artist-info 140 (S 26/ G 114) Did show together with - Top 5 of 2692 artists
(no. of shows) - all shows - Top 100
Charles Rettew Sheeler (47)- 148
Stuart Davis (46)- 160
Jack Levine (40)- 67
Edward Hopper (37)- 145
Georgia O'Keeffe [Georgia O'Keefe] (34)- 173
Exhibitions by type
140:   34 / 68 / 38 / 0
Venues by type
77:   23 / 27 / 27 / 0
Curators 49
artist-info records Jan 1930 - Apr 2019
Countries - Top 5 of 12
United States (95)
Germany (17)
France (7)
Italy (7)
Netherlands (3)
Cities - Top 5 of 37
New York (63)
Paris (7)
Champaign (7)
Madison (ME) (6)
Venezia (4)
Venues (no. of shows ) Top 5 of 77
Museum of Modern Art - MoMA (1/7) (13)
Whitney Museum of American Art (10)
Museum of Modern Art - MoMA (2/7) (8)
Krannert Art Museum (7)
Skowhegan Faculty - School of Painting & Sculpture (6)
Curators (no. of shows) Top 5 of 49
Alfred H. Barr(3), William S. Lieberman(3), Dorothy Canning Miller(3), Lincoln Kirstein(2), Dietrich Mahlow(2)
Offers/Requests Exhibition Announcement S / G Solo/Group Exhibitions   (..) Exhibitions + Favorites
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Vista View

Galerie Buchholz - NYC G Jan 2019 - Apr 2019 New York (2) +0
Considine, Caleb (Curator)       +0
PermalinkExhibition TitleExhibition Title

America Is Hard to See

Whitney Museum of American Art - America Is Hard to See S May 2015 - Sep 2015 New York (1) +0
De Salvo, Donna (Curator)       +0
Foster, Carter E. (Curator)       +0
Miller, Dana (Curator)       +0
Rothkopf, Scott (Curator)       +0
PermalinkExhibition TitleExhibition Title

Modern American Realism

 - The Sara Roby Foundation Collection
Smithsonian American Art Museum - Renwick Gallery G Feb 2014 - Aug 2014 Washington D.C. (22) +0
Mecklenburg, Virginia (Curator)       +0
Forum Gallery G Jun 2012 - Aug 2012 New York (85) +0
Forum Gallery G Nov 2011 - Dec 2011 New York (85) +0
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art G Oct 2010 - Jan 2011 Hartford (65) +0
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