Saturday, February 21, 2009

The American Artists' Congress

This isn't strictly a photography ephemera post. But it does include the participation of some photographers.

What we have here is material from the American Artist's Congress.

In response to the call of the Popular Front and the American Communist Party for formations of literary and artistic organizations against the spread of Fascism, a group of New York artists gathered in 1935--among them, George Ault, Peter Blume, Stuart Davis, Adolph Denn, William Gropper and Moses Soyer--to draw up a call to action document. From there, the AAC was formed.

It was meant to be a non-sectarian collective of appeal to artists who believed that the cultural crisis was a reflection of the economic crisis of the Great Depression. Their specific concerns were violations of international civil liberties, the inadequacy of government programs, censorship, and the decline of traditional forms of patronage.

This first piece is the program from the first night of the first Congress held February 14, 1936, in NYC. Their stance, "Against War and Fascism," is delineated with a list of the original members on the inside. Looking over the list you can see that Paul Strand, Berenice Abbott, Ralph Steiner, Margaret Bourke-White and Barbara Morgan were among the original signatories. These papers are from Barbara and Willard Morgan's estate and you can see either his or her notes along the margin on the inside. They were married in 1936 but I'm assuming these are her notes since his name is not on the program.

The back of this document is the program for the evening and among the list of speakers is Bourke-White. There was a book published which reprinted the speeches from the evening. I don't have it but an image of the cover follows the program.

(14 x 13 inch sheet of heavy paper, printed one side, folded twice to produce a 7 x 6.5 inch booklet)



Here are the by-laws of the organization. I've spared you the gory details of how members are picked and what the duties of the the central executive board are and besides which, as you read through it and come to the climax, well...the last page has been torn off so it's a bit of a let-down.

(16 page booklet, 3.5 x 6 inches)

An invitation to submit work to a show of "contemporary graphic art" to be shown simultaneously in thirty cities in the U.S. in December of 1936.

(8.5 x 11 sheet of thin paper)

An invite to the opening of the show of work by the New York region members, held in April of 1937.

(6.25 x 4.5 inch, thick card stock, printed one side)

By the next Congress, December of 1937, they were a little more moderate in tone. The theme this time was "For Peace, For Democracy, For Cultural Progress."

Despite the fact that all the artists who were instrumental in forming the organization were established figures of the Communist Left, their literature took great pains to be non-sectarian and membership was open to any established artist. When the congress endorsed the Soviet Union's invasion of Finland in 1940, a number of prominent members quit and publicly denounced the AAC. It survived through 1941 but dissolved soon after the U.S. entrance into the war.

The AAC was instrumental in bringing Picasso's Guernica to the U.S. in 1939 when it made it's fund-raising world tour.

(16 x 9 inch sheet of thin paper, folded once to produce a 8 x 9 inch booklet)



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