“America Seen”: Sneak Preview (the intern’s favorite)

This semester at the Ackland, I’ve been conducting research and writing interpretative text for the exhibition America Seen: The Hunter and Cathy Allen of Social Realist PrintsThrough this process I’ve become very familiar with the prints in the show and wanted to share one as a first impression and in advance of the opening reception this evening.

Subway

Fritz Eichenberg, American, born in Germany, 1901–1990: Subway (Sleep), 1935; wood engraving. Ackland Art Museum, The Hunter and Cathy Allen Collection, 2013.21.13.

America Seen features 38 prints from the mid-1920s to the mid-1940s by American artists. The majority of the artists represented in the exhibition lived and worked in New York City. They were inspired by the scenes of everyday urban life they witnessed around them and the subway was a popular theme. One of my favorites prints, Subway (Sleep), falls into this category. Although the print depicts a rather unremarkable moment in the daily life of any New York City subway rider, I’m drawn into the composition through Eichenberg’s use of strong contrasts between light and dark, as well as his careful attention to realistic details inside the subway car, such as the straps, signage, and advertisements.

I can empathize with the occupants of this train car, from the weary, young couple at the far end to the child sleeping in her mother’s lap. I have also been on the subway, tired after a long day, and eager to get home. But where are these people going? What were they doing before? Perhaps the proud and poised woman in a stylish hat is headed to a party or to church. Is the man to her left her companion or a stranger? With a souvenir balloon as a clue, I suspect the collapsed child is returning home from a fun day at the park. While it is impossible to know for sure, the artist, Fritz Eichenberg, invites us to look and speculate about the lives of those pictured. Continue reading