Self-Portrait with Rita (detail), 1922. Thomas Hart Benton (American, 1899–1975). Oil on canvas; 124.5 x 100 cm. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jack H. Mooney.
On the evening of last month’s summer solstice, the Cleveland Museum of Art (one of my favorite CLE establishments if you’re a new follower) opened a much-anticipated show. It is unique in that the exhibition, titled Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties, brings together for the first time the work of more than 60 painters, sculptors, and photographers who explored the new mode of modern realism in the years bounded by the aftermath of the Great War and the onset of the Great Depression.
I’ve always been a mighty fan of the era, thoroughly enjoying art deco architecture and drawing styles that boldly turned human musculature into tectonic forms, which is why I was more than pleased to dedicate my Friday evening (post Cain Park Arts Festival, pre dinner at Little Italy favorite Presti’s) to viewing the show.
While delighted to see less often viewed, sensuous paintings of New York City by Georgia O’Keefe (below) and a range of subjects photographed by Man Ray, I was rather disappointed in the lack of 3-d art, or sculpture.
East River No. 1 by Georgia O’Keefe. Brooklyn as seen from her apartment in the late 1920’s.
Despite this mental set-back, the layout of the show – bordering on pornographic studies of the human body to gritty cityscape – was most comprehensive and both abstract and starkly realist pieces were fairly represented, perhaps rightly dissolving my illusion that the entire decade was wrapped up in the art deco I so admire.
I also found a handful of artists whom I was not familiar with and look forward to learning more about, including Aaron Douglas, Margaret Mather, Anita Loos and Gerald Murphy.
Who said Friday evenings weren’t for learning?
The show was so good, and so worth the study, that my group of fellow museum goers and I closed the place down at 9pm. Afterwards, we heeded the advice of friend and museum employee, Tom, who directed us to Presti’s in Little Italy for their weekend Lasagna and Eggplant Parm specials. I’m a big Presti’s for lunch fan, as it is nearly adjacent to my place of work, but had never been to dinner. Now, this may become a regular occurrence!
For less than $9, a large dish of Italian goodness, a house salad, and bread can be devoured whilst dinning in the moonlight. If not for the jabbering Americans surrounding our table packed with food and laughter, I would have sworn we were actually at a cafe in Italy.
IF YOU GO: the show is on view until September 16th. Free to members, price varies for children, students and adults. www.cma.org. Be sure to visit Presti’s afterwards for dinner or cannolis! www.prestisbakery.com