Archive for June 14th, 2013

Thomas_Hart-Benton-America_Today_ 2I had not heard until just this morning that one of my favorite pieces of public art had been removed from the walls of a NYC lobby and donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I am talking about Thomas Hart Benton‘s incredible 10 panel mural America Today which hung for nearly 30 years in the lobby of the AXA Equitable Building on 6th Avenue– the Avenue of the Americas, officially– in midtown NYC.

It’s a magnificent sweeping representation of the American epic, painted in 1930-31 for the boardroom of NY’s New School, just as the nation was entering the Great Depression. The color is deep and bold and Benton’s rhythmic linework and forms run through the various scenes of the nation at work and at play, binding it all into a piece of art that has the impact of a symphony at full crescendo. Just a great piece of work that reaches out and grabs you.

Thomas_Hart-Benton-America_Today_OilAt least that’s how it came across to Cheri and I many years ago, long before I had dreams of  painting for myself,  as we were wandering around Midtown one evening.  We found ourselves strolling up 6th Ave. in the evening darkness and through the windows of one of the large office buildings we suddenly both caught a glimpse of  bold colors that appeared to be some sort of mural running around three sides of the groundfloor lobby.  We scooted through the doors and stood in absolute awe.  It was long after the office workers had left the building so it was dead still except for a quiet conversation between the security detail at the front desk.  We stayed there for quite some time, amazed that this magnus opus was here for all to take in and see.

Thomas_Hart-Benton-America_Today_City_Activities_with_Subway It seemed appropriate.  Over the years we always made a point when we were in NYC to make a  stop and gawk with mouths open at Benton’s beautiful work.  It was always magical.

I am a bit torn about its removal to the Met although I know it is for the best, from a preservation standpoint,  and that probably more people will actually really appreciate it there.  But the idea of having it out in a public space where anyone can stumble from the street and take in its wonder really appealed to me and spoke to the democratic spirit of the work.  But it will be well cared for and hopefully always on view for those who wish to see Benton’s vision.

Below is a view of the mural installed in the Met.  This is not in HD  so its not a fantastic view but it gives you the idea of how well the work hangs together.


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