Monday, February 24, 2014

Art based in Brooklyn during the Depression Era

The Canvas

Maybe this is because I am a Brooklynite, but there is just something about seeing artwork based in Brooklyn that absolutely excites me. This was the reason why my favorite pieces of artwork on the fifth floor of the Brooklyn Museum, called “American Identities,” were the ones based in Brooklyn. The pieces of artwork based in Brooklyn took place during the harshest years of the Depression era. Here are two of the paintings that fascinated me:

1. Louis Simon, “Bicycle Boy trade Sign, 1932-34”


The most interesting aspect of Simon’s piece, “Bicycle Boy Trade Sign”, is that it mainly had a practical, business-oriented purpose rather than an aesthetic purpose. Simon created the sign in order to improve the business at his bicycle and motorcycle shop on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. When the sign worked, a bulb in the boy’s head lit up, which caused the boy’s eyes to light up and his legs to pedal on the bicycle. The boy on the sign served to attract customers to the store. 

Another interesting aspect of the piece was that it depicts of the lives of business owners struggling to keep their jobs rather than just the struggles of unemployment that is common in Depression era narratives. 

2. Reginald Marsh, “The Bowl, 1933” 


Marsh’s piece, “The Bowl”, focuses on middle-class New Yorkers during the Great Depression era, which is a much different approach from the focus on poverty stricken people. Middle class New Yorkers during the Depression Era were much more privileged than their poorer counterparts and were able to go to Coney Island for leisure time. In the rides in Coney Island, men and women were able to attain and maintain close contact with each other. This differed vastly from gender relations during the Victorian era, in which men and women often had separate domains. In the piece, there was one of the “bowls,” where people ranging from close friends to complete strangers were chaotically mixed together, which Marsh depicted in a sensual manner.

Both art pieces allowed me to not only learn more about New York during the Depression era but also to look at the Depression era in a different light.

          - Jacqueline Retalis

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