ADAMWEINBERG: In October of 1929, the stock market crashed, and with it went the optimism of the 1920s.
EDDIECANTOR: Nowadays, when a man walks into a hotel, and requests a room on the 19th floor, the clerk asks him, ‘for sleeping or jumping?’
ADAMWEINBERG: Movie theaters—like the one in this painting by Reginald Marsh—offered a temporary escape from the hardships of everyday life. In the 1930s, more than half of all Americans went to the movies every week.
This is the Lyric Theater in Times Square. At the theater’s entrance, colorful posters appeal to popular fantasies—“Stripped Bare,” “Joys of the Flesh.” Glamorous Hollywood film stars hover overhead. On the sidewalk, the artist has captured a representative cast of characters, who are themselves straight out of the movies—the glamorous blonde, the Don Juan with a rakish hat, a gangster-type smoking a cigar, and a pair of working girls.
American artists like Marsh took a new interest in the small dramas of city life. In this room, you’ll see depictions of people on the subway, young women at a dance hall; sailors and unemployed men. This work had new, political content; American artists of the period believed that their work had the power to effect change and combat injustice. Having lost their jobs, many found employment under the federal Works Progress Administration. The WPA encouraged artists to create murals and monuments commemorating America’s history, workers and traditional values. Other artists, such as Thomas Hart Benton—whose work you can also see in this gallery—praised the merits of rural life.