Curators: Jarrett Duncan and Kasia Sosnowski
Museum Studies Interns
Department of Art
Helen Christou Gallery
Two senior Museum Studies interns will gain professional experience by curating an exhibition about life in the 1940s with art works from the University of Lethbridge collection and material from the Galt Museum and Archives. The exhibition opens a series throughout the city during May on the 1940s presented by the University and Historic Lethbridge Week.
The Canadian landscape is both a versatile and reflective subject matter. Southern Alberta in particular has a strong rural identity that is translated in our lifestyle and therefore our art practice. When we selected works for this exhibition we chose to focus on rural scenes because it is an important part of the Southern Alberta character which, in turn, is reflected in the University of Lethbridge Art Collection and the objects at the Galt Museum and Archives. These paintings and artifacts give a sense of the aesthetic culture of the 1940s. We have chosen to highlight various interpretations of similar themes and motifs pertaining to the Canadian landscape and rural identity to best show the individuality and personal techniques of artists. Bartley Pragnell’s work demonstrates the atmosphere of the 1940s with his colourful and stylized landscapes along with his quick journal sketches of everyday events. While Antonio Frasconi presents a woodcut image that clearly outlines the reliance on machinery as a means of production, Fritz Brandtner depicts a scene of two men hard at work. Roloff Beny explores the whimsical side of landscape and inserts a magical quality into his scenery, whereas Cliff Robinson’s black and white representation of a prairie scene, complete with Canada geese, is an image quintessentially Canadian.
The 1940s represent a turning point in the arts as we see a shift from Europe (particularly Paris) being the centre of art in the world to the United States (specifically New York). This shift is a result of World War II, which began in 1939 and did not end until 1945. On the western front the encroaching armies of Nazi Germany pushed in to occupy France, making it impossible for Jewish people and members of the avant-garde art world to stay there. With some combination of luck, foresight, and the means, many of the artistic and intellectual community fled France at this time for Allied countries such as the United States, and in doing so would bring their artistic influence as well. This influx of European art shifted the dominant art style in the US from social realism and American modernism to the Abstract Expressionism we associate with the likes of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. This influence can definitely be seen in Canadian artist Roloff Beny, who made the shift from painting pastoral, rural landscapes to abstract, modern works within the window of 1940 to 1946. It is no coincidence to discover that the works on display on the “fine art wall” are works donated by Beny himself to the University collection. Fernand Leger is one of the French artists who lived out the war in New York City (though he would return to Paris soon after the end of the war). While Henry Moore was an English artist primarily known for his sculptures and does not quite play into the narrative established here (he never had to flee his homeland), his prominence and influence as well as his overall style falls into the form, content, and look of the era in a beautiful way.
We would like to thank both the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery and the Galt Museum and Archives for all their assistance with the production of this exhibition.
Jarrett Duncan and Kasia Sosnowski
Museum Studies Interns, Dept. of Art