The Left Front: Radical Art in the “Red Decade,” 1929-1940

Main Gallery

Mitchell Siporin, Workers Family, from the portfolio A Gift to Biro Bidjan, 1937, woodcut. Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, 1997.30.15.

View photo galleryThe Left Front: Radical Art in the “Red Decade,” 1929–1940
revisits a moment in American history when visual artists, through their membership in the progressive John Reed Club (JRC),  joined forces to form a “left front” with writers and intellectuals dedicated to making socially-conscious art.

Artists who belonged to or exhibited with the JRC—including Rockwell Kent, William Gropper, Stuart Davis, and Morris Topchevsky—embraced the motto “art as a social weapon.” The Left Front is the first exhibition to examine the artistic legacy of the JRC and its successor organization, the American Artists’ Congress.

The exhibition considers specific conditions of Chicago—its industrial legacy, its massive immigration, its ethnic neighborhoods, its historical associations with anarchism and labor unrest, and its commitment to social reform through institutions like Hull House— as the backdrop against which works by Chicago’s JRC and AAC evolved.

Generous support for The Left Front: Radical Art in the “Red Decade,” 1929-1940  is provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art, as well as the Terra Foundation on behalf of William Osborn and David Kabiller, and the Myers Foundations. Additional funding comes from the Carlyle Anderson Endowment, the Louise E. Drangsholt Fund, the Kessel Fund at the Block Museum, and the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.