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    Retrospective: When the WPA Was New

    And other excerpts from our coverage 100, 75, 50, and 25 years ago

    100 YEARS AGO

    While rehearsing “Sealed Orders,” in which one of the scenes contains a reproduction of Christie’s auction rooms, Arthur Collins, the manager of Drury Lane [Theatre], asked Mr. W. W. Sampson, the dealer, to attend a rehearsal and verify the details of the scene. During the rehearsal Mr. Sampson was attracted by one of the property pictures, which he offered to buy. . . . After closing the bargain Mr. Sampson declared that the picture was a [George] Morland, which was verified after it had been cleaned.

    — “Foreign Art Notes,” September 20, 1913

    75 YEARS AGO

    Installation view of “Art for the Public by Chicago Artists of the Federal Art Project,Works Progress Administration” at the Art Institute of Chicago, 1938.  COURTESY THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO.

    Installation view of “Art for the Public by Chicago Artists of the Federal Art Project, Works Progress Administration” at the Art Institute of Chicago, 1938.COURTESY THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO.

    Under the title “Art for the Public—By Chicago Artists”an exhibition representing a cross section of an important contemporary movement in the United States has just opened at the Art Institute of Chicago. Here is being shown for the first time a conclusive résumé of what, exactly, has been accomplished by the Federal Art Project during the past few years in the vast mid-Western area administered by the Chicago WPA. Sponsored as it is by so important an institution as the Art Institute, the first major museum to confer its official stamp of approval on the movement, the showing presents an important milestone in the progress of Government patronage.

    —“WPA’s Premiere at Chicago Institute,” September 17, 1938

    50 YEARS AGO

    Edward Kienholz, The Blink, Blink Frog, 1963, mixed media assemblage. COPYRIGHT KIENHOLZ. COURTESY L.A. LOUVER, VENICE, CA.

    Edward Kienholz, The Blink, Blink Frog, 1963, mixed media assemblage.COPYRIGHT KIENHOLZ. COURTESY L.A. LOUVER, VENICE, CA.

    If, at times, the Kienholz works display indignation, at other times he views the human comedy with wit. This is not to say, of course, that Kienholz inscribes a surface in ways comparable to Goya, but rather that there is a temperamental affinity between the two, and that both employ their resources at the behest of a comparable view of homo sapiens.

    —“Art news from Los Angeles,” by Jules Langsner, September 1963 

    25 YEARS AGO

    Auction night in the New York art world exceeds almost any opening on Broadway for glamour, social pizzazz, and the frisson that attends an Unknown Ending, which any good drama should have. At Sotheby’s, tonight’s Impressionist auction has art enthusiasts and would-be bidders begging for seats. . . .

    [John Marion, the auctioneer], who has a water pitcher and throat lozenges nearby, is like an actor who has to pace the performance, while his eyes have to catch phone and house bids as they fly. When it’s all over, he admits, “It takes a lot of concentration. I started in this business 28 years ago when the art world wasn’t what it is today. But the minute I get out there and the gavel comes down, any nervousness goes. From then on,” he says, “it’s the audience’s turn.”

    —“Sotheby’s: Gilt and Glitter,” by Paul Gardner, September 1988

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