“Art for Every Home: Associated American Artists, 1934–2000” articulates a refreshingly inclusionary capitalist history of art. Organized at Kansas State University’s Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, the traveling exhibition looks at how Associated American Artists, an initiative of New York entrepreneur Reeves Lewenthal, democratized and expanded the art market enormously, particularly for the middle class. Approximately 150 prints, paintings, ceramics, textiles, and ephemera document the company’s almost seventy-year run, and provide a rich visual and social history of the United States.
During the Depression, Lewenthal utilized mail-order catalogues to sell scores of commissioned prints by American Regionalists like Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry, and Grant Wood at reasonable prices. This area of AAA’s business was best elucidated in the show, with numerous examples. During the war, lucrative advertising partnerships with corporations like Standard Oil and Lucky Strike cigarettes spread the reach of artists nationwide (and often boosted sales). AAA later produced modernist textiles and ceramics, in line with the consumerist ethos of the postwar era. In the 1960s and ’70s, they commissioned early prints by David Hockney and Eldzier Cortor. The brilliance and foresight of such a business is not only admirable, but also inspirational. Could there be a similarly ethical and tasteful model for the twenty-first century, a program that has faith in the general populace and provides financial support to artists? It’s been done before. —Julia Wolkoff
Pictured: Irwin Hoffman: El Jibaro, Puerto Rico, 1940, etching, 12 by 9â?? inches. Courtesy Associated American Artists Syracuse University Art Collection, New York.