Modernism for the Masses Painters, Politics, and Public Murals in 1930s New York Jody Patterson

Publication date:
27 Oct 2020
Yale University Press
264 pages: 254 x 203mm
72 color + 43 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

A mural renaissance swept the United States in the 1930s, propelled by the New Deal Federal Art Project and the popularity of Mexican muralism. Perhaps nowhere more than in New York City, murals became a crucial site for the development of abstract painting Artists such as Stuart Davis, Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, and Lee Krasner created ambitious works for the Williamsburg Housing Project, Floyd Bennett Field Airport, and the 1939 World’s Fair. Modernism for the Masses examines the public murals (realized and unrealized) of these and other abstract painters and the aesthetic controversy, political influence, and ideological warfare that surrounded them. Jody Patterson transforms standard narratives of modernism by reasserting the significance of the 1930s and explores the reasons for the omission of the mural’s history from chronicles of American art. Beautifully illustrated with the artists’ murals and little-known archival photographs, this book recovers the radical idea that modernist art was a vital part of everyday life.

Jody Patterson is Roy Lichtenstein Chair of Art History at Ohio State University.

“Patterson engagingly rewrites the history of midcentury art by questioning assumptions about the relationship between leftist politics and aesthetic sensibilities.”—Diana L. Linden,

“This informative and balanced book is an ideal guide to one aspect of the WPA, an organisation which left a lasting legacy.”—Alexander Adams, The Jackdaw

Modernism for the Masses explores the richness and range of modernist abstraction, recuperating, as no other book in the field does, its political and social ambitions.”—Angela Miller, Washington University in St. Louis

“A work of original and impeccable scholarship on this short-lived but remarkable moment in history.”—Virginia Mecklenburg, Smithsonian American Art Museum