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"Swing Time: Reginald Marsh and Thirties New York" at the New York Historical Society
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"Swing Time: Reginald Marsh and Thirties New York" at the New York Historical Society

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Swing Time: Reginald Marsh and Thirties New York
(Exhibit Web Page)

At the
New York Historical Society
www.nyhistory.org
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
212.873.3400

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
August 1, 2013


”New York Historical is recognized for engaging the public with deeply researched and far-ranging exhibitions, such as WWII & NYC; Alexander Hamilton: The Man Who Made Modern America; Slavery in New York; Drawn by New York: Six Centuries of Watercolors and Drawings at the New-York Historical Society; Grant and Lee in War and Peace; Lincoln and New York; Nueva York (1613 – 1945); and Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn. Supporting these exhibitions and related education programs is one of the world's greatest collections of historical artifacts, works of American art, and other materials documenting the history of the United States and New York”.(Courtesy of NY Historical Society Website).

(Assisted by New York Historical Society Press Notes).
A few days ago, I spent a lovely afternoon at New York’s Upper West Side museum, the New York Historical Society, opposite Central Park. The visit began at Caffe Storico, a contemporary bistro within the museum, for a wine spritzer and sorbet. The ambiance is upscale casual, with a reasonable, eclectic menu of cafés, soups, salads, and more. The Reginald Marsh exhibit is on the main floor in a bank of several expansive spaces. There are sixty paintings, plus prints and drawings by Reginald Marsh, a major retrospective. I also saw some paintings, prints, and photographs by Marsh’s contemporaries, such as Yasuo Kuniyoshi and Berenice Abbott. The guest Curators of this mesmerizing homage to Marsh are Barbara Haskell, Curator at the Whitney, and Sasha Nicholas, a historian and Curator of the genre. The paintings and photographs are on loan from private and public collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and Museum of Modern Art. For Marsh’s online bio, click here.

The October 1935 Bowery photograph, by Berenice Abbott, where one can spend a dime for either a Vienna Roast dinner or a shave and a hot towel brings the viewer right in, to New York in the 1930’s depression era, post 1929 stock market crash, and pre-1937 recession. Reginald Marsh was born to American parents in Paris, both artists, and grew up in New Jersey, with family wealth and private education. He studied at the Art Students League of New York, first with John Sloan and later with George Luks, both founders of the Ashcan school of American art. Marsh later revisited Paris to intensely explore the masters, and in following years returned as a teacher at the Arts Students League, inspiring future luminaries such as Roy Lichtenstein. Marsh worked in prints, drawings, egg tempura, and oils. He drew for the New York Daily News and The New Yorker, depicting vaudeville and figurative social commentary. In later years, Marsh established his reputation as a social realist painter, specializing in paintings of New Yorkers in the 20’s and 30’s, from the worlds of wealth and poverty, subway riders, burlesque dancers, strip-teasers, strip voyeurs, swing dancers, swing musicians, the unemployed, and ladies buying furs.

Marsh developed a visual social commentary that grips the viewer. A bright yellow painting of a circus side show, with pointy headed twins, Pip and Flip, and a tiny man standing on a giant man’s palm, called “Major Mite”, was juxtaposed against a darker, eerier, painting of New York’s depression underbelly. The New York Historical Society’s exhibit brings the viewer to Coney Island and seemingly thousands of sun bathers, jumping on each other’s shoulders, drinking beer, surviving on laughs and company. Across the aisle, one might focus on a Marsh tribute to Minsky’s burlesque shows, with buxom dancers in skimpy, two-piece, black and white outfits and tall hairpieces, kicking in non-unison form, with well-heeled gentlemen peering through opera glasses, while a live orchestra energizes the event.

In fact, the presence or lack of energy seems striking in Marsh’s oeuvres, with hope and laughter in the dance and burlesque scenes in stark contrast to fatigue and despair in the unemployment and subway scenes. Further on, four dreary, exhausted figures are about to collapse at an unemployment office, in one Marsh painting, while an almost-nude blond teases hundreds of men, leaning forward in a fancy theater, draped in patriotic colors, in another. The 14th Street shopping and subway scene was intriguing to Marsh, and he painted a comparison of a cripple on crutches, strapped with a $1.75 sign for ladies’ permanent waves, as hordes of finely dressed workers in straw hats and hour-glass dresses flow down subway steps. One of my favorites is a scene of Harlem dancers stomping at the Savoy, heels high, bodies crushed but moving. The 1930’s were the years in which the big bands thrived in New York, thus the show’s title, “Swing Time”. You can see this fantastic Reginald Marsh exhibit at the New York Historical Society through September 1, 2013.



Reginald Marsh (1898-1954),
"Harlem, Tuesday Night at the Savoy", 1932.
Tempera on board, 36 × 48 in. (91.4 × 121.9 cm).
Private Collection. © 2013
Estate of Reginald Marsh/Art Students League/Artists Rights Society
(ARS), New York.
Courtesy of the New York Historical Society




Berenice Abbott (1898-1991),
"Blossom Restaurant, 103 Bowery, October 24th, 1935",
from FAP series Changing New York, 1935.
Gelatin silver print, 7 1/2 x 9 1/2 in.
Museum of the City of New York.
Courtesy of the New York Historical Society




Reginald Marsh (1898-1954),
"Lucky Daredevils (The Thrill of Death)", 1931.
Egg tempera on panel, 30 × 36 in. (76.2 × 91.4 cm).
Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia,
The Vivian O. and Meyer P. Potamkin Collection,
Bequest of Vivian O. Potamkin. © 2013
Estate of Reginald Marsh/Art Students League/Artists Rights Society
(ARS), New York.
Courtesy of the New York Historical Society




Reginald Marsh (1898-1954),
"Hudson Bay Fur Company", 1932.
Egg tempera on muslin mounted to particle board, 30 x 40 in.
Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio. © 2013
Estate of Reginald Marsh/Art Students League/Artists Rights Society
(ARS), New York.
Courtesy of the New York Historical Society




Reginald Marsh (1898-1954),
"BMT Fourteenth Street", 1932.
Egg tempera, 60 × 36 in. (152.4 × 91.4 cm).
Private collection. © 2013
Estate of Reginald Marsh/Art Students League/Artists Rights Society
(ARS), New York.
Courtesy of the New York Historical Society



For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at zlokower@bestweb.net