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Exhibition of works by Ashcan School and The Eight explores the beginnings of Modern Art in America

The Milwaukee Art Museum will present The Ashcan School and The Eight: “Creating a National Art,” a major exhibition this fall, exploring the work of the turn-of-the-century Ashcan School and The Eight, widely recognized today as America’s first modern art movement.

Mining the Museum’s expansive collection of works by the Ashcan School, The Eight, and affiliated artists—one of the largest and most significant collections of these works in the United States—the exhibition examines these artists’ rejection of traditional art practices and institutions and the impact of this subversion on the trajectory of American modern art.

Re-contextualizing the pieces in this collection, the show also draws connections between the social issues depicted in these works and those still prevalent in the U.S. today. The Ashcan School and The Eight: “Creating a National Art” will be on view from September 23, 2022 through February 19, 2023.

“We are thrilled to welcome visitors from our Milwaukee community and beyond to explore the Museum’s unparalleled collection of works by artists of the Ashcan School and The Eight,” said Marcelle Polednik, Donna and Donald Baumgartner Director of the Milwaukee Art Museum. “Five decades ago, the Abert family purchased nearly 50 works by members of the Ashcan School for the Museum’s collection, enabling us to tell the rich story of these important artists and their contributions to the field. This exhibition is an exciting opportunity to revisit these works and others that we have acquired in the years since, and to present them in new ways that both educate and inspire our audiences, while also celebrating the Abert family’s exemplary gift to the Museum.”

So named for their first major exhibition in 1908 at New York City’s Macbeth Gallery, Eight American Painters, The Eight is comprised of artists Robert Henri, Arthur Bowen Davies, William Glackens, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan, all of whom embraced new modes of artistic representation and eschewed exhibition practices that they considered restrictive and conservative.

Often embracing a loose painterly style to portray subjects previously deemed inappropriate for high art and museums, these artists — who one critic lionized as “creating a national art,” while another later disparaged as painters of “ashcans,” unwittingly giving them the name by which they would become commonly known — captured the realities of everyday life in the American city at a moment of great transformation: early in their careers, they frequently depicted scenes of immigrants, tenements, urban spaces, and shifting cultural dynamics, social values, and identities.

Featuring nearly 150 paintings, drawings, pastels, and prints, The Ashcan School and The Eight presents both iconic and rarely seen pieces by these artists, demonstrating the breadth of their practices and the continued relevance of their work in examining and reflecting the reality of urban America’s working class.

“The Ashcan School and The Eight: ’Creating a National Art,’ is an opportunity to engage new audiences with key works from our esteemed collection that are emblematic of the seismic shift in the ethos of this contingent of American artists who were working at the turn of the 20th century,” said Brandon Ruud, exhibition curator and former Abert Family Curator of American Art at the Milwaukee Art Museum. “Their break from longstanding tradition to instead portray a more authentic depiction of the American experience forged a new national art that prioritized an unfiltered representation of urban and working-class life and catalyzed the evolution of American modern art in the process.”

The Ashcan School and The Eight: “Creating a National Art” builds on the Milwaukee Art Museum’s leadership in the presentation and collection of Ashcan School works of art. Since the early 1900s, the Museum has stewarded works from the Ashcan School, leading up to a transformative gift from the Abert Family, Milwaukee philanthropists who purchased nearly 50 works across media by the Ashcan School and The Eight for the express purpose of donating to and expanding this portion of the Museum’s collection.

The Ashcan School and The Eight: “Creating a National Art” advances the Milwaukee Art Museum’s commitment to developing scholarly discourse around these artists’ revolutionary practices, presenting these radical works to new generations of museumgoers, and creating connections across American modern and contemporary history.

© Art

Milwaukee Art Museum / The Ashcan School and The Eight

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