America today- the mural from AXA in Met museum

The mural in the Metropolitan museum of Art
In 1919 a  group of American intellectuals  founded the New School.  The professors of Columbia University  stand against   the First World War. They were censured by the Columbia's president,  resigned from Columbia and joined with other progressive educators to create a new model of higher education for adults.  From its inception, the school has held an important place in the intellectual life of New York City and provided employment for numerous European scholars who fled from the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s.

The New School

 When faced with the need to construct their own facility in 1930, the leaders of the New School desired a building whose architecture would reflect the institution’s progressive philosophy. The first building constructed for the New School for Social Research was designed in 1930 by Joseph Urban, a well-known architect  and theater designer who was trained in  Vienna.

In the same year the New School’s director,  Alvin Johnson,  commissioned  the mural for the school.  The mural was painted by  the artist Thomas Hart Benton.  The artist lived in New York City for twenty years  and  was a  teacher at New York's Art Students League, offering students grounding in European art history, as well as an awareness of European modernism.

 “America Today” was Benton’s first major mural commission.  The ten  panels depict a panoramic sweep of rural and urban life on the eve of the Great Depression.   The mural evokes the  belief in American progress that was characteristic of the 1920s.

Benton said:"It is true my murals include the synthesis of the color and tempo of the jazz age as represented by racketereers, fast women, gunmen, booze houds and so on... My subjects portray American life of the 20th century  realistically".

In  1982 The New School  sold the mural because it was too difficult for the school to maintain it.  Axa equitable bought the mural in 1984 and displayed  it in the company headquarters  at 787 Seventh Avenue.  In 2012 after lobby renovation AXA donated the Mural to the Metropolitan Museum.

 In the exhibition at the Met museum,  the mural is installed in a reconstruction of the New School’s 30-by-22-foot 1931 boardroom, which allows viewers to experience it as Benton conceived it.  There is a black and red color scheme, the same one created for the boardroom by the New School building’s modernist architect, Joseph Urban.

For this, we are tremendously grateful,” stated Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum. “The Metropolitan’s presentation of Benton’s great mural will shed new light on this visually and intellectually stimulating landmark in American art of the early 1930s, especially as the Museum will display the mural as the artist originally intended it to be seen. Positioning the mural’s new home in the context of the Metropolitan’s diverse collections, the exhibition also tells a unique story rooted in New York’s own cultural history.”

Tthe exhibition will run through April 19, 2015

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