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New Deal Gallery

The New Deal Gallery’s collection of Federal Art Project paintings can’t be disentangled from its location at Mount Morris. Whether the allocation labels read "Mount Morris Hosp.” or “State Tuberculosis Hospital,” their intent was to supplement medical care provided by New York’s tuberculosis centers. According to General Superintendent Dr. Robert E. Plunkett, “a person’s frame of mind has much to do with his chance of getting well. There is one type of public building which more than any other actually needs interior decoration in order that the institutional atmosphere may be eliminated as far as possible. If [the Federal Art Project] does nothing else but bring happiness and health to the poor afflicted persons under my care it will have justified its existence.” Accordingly, most of the paintings at Mount Morris appear to have been chosen for their “restful” qualities; they’re dominated by rural landscapes and still lifes. Decades of art criticism since the 1930s conceptualized such works under rubrics like academicism, impressionism, or folk art—whatever the case, not pushing the vanguard of formal experimentation or social change. Our research on the New Deal Gallery artists calls this into question. Many of them were first- or second-generation immigrants from Europe whose date of arrival coincides with Russian pogroms of the early 20th century, devastation caused by the Great War, or the rise of fascism during the 1930s; many of them were involved in progressive or radical politics. Click on the paintings below to learn more.

Another revelation has been that many of the paintings at the New Deal Gallery are not necessarily representative of an artist’s body of work—that is, some Federal Art Project administrator may have selected for (apparently) serene content to support the “rest cure” program followed at tuberculosis hospitals. Our biographies of artists therefore attempt to provide OpenValley readers with many other public domain images of their paintings: black-and-white photographs of their Federal Art Project paintings at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, but also works displayed online at national and regional museums. A few examples below illustrate the advantages of drawing upon an expanded corpus for our exhibits.

The New Deal Gallery collection is more cosmopolitan, more urban, more political, and more formally inventive than its rural location may indicate. It's a challenging group of paintings created by artists who were in touch with their times. The Green New Deal explores what their times have to teach us about our times.