OCEANSIDE — On the 90th anniversary of the Works Progress Administration, an unprecedented government project supporting artists during the Great Depression, the Oceanside Museum of Art is showcasing its “Art for the People: WPA-Era Paintings from the Dijkstra Collection” exhibit from June 24 to Nov. 5.
When social justice issues have taken center stage, “Art for the People” is a timely reminder of the role of the arts in society during times of economic turmoil.
This timely exhibition features works created during the years between the American stock market crash of 1929 and World War II, devoting special attention to the contribution of California artists, who too often have been omitted from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) story.
During this era, which led to and included the government sponsored WPA of the 1930s and 1940s, American artists created scenes which represented the state of the country, exploring the hardships of the era and producing art expressing fundamental human concerns and basic democratic principles. Given the relevance of these themes to today’s social justice movement, the museum exhibit holds particular significance.
Known as “people’s art,” these works were intended to be accessible and meaningful to the general public. They feature imagery emanating from the period, including depictions of laborers, the poor and disenfranchised going about their activities in both urban and rural environments.
The exhibit features 46 paintings from the eastern, midwestern and western regions of the country with a strong component of work by California artists. Some of these paintings capture simple pleasures or quiet moments of the Great Depression era, while the majority convey the struggles and hardships of the time.
Built by Bram Dijkstra, University of California, San Diego professor emeritus of American literature and culture, leading scholar of the period and author of the landmark book, “American Expressionism: Art and Social Change, 1920-1950,” the collection explores how the art of the period reflects the values of equality, dignity and justice for all, including the working class, encouraging viewers to see art from this era in a more expansive and inclusive way.
“As children of the ‘60s, we met at UC Berkeley back in the free speech movement days and have always been drawn to art that makes a difference,” Dijkstra said about himself and his wife, Sandra, who own the collection and are both North County residents. “We are glad to share this work with our community, especially now, when awareness of social justice is needed more than ever.”
Organized by the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento where it opened in February, the exhibit will travel to The Huntington Library Art Museum and Botanical Gardens in San Marino after closing at the Oceanside Museum of Art in November.
Museum visitors can attend the exhibit celebration on June 24 and its panel discussion on Oct. 7. For more information, visit oma-online.org.