When Grant Wood painted a portrait of his sister with an Iowa dentist posing as a Midwestern farmer and his daughter, both grim faced but unbowed, the artist struck a chord with Americans struggling through the Great Depression. Practically overnight, American Gothic (1930) became one of the Art Institute of Chicago’s most popular works. The exhibition America after the Fall: Painting in the 1930s
(25 February-4 June) at the Royal Academy of Arts
, which opens tomorrow, includes Wood’s famous picture, being shown for the first time outside North America. The show also includes work by fellow US artists as diverse as Thomas Hart Benton, Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keeffe, depicting contrasting responses to the turbulent decade after the Wall Street Crash.
The powerful, innovatory, and technically brilliant works of the Soviet avant-garde, also at the Royal Academy (Revolution: Russian Art 1917–1932, until 17 April), would crush the works in Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion
if they came anywhere near them. By comparison, the English Modernists—the Matisse-ish Bloomsbury group, the camp Surrealism of Edward James, the building studies by John Piper—look like the bourgeois pretending to be pirates, which is pretty much what these artist were. They retreated to Sussex, a rolling county by the sea easily reached from London, to lead a gently nonconformist life. The sculptor, illustrator and typographer Eric Gill, with Edward Burra the best artist represented, was the only one to be truly transgressive in his conduct. Nonetheless, with the exhibition of America after the Fall exhibition also at the Royal Academy, this show at Two Temple Place
(until 23 April) gives an interesting comparative insight into the three contemporary artistic cultures.
For a burst of west African summertime following this week’s Storm Doris, head to Malick Sidibé: the Eye of Modern Mali
(until 26 February) at Somerset House
before it closes on Sunday. The first UK show dedicated to the photographer of Bamako’s youth culture opened during the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair last October—six months after his death at the age of 80. Sidibé’s original black-and-white prints from the 1960s and 1970s feel as fresh as ever, capturing stylish teens in nightclub dances, swimming parties on the river Niger and portrait sessions at his own Studio Malick, where “often it was like a party”. There is even a playlist, which you can access on the museum’s website
, to get you in the party spirit.
• Click here for a complete list of previously recommended London shows