Shahn, Mooney, and the Apotheosis of American Labor

Resnick Pavilion
July 22, 2018–November 25, 2018
Shahn, Mooney, and the Apotheosis of American Labor Image

This exhibition celebrates one of Ben Shahn’s significant early social commentaries, Apotheosis, 1932–33, acquired recently by LACMA. The most famous socially concerned artist in Depression-era New York City, Shahn created searing indictments that were essential to the political scene of the time. Apotheosis is the last and largest painting of his series of 16 gouaches devoted to labor activist Tom Mooney. Honoring American labor and the freedom to unionize, Shahn created the series, immediately after his Sacco and Vanzetti images, in support of the campaign to free Mooney from unjust life imprisonment. He had been convicted for bombing a San Francisco parade based on perjured testimony, despite the intervention of the U.S. President. Over the next 20 years Mooney became a pawn in the complex power struggle among union laborers, municipal and state politicians, and American factory owners, ultimately turning his imprisonment into a cause célèbre for international socialism. Shahn, Mooney, and the Apotheosis of Labor focuses on the campaign to free Mooney through assorted political cartoons, pamphlets, and films, alongside Shahn’s artistic response, including a selection of gouaches from the Mooney series and documentary photographs that inspired the artist.

This exhibition was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

All exhibitions at LACMA are underwritten by the LACMA Exhibition Fund. Major annual support is provided by Kitzia and Richard Goodman and Meredith and David Kaplan, with generous annual funding from Jerry and Kathleen Grundhofer, the Judy and Bernard Briskin Family Foundation, Louise and Brad Edgerton, Edgerton Foundation, Emily and Teddy Greenspan, Marilyn B. and Calvin B. Gross, Mary and Daniel James, David Lloyd and Kimberly Steward, David Schwartz Foundation, Inc., Andy Song, Lenore and Richard Wayne, and The Kenneth T. and Eileen L. Norris Foundation.

Image: Protest stamps for Mooney, 1920–30s, Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School [Flickr/cc by 2.0]