Between 1931 and 1932, painter Ben Shahn created a series of twenty-three gouaches and temperas on the infamous trial of Nicola Sacco and Bartolonteo Vanzetti, Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested in 1920 for the murder of a guard during a robbery of a shoe factory in Massachusetts. The two men were Italian immigrants as well as anarchists. Their radicalism and their ethnicity, far more than the ambiguous evidence in the case, became the basis for the prosecution against them.
In 1927, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed. Theirs was one of the most controversial trials of the twentieth century. Identifying with these men, Ben Shahn returned again and again to this subject.
Spanning the early 1930s up through the end of his career in 1967, he also produced paintings, an ink drawing three serigraphs, and a mosaic mural on the trial. From May through August 2001, the Jersey City Museum will present all paintings in existence from the 1931-32 series – seven. teen in all – as a first-time event.
Many of Shahn’s other Sacco and Vanzetti works will also be displayed. With its twelve color and thirty-two black-and-white illustrations. Ben Shahn and The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti brings the exhibit – and the trial to life.
The catalog will include articles exploring such topics as the artist’s identification with the two men on trial: the 1930 32 series’s critical reception from the 1930s to today: and a historical overview of the case itself.
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