Going national: First comprehensive overview of Associated American Artists debuts at Beach Museum of Art Sept. 15 before showing on East Coast
Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015
"River Patterns," a glazed stoneware platter designed by Julio de Diego in 1950, was offered by Associated American Artists, or AAA, as part of its Stonelain ceramics line. It is from a private collection. Although AAA had built its reputation selling representational art, many of its products of the 1950s incorporate abstract imagery. The De Diego platter features squiggly, surrealist water creatures.| Download this photo.
MANHATTAN — A new exhibition organized by the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art at Kansas State University provides the first critical overview of Associated American Artists, or AAA, a company that sought to bring original American art to every home beginning in the 1930s.
The exhibition will open Sept. 15 at the Beach Museum before heading to the East Coast for stops at three other museums in 2016 and 2017.
"Art for Every Home: Associated American Artists" explores the commercial art enterprise best known as the publisher of prints by noted Regionalist artists Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry and Grant Wood.
"The Beach Museum of Art is uniquely qualified to explore the work of the pioneering art marketing enterprise that was Associated American Artists," said Linda Duke, museum director. "The museum has a regional collecting focus that includes several AAA artists who worked with imagery and themes from rural and middle America. Another strength of the museum is its collection of more than 200 AAA prints donated in 1992 by Raymond and Melba Budge from St. John, Kansas. The inherently interdisciplinary nature of AAA — with connections easily made to marketing, history, women's studies, art history and other areas of scholarship — has great appeal for Kansas State University."
The exhibition will address not only AAA's storied involvement in the popularity of American prints in the 1930s, but also its ongoing promotion of American art over six decades. Through aggressive marketing of studio prints, ceramics and textiles, and associations with corporate advertising agents, AAA sought to bring original American art over the threshold of every American home via mail delivery. "From Studio to Doorstep — Wherever You Are," the company described its services in a 1945 mail-order brochure. "No longer would the would-be possessor of a beautiful picture have to go to town and visit an art dealer; or still harder, hire somebody to do it for him. Quite the contrary! Every American post office is to be like a branch agency for the creations of the pick of American artists."
Founded in New York City in 1934 and ceasing operation only in 2000, AAA employed innovative creative strategies to cultivate middle- and upper-middle-class Americans as prospective art patrons. AAA served as a highly successful artists' agent by expanding the popular reach of original art through not only mail-order catalogs, but also sales through department stores in all major American cities, extensive advertising promotions in newspapers, magazines and on radio, and corporate commissions that ranged from Madison Avenue to Hollywood Boulevard.
The exhibition's co-curators are Elizabeth Seaton, curator at the Beach Museum of Art, and Jane Myers, former senior curator of prints and drawings at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. They have worked with an advisory team, including the catalog authors and an additional group of experts in the field of 20th-century American art.
"Art for Every Home: Associated American Artists, 1934-2000," a 288-page exhibition catalog, is published by the Beach Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press. An illustrated index of the hundreds of prints, ceramics and textile designs by AAA artists, compiled by independent researcher Gail Windisch and Karen Herbaugh, curator at the American Textile History Museum, Lowell, Massachusetts, will also be published as a free, searchable PDF in January 2016.
"It is relatively rare for a small university art museum to have an opportunity to organize a major touring exhibition accompanied by a scholarly catalog…Art for Every Home: Associated American Artists is such a project," Duke said.
The exhibition will be on view at the Beach Museum of Art through Jan. 31, 2016. It will then travel to three additional institutions: Grey Art Gallery at New York University in New York City, April 19 to July 9, 2016; American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts, Sept. 16, 2016, to Jan. 2, 2017; and Syracuse University Art Galleries, New York, Jan. 26 to March 26, 2017.
The Beach Museum of Art is on the southeast corner of the Kansas State University campus at the corner of Anderson Avenue and 14th Street. Admission is free. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday; and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Free parking is available adjacent to the building. For more information, call 785-532-7718 or visit http://beach.k-state.edu.