Dark Images, Bright Prospects: The Survival
of the Figure After World War II

The decade following World War II - a period of growth and optimism, but also of anxiety, fear and doubt - is explored in this collaboration between Southampton Public Schools and The Parrish Art Museum. Building on the success of previous collaborations: Assignment 1890s: Students Look at America, Modern Meets the Masses: 1910 -1920, and Power and Patronage: State-Sponsored Art in the 1930s, Southampton High School students and teachers worked with Museum staff and outside consultants to examine the art of the period, as well as the political, economic and social conditions.

The title reflects the dichotomy of the decade following World War II. In the midst of booming economic growth and optimism in America, a group of artists were creating visions of a darker, more ambiguous nature. These artists persisted in depicting the human figure, be it fragmented and abstracted, in an era when figurative art was not only out of style, but subjected to critical ridicule. Works of art by Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Alberto Giacometti, Max Ernst, Hans Hofmann, Romare Bearden, Grace Hartigan and Jacob Lawrence were part of this exhibition at the Parrish.

Students used donated objects to contrast "Visions of Optimism" with "Visions of Pessimism". The optimistic viewpoint was expressed by the display of a 1957 Ford Thunderbird, while the construction of a fifties-era bomb shelter that recalled the darker side of the time period. A living room recreation stocked with vintage furniture, a television, games, books and magazines evoked the beginnings of suburban life.

In an illustrated catalogue, students wrote essays exploring artists' response to World War II, the development of abstraction, the influence of Surrealism on American artists, and the beginnings of the New York School. Students also investigated developments in literature, film and theater, participating in all aspects of the conception, design and presentation of the exhibition. As part of the planning stage of the exhibition, students visited the painting storage of the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, New York, where under the guidance of consultant curator, Sandra Kraskin, they reviewed works to include in the exhibition. Dr. Kraskin is director of the Sidney Mishkin Gallery at Baruch College. Other consultants working closely with students are exhibition designer Ralph Appelbaum, President, Ralph Appelbaum Associates, Inc.; Morris Dickstein, Director, Center for the Humanities, CUNY Graduate School; Robert Heilbroner, Norman Thomas Professor of Economics, The New School for Social Research; and Andrew Botsford, Associate Editor of The Southampton Press.

The exhibition was made possible, in part, with public support from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency, and through generous ongoing support from The Pincus Family Fund, The William and Randolph Hearst Foundation, the May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation, Inc., the Southampton Rotary Club, the Southampton Union Free School District. The catalogue was made possible through the generous support of The Southampton Press.