at The University of Chicago
Visit our new site for all current information.

Contemporary Art from the Countries of the Western Hemisphere

arranged by the International Business Machines Corporation
May 06 – May 29, 1941


Suggested as Data for Radio Script on the Art Projects of International Business Machines Corporation

When the International Business Machines Corporation embarked on its art projects three years ago, it did so recognizing the close link which exists between the world of art and the world of business. It did so in the realization that not only does business owe a debt to the country's artists for improving the looks of its products, but also to the beauty which artists have created throughout the length and breadth of the land. In the words of Thomas J. Watson, president of the company: "Three great patrons have fostered painting through the long history of civilization. Priests have adorned temples, rulers their palaces and public buildings, private individuals their homes and art museums. In the last group business men of many countries became more and more important as art patrons after the Renaissance. From the Medics of Florence to industrialists and financiers of the twentieth century, they preserved the art of antiquity and were generous patrons of contemporary artists. If business men, why not business itself?"

Why not? And so, three years ago, the first International Business Machines collection of contemporary art was assembled. Representatives of the company in 79 countries were instructed to ask leading art authorities to select the living artists and paintings typical of their countries. No restrictions were imposed as to the choice of artists or subjects. The paintings ranged in size from less than sixteen inches to a panel more than six feet long; they were painted in oil, water-color and tempera; on canvas, composition board or, in some instances, silk; and the subjects ranges from a mother and child to a funeral procession, from a sleeping idler to a busy laborer, from snow-capped peaks to tropic beaches, and from primeval jungles to cultivated farm-lands.

One collection was shown at the New York World's Fair and the other at the Golden Gate International Exposition during the summer of 1939. Art critics, art authorities and the general public responded with enthusiasm to the immense scope of the exhibition and the insight it provided into the ways and customs of peoples in all parts of the world.

It was this revelation that Mr. Watson had in mind when he said: "Painting is one of the truest records of a people. When we see what painters reveal, it increases our hope for better understanding among the peoples of the earth. We hope that all who view these paintings will recognize, through the many different forms of expression, traits common to all men which bind humanity together in universal kinship."

During the course of their exhibition, juries of distinguished museum directors, writers and art patrons met at both fairs to select the prize winning canvases. On the basis of their judgment, prizes totaling $6000 were awarded. Later in the season, the Popular Vote Poll at the two Galleries of Science and Art were tabulated and six cash prizes went to the artists considered best by the general public.

After having been viewed by approximately 3,000,000 people, these two collections went their separate ways, stopping at galleries, museums and universities, in answer to invitations from all parts of the country. Forty-two cities from Sacramento, California t Allentown, Pennsylvania received the exhibitions, marking up a total attendance of 307,556 for the tours. Wherever they were shown, the town turned out in celebration of the event. Parties and receptions attended by governors of the state, mayors, local political, social and cultural figures, were given; school children came in groups, fascinated by this pictorial panorama of the world, transcending anything they had seen in geography and history books, "Treasure Island" or "The Thousand and One Nights."

When the decision was made to continue the two Fairs for another summer, Mr. Watson decided to assemble a collection from the 48 states, the District of Columbia, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. In view of the growing interest in American art, and American things generally, this seemed a particularly happy choice. The same procedure used in assembling the first two exhibits was put to work. Art authorities in the 53 different locales formed into juries to select the two paintings considered most representative of the art and character of the state or possession. The final collection reflected not only the full variety of the American scene and its heterogeneous people, but also indicated the exception ability and original outlook of its artists.

Shown at both Fairs in 1940, these American collections attracted again an attendance of 3,000,000 people. Twenty prizes awarded, once more on the basis of the jury and popular vote. But this was not all. During the course of the summer, the company instructed museum directors in the nine Canadian provinces and Newfoundland to select 10 paintings to be shown at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto from August 23rd to September 7th, 1940. Distinguished visitors to the International Business Machines' exhibit at that time included the Earl of Athlone, Governor General of the Dominion, and Princess Alice.

So now, a year and one half after the inception of this project, we see five collections assembled by International Business Machines Corporation pursuing their tours throughout the United States and Canada. One American collection is working its way South after a month's showing at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., while the other will be joined by the Canadian pictures for a tour of the provinces of our northern neighbor. It is interesting to note that in the case of all five collections, invitations from the smaller, out-of-the-way towns, out of the reach of the usual traveling exhibits, were frequently accepted first.

It is to be remembered that the idea of Business as a collective organization patronizing the painter is not a new one, but in the past, business has been more concerned with the decoration of its halls, the portraits of its executives, or the interpretation of the nature of its activities. In this case, however, business has recognized the painter as the interpreter of the land and the people with which it has its dealings. The artist is asked nothing but when he chooses to give or say of the people and country of which he is a part. It is the acknowledgment by business of this one and important function of the artist that makes the International Business Machines' collections a milestone on the historic road of art patronage.

Author: unknown
The Renaissance Society
is a contemporary art
museum free and
open to the public
Mon  May 20, 2024