The 20th Century through the Museum’s Press Releases

We’ve just completed digitizing and making available on our website the hundreds of exhibition press releases the Museum has issued since the 1920s.  Though it’s almost always the case that production and presentation of objects is influenced by the historical moment, it’s been fascinating to see how the Museum’s exhibitions—and the way they were presented in the press releases—reflect significant events and trends in the life of Brooklyn and New York City, as well as nationally and internationally.

Franz von Stuck: Golgotha

Franz von Stuck (German, 1863-1928). Golgotha, 1917. Oil on canvas, 41 3/4 x 43 3/8 in. (106 x 110.2 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Alfred W. Jenkins, 28.420

In 1928, just 10 years after World War I, the Exhibition of Paintings by Living Bavarian Artists was the first organized show of contemporary German work to travel to the United States after the war. The German officials who initiated it, including Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria “most earnestly desire to resume with the United States those cultural relations which were suspended during the war.”

In the early 1930s, when aviation was still new, the Museum presented photographs of the “epoch making ‘Flight over Mt. Everest’ ” as part of Britain Illustrated: Photographs Presented by The Times (London). The release describes in detail the harrowing “flight of the aeroplanes” from their base camp to the summit, which they passed over with “less than five hundred feet to spare,” using electrically heated suits, oxygen masks, and goggles.

From about the same time, the impact of the Great Depression is evident throughout the release for Fine Prints of the Year 1933. The exhibition’s curators agreed that “in spite of the year of depression,” the graphic arts were enjoying continued popularity, and that artists were producing quality work “in face of the discouraging economic conditions.”

Inventions for Victory

Inventions for Victory. Installation view: bracketless shelf, from Whitehouse Research Bureau display. Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Photography.

Several exhibitions reflect the United States’ entry into World War II, including Inventions for Victory, mounted in the early 1940s. It was part of the Museum’s “wartime program,” demonstrating “American manufacturers’ ingenuity” and showcasing new materials substituting for wool, silk, rubber, and metals, which “prove more satisfactory than the older ones and show promise of progressive replacement.”

There are many more historical gems to explore in the Exhibitions section of our Open Collections! Some of the entries have photographs; if so, make sure to click on the Press tab (if available) to view any releases. And special thanks to the Museum’s Library, which provided some of these images.