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No Jury, No Prizes: Avant-Guarde Exhibitions of the 20th Century

Written on:December 2, 2016
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Delaware Art Museum
WILMINGTON, DE (December 2, 2016)

Between 1917 and 1944, the Society of Independent Artists (SIA) hosted annual avant-garde exhibitions in New York City. By joining the SIA and paying a nominal fee, thousands of American artists–from famous painters to Sunday painters–were able to exhibit their work in open shows in New York City. The brainchild of a diverse group of artists, including William Glackens, Walter Pach, and Marcel Duchamp, the SIA was one of many attempts to revolutionize how art was exhibited in the United States in the early 20th century. Celebrating the SIA’s centennial, the Delaware Art Museum presents No Jury, No Prizes: The Society of Independent Artists, 1917-1944, on view February 4 – May 14, 2017.

With works of art ranging from traditional portraits to cubist compositions, the exhibition contains 37 works by 35 artists, many unseen since they were first displayed decades ago during the SIA shows in New York City. No Jury, No Prizes includes oil paintings, prints, drawings, watercolors, and sculptures by a variety of modern American artists. The show is arranged alphabetically–similar to the original SIA exhibitions–from Peggy Bacon to William Zorach. The exhibition also includes posters, postcards, invitations, and floor plans from SIA shows. A digital slideshow of 40 photographs by Walter J. Russell presents the installation of the 1940 show.

“Not all of the artists in the show are household names,” explains Heather Campbell Coyle, Curator of American Art at the Delaware Art Museum. “The SIA provided a showcase for innovative styles, politically charged canvasses, and talented artists working outside the mainstream art scene. It was a venue for the kind of work that wasn’t being exhibited in museums and commercial art galleries.”

Doctors, plumbers, and teachers were among the nearly 6,000 artists who exhibited between 1917 and 1944, but the SIA also provided an important forum for female artists, who were traditionally underrepresented in exhibitions organized by museums, galleries, and other art associations at that time.

This exhibition, drawn from the Museum’s collection, includes paintings exhibited and purchased at the SIA by Ashcan School artist John Sloan (1871-1951), who was Society president from 1918-1944, and works purchased by his second wife Helen Farr Sloan. No Jury, No Prizes was inspired by the Museum’s ongoing collections accessibility project funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. “It was only by going through the records for every work on paper and every American painting in the collection that I realized how many works we have that were shown at the SIA,” says Coyle.

The show also draws on the rich archival resources in the Museum, where the SIA papers are part of the massive John Sloan Manuscript Collection.

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