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Artwork Image: "Studio with Air Filter" (detail) by Amer Kobaslija, Oil on aluminum, 18 x 15 inches, 2020
“Building the World of Tomorrow: Disability, Eugenics, and Sculpture at the 1939 New York World’s Fair” by Keri Watson
One of the most important cultural events of the twentieth century, the 1939 New York World’s Fair opened amid the turmoil of a global economic depression and escalating tensions that would soon erupt into a second world war. Despite such dire circumstances, the fair, optimistically subtitled “Building the World of Tomorrow,” was the most spectacular exposition ever held in the United States and one of the best-attended events of the first half of the twentieth century. The result of close collaboration between corporations, private investors, and local, state, and federal governments, the 1939 New York World’s Fair was one of the largest expositions ever held—twice the size of the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition—and its grounds were decorated with monumental sculptures celebrating America’s past and future. Although the abstract and geometric Trylon and Perisphere marked the center of the fairgrounds and decorated a myriad of souvenirs from postcards to ashtrays, the majority of the fair’s sculptural decoration, from James Earle Fraser’s George Washington to William Zorach’s The Builders of Tomorrow, was figurative. What did visitors make of these sculptures and how did they help shape the “World of Tomorrow?” This presentation examines the fair’s sculptural program to explore the ways in which it drew upon eugenics to simultaneously construct the typical American as white and able-bodied and signal the fear of bodily “degeneration” that characterized the Great Depression.

Featured Image: Joseph E. Renier, Speed, New York World's Fair Court of Communications Building Statue, 1938-1939, plaster.

Oct 20, 2020 10:00 AM in Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Featured Image: Joseph E. Renier, Speed, New York World's Fair Court of Communications Building Statue, 1938-1939, plaster.
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