American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood at PEM

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The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) presents the first major traveling exhibition about American painter Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) in more than 25 years. American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood explores how the motion picture industry influenced and ignited Benton's creative imagination. Melding Old Master European painting traditions with Hollywood's cinematic and production techniques, Benton reinvented 20th-century American narratives and captivated the public with his signature brand of visual storytelling. As lead organizer of American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood, PEM hosts the exhibition from June 6 through September 7, 2015. The exhibition then travels to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, PEM's collaborating partners on the exhibition. The Milwaukee Art Museum serves as final venue for the national tour.

This major reevaluation of Benton's art -- the first since 1989 -- gathers more than 100 works, including the artist's paintings, murals, drawings, prints and illustrated books. The exhibition pairs curated clips from Hollywood movies with Benton's art from the 1920s through the 1960s to take visitors on a journey through America's myths and into its national character.

PUBLIC DISCUSSION DAY | FRIDAY, JUNE 5 | 10 am-4 pm | FREE with admission

Thomas Hart Benton and American Storytelling: Explore the art of American storytelling from the perspectives of film critics, scholars of American art and culture, production designers and writers. This program features presentations, conversations and moderated panel discussions to consider the epics that inspired Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood - cultural identity, westward expansion, race relations, war and the American Dream. Participants include, among others,  production designer Charles McCarry, Benton expert Erika Doss, exhibition catalog author Jake Milgram Wien, American art scholar and guitarist Leo Mazow, and Jessie Benton, the artist's daughter. Reservations by June 4. Visit for details.


OPENING DAY CELEBRATION | SATURDAY, JUNE 6 | 11 am-4 pm | FREE with admission

MUSIC PERFORMANCE: Craig Edwards & Friends | Noon-1:30 pm | Atrium

Craig Edwards plays a broad range of American roots music, the soundtrack popular during Thomas Hart Benton's heyday. Enjoy traditional fiddle styles including Appalachian old-time, blues, bluegrass, Cajun and swing.


PRESENTATION: In Conversation with Curators of Art and Film | 2-3 pm | Morse Auditorium

Join Austen Barron Bailly, the exhibition's curator and PEM's George Putnam Curator of American Art,and film expert Matthew Bernstein as they explore the connection between Benton's art and Hollywood, as well as their collaboration and Bernstein's role as film curator for the exhibition. Bernstein and Bailly segue to a discussion of The Grapes of Wrath as expressed in Benton's art and the film directed by John Ford. Reservations by June 2.


FILM: The Grapes of Wrath | 3:30-6 pm | Morse Auditorium

The Grapes of Wrath is John Ford's most famous black-and-white epic drama - the classic adaptation of John Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel illustrated by Thomas Hart Benton. This film, starring Henry Fonda, captures the impact of a mid-1930s drought and the Great Depression upon one representative family - the Joads. Introduction by film expert Matthew Bernstein. 1940, 129 minutes. Reservations by June 2.


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