Rare Acquisition | Artists Equity New York City Limited Edition Lithographs

Period Paper has obtained an extraordinary, ultra-rare collection of original lithographs by some of the premier graphic artists of the 1950's (Many from the New York City Area). These lithographs were produced for an annual art event in the 1950's for local businesses and major corporations largely based in New York. Historically important for corporate archivists, these are extremely difficult to locate and are virtually unseen individually. The original lithographs were produced in only one edition, and included just 2,000. These lithographs are perhaps the most unique, rare, important advertising collectibles that exist for businesses and corporations.

The association that held the event, the Artist’s Equity, was founded in 1947 after seeing the need for an organization to protect American artists economically and to find a place for them in postwar America. The relief programs of the Great Depression had disappeared after World War II, but there was a sense from artists that after the war, the general public would have more appreciation and support for art since it had covered so many public buildings in murals as part of the Federal Art Project.

Unfortunately, this was not the case, and after a series of exhibitions titled “Advancing American Art”—featuring prominent artists like Georgia O’Keefe, Reginald Marsh, and Yasuo Kuniyoshi—were canceled during their tour of Europe, the art climate worsened. Newspapers projected artists as undemocratic leftist radicals that devalued traditional artistic styles. President Truman had a conservative approach to art, hated abstraction, and feared a contamination of American values, and so there was a need for American artists to band together and form a foundation to create job opportunities for themselves.

Kuniyoshi fostered the new organization, and brought together over 160 well-known artists of various schools, including Ben Shahn, William Gropper, George Biddle, Jacob Lawrence, and Max Weber. The mission of Artist’s Equity was to encourage legislation to help the fine arts, deal with problems of copyright and royalties in the new medium of television, and to establish a welfare fund for artists. To become a part of the organization, artists would have to prove that either they had a one-person show at a respected locale, or that they had been included in a major exhibition.

The first public meeting of the Artist’s Equity was held at the Museum of Modern Art on April 30, 1947. Kuniyoshi discussed the issues facing the artists and explored a 15-point program as outlined by Harry Sternberg, the program’s chairman. Art Digest noted “If a bomb had dropped on the Museum of Modern Art the evening of April 30, it would probably have set American art back a quarter century.”

The organization lasted until 1965 when tensions rose between the New York chapter and the national association, and the New York chapter split. It continues today with minor name changes, and another still thrives in Washington D. C. Today, they work on the well-being of their art members, the health hazards of artist’s materials, and contracts with dealers.

Find the entire collection here. 

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