The MoMA’s Artist As Reporter Show



In 1940 the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York staged an unusual competition exhibition – The Artist as Reporter. It was co-sponsored by the soon-to-debut PM newspaper as “a search for artists who could report the news with brush and pen.” A call for entries went out to 10,000 artists in New York and beyond, and the best entries were to be selected by a jury of distinguished artists including John Sloan and William Gropper. $1750.00 dollars in prizes were offered ($30,813.00 in today’s dollars)  including one prize was chosen by visitors to the exhibition.

In the press release, Nelson A. Rockefeller, president of the Museum of Modern Art, said in announcing the competition, “The Museum of Modern Art is always eager to encourage new avenues of opportunity for the American artist. That is why we are delighted to cooperate in this competition, which promises to open up new possibilities for the artist and to expand the field of journalistic art. In this connection it is interesting to recall that the work of Winslow Homer, one of our greatest artists, first came prominantly to public notice when he was a pictorial artist for Harper’s Weekly.  And the tradion of journalistic art (which one gave employment to hundreds of artists) has associated with it the names of such outstanding American artists as George Liks, William J. Glackens and John Sloan.”


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Call for Entry


In the call for entries, Journalistic Art is defined:

“What is Journalistic Art? It may be a drawing or painting of some violent or dramatic action, a rescue at a fire, a strike scene, a police raid, a prize fight. And certainly the whole world of sports. Or it may be a sketch of faces in the news: well-known faces of politicians, criminals, attorneys, theatre people; or of unknown faces, of people the news affects – wives waiting at a mine rescue, men on a picket line, children on the impatient line for “Pinocchio.”

Or a picture could be a record of contemporary scenes that will one day spell 1940: workman patching the Trylon at the World’s Fair; a man selling “Confucious Say” handbills on Broadway. It could be, too, a purely descriptive picture of a parade, a horse-race, a crowd in the bleachers.

These then would be journalistic pictures, with the Artist as Reporter. And there are many others. The news-minded artist will discover them for himself.”


1,926 entries came in for the competition (1,463 from New York) and approximately 200 were chosen for the show. Familiar names (to me) among the included artists were artists Ben Shahn, Philip Guston and Reginald Marsh along with New Yorker magazine cover artists Arthur Getz and Garrett Price.  Abraham Jaffee (better known as Al Jaffee of MAD Magazine fame) was also in the show, along with Richard Scarry, the legendary children’s book artist (the creator of Busytown).

There was a descent number of women in the exhibition as well, for the time: Nan Lurie, Elizabeth Olds, Lisa Rhanna, Wilma Riley, Doris Rosenthal, Julia Rogers, Georgette Seabrooks, Bernarda Byson Shahn, Helen R. Stoller and Sylvia Wald.


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Opening Night

PM went on to be a very influential but short-lived newspaper. The very visual paper featured over 400 comics by Dr. Seuss, and also a comic strip (Barnaby) by Crockett Johnson, who later wrote Harold and The Purple Crayon. Another contributing artist was the abstract expressionist, Ad Reinhardt. Among the many photographers who published were Margaret Bourke-White and Arthur Felig – better known as “Weegee”.

More information can be found at the MoMA website.


Further Observation

At the end of the Call for Entries comes this curious addition: “P.M. doubts that staff jobs with salaries is the best way to employ artists. Rather it believes in finding and knowing 30-40 artist whom it may call on.”

I wonder if the participating artist would agree with that.