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Rebel Arts Group – Rare Posters and Placards from the 1930’s Socialist Arts Collective

Exhibition: January 14th – February 20th, 2016


Steven Kasher Gallery presents a rare collection of banners and placards created by the Rebel Arts Group, a left-wing artist’s cooperative that included such figures as Harry Herzog, Alex Haberstroch and Fairfield Porter. This extremely rare set includes 18 banners and 5 placards, created from 1936-39. The collection provides a representative cross-section of works designed by the Rebel Arts Group for use in Depression-era May Day parades and other events to promote the primary objectives of the Popular Front. The Greenwich Village based group was the party’s strongest opportunity for the development of arts-activism, and took its cue from the already powerful Communist arts-activism model.


Formed in 1934 by a group of students from the Rand School for Social Science, an important institution supported by the Socialist Party, the Workmen’s Circle and various socialist-led unions, Rebel Arts emerged as the Socialist Party’s answer to the John Reed Club of New York. Led by writer and Socialist Party officer Samuel H. Friedman (1897-1990), Rebel Arts produced plays, music, and murals exploring the intersection of art and revolutionary ideology. Friedman understood the importance of the arts and culture as a means of promoting the primary objective of their political cause.


Rebel Art’s agenda was largely theatrical, offering a series of radical plays in various New York union halls. The group also sponsored a drama club, camera club, chess club, Puppet Theater and also broadcast dramas on the radio station WEVD, which took its call letters from the initials of Socialist leader Eugene V. Debs. In 1935, the group published the Rebel Song Book, an all-inclusive compilation of music. In line with the Socialist message, the book is all-inclusive, often arming old music with new, radical lyrics, folk songs, hymns and spirituals alongside WWI staples and global socialist anthems. That same year, the group produced a monthly periodical called ARISE: Socialist and Labor Culture Magazine. The publications’ manifesto made its mission clear:


“[ARISE] will take sides in the class struggle- the side of the working class. It will be a cultural forum for artists in all fields who are eager to contribute to the great movement of workers of hand and brain which fights for the conquest of society for the benefit of the masses. Realizing that art is a weapon, and should be used by workers for the working class. ARISE will wield that weapon for the toiling masses along the whole cultural front- graphic arts, photography, literature, the drama, the dance, music and criticism.”


The collection includes designs created by contributing artists including Harry Herzog, who would go on to create posters and murals for the WPA; Fairfield Porter, who would go on to eminence as one of the most important representational painters of the Sixties and Seventies; and Alex Haberstroh, a Socialist Party member and close associate of Porter’s.


Rebel Arts Group banners and placards will be on view January 14th – February 20th, 2016 at Steven Kasher Gallery, located at 515 W. 26th St., New York, NY 10001. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 AM to 6 PM. For more information about the exhibition and all other general inquiries, please contact Cassandra Johnson, 212 966 3978,