Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist

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This audio guide highlights selected works in Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist. Curators Richard J. Powell, Carter Foster, and others provide additional commentary.

Archibald J. Motley Jr., Between Acts, 1935

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AMY MOONEY: In this work the artist has set up a tableau, and we can sneak into it almost as if we are voyeurs.

NARRATOR: Amy Mooney.

AMY MOONEY: From the background we can see a gentleman standing at the door. He is dressed in a vaudeville costume where we can see a top hat, a cane, a black suit that's too short, large shoes. Also we can see the mode of exaggeration that the artist is employing in terms of his facial characteristics as if he was going to be a performer in the black-face minstrelsy shows that were popular during this period.

Inside the room we see two women who seem to be in between acts, literally that they are performers in a burlesque at this time. They're scantily clad and seemingly in a moment of rest and kind of not aware that we are looking at them.

What's also really interesting though is how much effort the artist put into th

e setting. So many details, everything from a portrait that's included on the wall to very fine woodwork to the almost target-like rug that one of the woman stands on. The artist seems to be going back and forth between elements that we might consider to be low-brow and elements that are considered high-brow and the fact that so often in modern life the two come to be mixed together. We experience them simultaneously.

When we look at the women in particular, we notice that they don't look back at us as in so many of the other portraits that the artist did. I don't think that this tended to be a portrait per se, but rather a slice of life. 

AMY MOONEY: In this work the artist has set up a tableau, and we can sneak into it almost as if we are voyeurs.

NARRATOR: Amy Mooney.

AMY MOONEY: From the background we can see a gentleman standing at the door. He is dressed in a vaudeville costume where we can see a top hat, a cane, a black suit that's too short, large shoes. Also we can see the mode of exaggeration that the artist is employing in terms of his facial characteristics as if he was going to be a performer in the black-face minstrelsy shows that were popular during this period.

Inside the room we see two women who seem to be in between acts, literally that they are performers in a burlesque at this time. They're scantily clad and seemingly in a moment of rest and kind of not aware that we are looking at them.

What's also really interesting though is how much effort the artist put into th

e setting. So many details, everything from a portrait that's included on the wall to very fine woodwork to the almost target-like rug that one of the woman stands on. The artist seems to be going back and forth between elements that we might consider to be low-brow and elements that are considered high-brow and the fact that so often in modern life the two come to be mixed together. We experience them simultaneously.

When we look at the women in particular, we notice that they don't look back at us as in so many of the other portraits that the artist did. I don't think that this tended to be a portrait per se, but rather a slice of life. 


Archibald J. Motley Jr., _Between Acts_, 1935. Oil on canvas, 39 1/2 x 32 in. (100.3 x 81.3 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago; Daniel J. Terra Art Acquisition Endowment Fund. Digital image © Terra Foundation for American Art / Art Resource, New York. © Valerie Gerrard Browne