For a 1932 mural exhibition at MoMA, Ben Shahn submitted a design depicting Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Italianborn American anarchists convicted of murder and executed in the 1920s. The trial was a political flashpoint, as their indictment was inflected by anti-Italian and anti-immigrant fervor. Shahn’s mural design was among those that provoked a debate in the press. “The subject that I chose is an aspect of modern life that stirred my feelings deeply,” Shahn wrote in his defense. “I painted it with all the sincerity and skill I possessed and, in my judgment, there is no reason in the world why a mural on this subject should not be exhibited.”
Gallery label from Lincoln Kirstein’s Modern, March 17 – June 15, 2019.