The 'Great Gatsby' era: Johnson exhibit to run in conjunction with student reading project

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It was called the Jazz Age and the Roaring '20s, a time when bootleggers peddled bathtub gin, flappers danced the Charleston and there was money to burn. The 1920s was a profligate postwar time rife with wild indulgence, and it came to an abrupt and sobering end with the onset of the Great Depression.

The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell celebrates the 1920s and the 2006 New Student Reading Project at Cornell with its own take on that remarkable period, "American Art from the 'Great Gatsby' Era," on view from Aug. 18 to Sept. 5.

The three-week show is a highlight of the sixth annual reading project that features F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 classic "The Great Gatsby." The novel is required reading for more than 3,000 incoming freshman and transfer students this fall, and several events will be held on campus and in Ithaca. For more information, visit

"Gatsby, with its central contrast between the glamour of Long Island socialites and the dark secret of Jay Gatsby's humble beginnings, speaks to the economic paradox of American society in the Roaring '20s," said Andrew C. Weislogel, assistant curator and master teacher at the Johnson Museum. "In the same way, American art of the time shows the divide between urban wealth and rural poverty and the plight of the American worker."

This exhibition of prints and photographs from the Johnson's permanent collection offers a varied picture of America during the '20s and the Depression years. Artwork on view ranges from Martin Lewis' New York prints of flappers, fashionable young women from the '20s, to the riveting works of such Works Progress Administration-era printmakers and photographers as Thomas Hart Benton, Arthur Rothstein and Dorothea Lange who documented the effects of hard times on impoverished Americans and celebrated their determination. These works provide an eloquent commentary on the veneer of prosperity seen in "The Great Gatsby" and reinforce the relevance of the novel in our own time, resonating with the ever-widening gap between America's rich and poor.

The Johnson Museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call (607) 255-6464 or visit

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