This work by Ben Shahn depicts 3 identical posters in front of an abstract cityscape

Ben Shahn

American, 1898–1969

May 5, 1949

Tempera on linen on board

24 x 30 inches

Signed lower right

Ben Shahn’s impoverished childhood informed the social commentary of his paintings, which illuminate the oppression suffered by working class, minority, and immigrant families. Shahn likely composed the scene in May 5 from several sources. The architectural elements depicted in the painting are based on the buildings he knew as a child in Brooklyn. The posters—for a minstrel show—are based on ones he photographed in Ohio in 1938 while on an assignment for the Farm Security Administration. Shahn himself designed posters supporting social and political causes for the Office of War Information and the Congress of Industrial Organizations in the 1940s. The posters that appear in May 5,however, present a critical sociological contrast to the positive, progressive messages of his graphic work.

This work by Ben Shahn depicts 3 identical posters in front of an abstract cityscape