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Review: Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band at the Met

“A Musical Tribute to Thomas Hart Benton”

A Musical Tribute to Thomas Hart Benton with Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band
A Musical Tribute to Thomas Hart Benton with Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band
Panel from "America Today" by Thomas Hart Benton
Panel from "America Today" by Thomas Hart Benton

While soaking in the rich imagery and vibrant colors of Thomas Hart Benton’s 10-panel mural, America Today, in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, you can’t help thinking about how important context is. For years, the mural, commissioned by the New School further downtown on West 12th Street in 1930, languished in its original space, students crashing their chairs up against it until the work began falling into disrepair. If those students or school personnel noticed the piece at all, they missed its grandeur and largely took it for granted. When it was finally rescued, removed from the school to be restored and displayed, few likely even noticed it was gone.

Today, commanding its own room at the Met until April 19, America Today is overpowering, an imposing, panoramic, floor-to-ceiling depiction of teeming, sweaty life in New York City and other American locales several decades ago. Museumgoers seek it out deliberately, stare at it at length and analyze it by section and as a whole; we recognize that it’s important. We can’t imagine that not long ago it was just a fading wall in a school.

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