Born in New York, Anita Weschler graduated from the Parsons School of Design, then continued her studies at the National Academy of Design, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and finally at the Art Students League under William Zorach. As one of the leading American proponents of direct carving, Zorach provided an exemplar for the primitivist simplification of forms. His style influenced hers, although she usually preferred to work in cast stone and bronze rather than in carving. Unlike her teacher, Weschler earned her living through portraiture and sometimes expressed social criticism in sculptures made for public display.
A cofounder of the Sculptors’ Guild in New York, Weschler exhibited there regularly from the late 1930s on. The American Federation of Arts organized a traveling exhibition in 1951. Weschler worked in different modes that ranged from portraiture to abstraction and with a variety of materials such as paint, stone, wood, and bronze.
Victory Ball, 1951
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Weschler made a series of sculptures of antiwar themes ( Martial Music, Shrapnel, and A Time to Die ), all executed in the simplified forms and strong contours of the primitivist style of the 1930s and 1940s. Victory Ball concluded the series with an image of people celebrating the end of World War II. Although ostensibly an expression of joy, this dense, multifigure composition shows the bacchanalian excesses of street celebrations in 1945. Inebriated male figures collapse in a pile, while a lone woman on the right dances with abandon. Attuned to the increasingly consumerist ethos of American society in the early 1950s, Weschler looked back on the 1945 celebrations as harbingers of the excesses to come.
Valerie Fletcher is Senior Curator at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC. Her research on groundbreaking aspects of international, globalized, and transnational art have resulted in numerous exhibitions and publications.