Graphic Witness: Art and the Rosenberg Era
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Unknown Secrets: Art and the Rosenberg Era


Picasso, untitled lithograph of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, 1952.
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Sue Coe, Needs of the State, 1987



Early in the 1950s, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were accused of conspiring to pass American military secrets to the Soviet Union: specifically, technical information relating to the atomic bomb, which since its unveiling in 1945 had been a technology monopolized by the United States.
The arrest and trial of the Rosenbergs took place at the height of the Cold War.

Fred Ellis, Cold War Warrior, 1952


United States Senator Joseph McCarthy was intimidating innocent citizens with hearings he held before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Some people cooperated with the committee, "naming names."

Paul Marcus, The Greatest Show on Earth, 1987



The committee became a stepping stone into national politics for Richard Nixon, and a shoehorn into the footnotes of history books for Whittaker Chambers, Roy Cohn and the "Pumpkin Papers."
Many of those who were called to testify before HUAC lost their jobs, or were blacklisted, including a number of Hollywood screen writers.


Rockwell Kent, Book Burners, 1951

While some families were brought closer together, others were destroyed by the economic and psychological stress of paranoia masquerading as patriotism. Some couples divorced. Some individuals committed suicide.

Arnold Mesches, The Judge, 1956

Francisco Mora, Help Stop This Crime, 1952

On June 19, 1953, in spite of national and international protests, and appeals all the way to the Supreme Court, the Rosenberg's two young sons were orphaned by state mandate, when their parents were electrocuted at Sing Sing Prison.

Rudolf Baranik, Dictionary of the 24th Century (excerpt), 1987


Baranik has two works in the exhibit, one from 1953, and the other [right], dated 1987.

Thirty years later, Rob Okun, as director of the Rosenberg Era Art Project (REAP), began to organize an exhibition of art made about the Rosenbergs and their era. Along with curator Nina Felshin, he located paintings, posters, prints and sculpture made by artists at that time and shortly afterward. He also included work made more recently by contemporary artists who had either explored the subject matter on their own or who were invited to do so by REAP.


Artists Leon and Paul Marcus are father and son, and both have work in the exhibit. Okun explains:

"...Leon Marcus was visited on a number of occasions in the Fifties by the FBI. Not about his art but about his politics. The harassment became so frequent that Marcus set up his easel in his living room and began painting the scene of the agents standing in the doorway questioning his wife with the couple's small children nearby. He would leave the painting in progress in the doorway so the agents would be forced to confront it when they came calling."

Okun explains that one child in the painting, Marcus's son Paul, grew up to be an artist in his own right (see above), as well as politically active and committed to social justice.

Accompanying the exhibition is a film (Unknown Secrets: Art and the Rosenberg Era) and an extensive catalog, edited by Okun titled The Rosenbergs: Collected Vision of Artists and Writers. Among the writers whose work is included are E. L. Doctorow, W. E. B. DuBois, Allen Ginsburg, Arthur Miller, Adrienne Rich and Peter Selz. The book closes with a poem to her sons, by Ethel Rosenberg, titled If We Die.

The film is distributed through Green Mountain Post Films, PO Box 229, Turners Falls, MA 01376.
The Rosenberg Era Art Project (REAP) is a sponsored program of the Alternative Media Information Center in New York City. Ongoing efforts related to the Rosenberg Era Art Project are being coordinated by Cultural Forecast of Montague, Massachusetts: 37 Ferry Road, Turners Falls, MA 01376 - 413-863- 9402.

See also the Rosenberg Fund for Children





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