Kay Sage (American, 1898-1963),
oil on canvas, 45 x 35 in.; 114.3 x 88.9 cm
Museum Purchase, 1994.19
Through artwork and poetry, Kay Sage forged a unique path in the Surrealist movement. Emerging in Paris just after the onset of World War I, Surrealism reacted to the cultural and political conventions that had propelled modern nations into conflict. Sage and her contemporaries, most of whom were male, believed art should be a liberating force in society, and as such championed the release of the imagination through the exploration of play, dreams, and desire.
Sage rejected the vibrant color palette and mind-bending imagery favored by many of the Surrealist painters, choosing instead to compose muted canvases that toe the line between realism and fantasy. In Men Working, a peculiar skyscraper stands sentinel before a vast, patchwork plain. Separating a seemingly abandoned urban setting and a barren rural landscape, the ominous building suggests a transition from the known to the unknown, though the artist does not divulge which might be more perilous. Like many of Sage's paintings, Men Working merely hints at the one-time presence of humans, displaying the detritus of lived experience as evidence. In portraying haunting worlds that leave interpretation in the viewer's hands, sage draws on the mind's capacity to blur the distinction between what is real and what is imagined.