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Building a Babylon

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Building a Babylon

Artist: Martin Lewis (American, born Australia, 1881 - 1962)

Date: 1929
Medium: Drypoint on paper
Overall: 16 11/16 × 11 5/8in. (42.4 × 29.5cm)
Image: 12 13/16 × 7 3/4in. (32.5 × 19.7cm)
Signed: Recto, lower left [in graphite]: "Building a Babylon"; lower right [in graphite]: "Martin Lewis-"
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 81.22
Label Text
Babylon was an ancient Mesopotamian city about 60 miles southwest of Baghdad. It is referred to several times in the Bible, always unfavorably (check out the Book of Revelation, chapter 17), which is how the name became synonymous with self-indulgent pleasures.

In this image Martin Lewis, a master intaglio printmaker, exploited etching’s potential for strong light and dark contrasts to create a dramatic nighttime scene. The point of view is from the bottom of a deep dig, well below street level. A lone anonymous figure wanders through the construction site, which is for a high-rise apartment building. Lewis disliked the idea of this kind of residence:

I would certainly hate like hell to have to live in these crowded beehives . . . You may be sure, however, that they will be filled just like a wasp’s nest or beehive, and without doubt the future city dweller will take on the insect character more or less determined by the structured limitations of his dwelling place.

Mary E. Murray
Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Presumed copyright: the artist or the artist's representative/heir(s).