Walker Evans American Photographs
The Museum of Modern Art
New York, USA
Until 26 January 2014
This installation celebrates the 75th anniversary of the first one-person photography exhibition in MoMA’s history, and the accompanying landmark publication, which established the potential of the photographer’s book as an indivisible work of art. Through these projects Walker Evans created a collective portrait of the eastern United States during a decade of profound transformation—one that coincided with the flood of everyday images, both still and moving, from an expanding mass culture, and the construction of a Modernist history of photography. As Lincoln Kirstein wrote in his essay for the book, “After looking at these pictures with all their clear, hideous and beautiful detail, their open insanity and pitiful grandeur, compare this vision of a continent as it is, not as it might be or as it was, with any other coherent vision that we have had since the war. What poet has said as much? What painter has shown as much? Only newspapers, the writers of popular music, the technicians of advertising and radio have in their blind energy accidentally, fortuitously, evoked for future historians such a powerful monument to our moment. And Evans’s work has, in addition, logic, continuity, climax, sense and perfection.”
Comprising approximately 60 prints from the Museum’s collection that were included in the 1938 exhibition or the accompanying publication, the current installation maintains the bipartite presentation of the originals; the first section portrays American society through images of its individuals and social environments, while the second consists of photographs of the relics that constitute expressions of an American cultural identity—the architecture of Main streets, factory towns, rural churches, and wooden houses. The pictures provide neither a coherent narrative nor a singular meaning, but rather create connections through the repetition and interplay of pictorial structures and subject matter. Its placement on the fourth floor of the Museum—between galleries featuring the paintings of Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol—underscores the continuation of prewar avant-garde practices in America and the unique legacy of Evans’s explorations of signs and symbols, commercial culture, and the vernacular. Their profound impact on not only photography, but also film, literature, and the visual arts, reverberates today.
Organized by Sarah Hermanson Meister, Curator, Research and Collections, with Drew Sawyer, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography
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