The Train: RFK’s Last Journey

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
San Francisco, CA, USA
17 March – 10 June 2018

On June 8, 1968, three days after the assassination of Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, his body was carried by a funeral train from New York City to Washington, D.C. for burial at Arlington National Cemetery. Just two months after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and five years after President John F. Kennedy’s death, Robert Kennedy’s passing united diverse communities grieving the loss of a politician who had represented hope for much of the nation during a tumultuous decade.
In conjunction with the 50th anniversary of his death, The Train: RFK’s Last Journey looks at this historical journey through three distinct artists’ projects shown together for the first time. Presented in three rooms, each dedicated to one artist, the exhibition features approximately 80 photographs, a video installation and a 70mm film projection.

“This multidisciplinary exhibition shows how art can inform and expand our understanding of history through photographs, videos and documents from different points of view,” said Clément Chéroux, senior curator of photography at SFMOMA. “By bringing historical and contemporary works together in dialogue, we aim to demonstrate a fresh approach to photography at SFMOMA.”

The first work, RFK Funeral Train (1968), is a group of color photographs by Magnum photojournalist Paul Fusco. Taken aboard the funeral train, the images capture the thousands of mourners who spontaneously lined the railway tracks to pay their final respects. Commissioned by Look magazine, Fusco took hundreds of photographs using a panning motion that created a remarkable combination of blurring and light, heightening the movement of the train and illuminating the emotion of the public. Fusco’s images of individuals, communities and families holding flags and farewell signs present a poignant portrait of the American people unified in mourning. SFMOMA is acquiring 26 of these photographs, and several will be on view in the exhibition.

Looking from the opposite vantage point, the second work features photographs and home movies made by the spectators along the train route. These personal snapshots and testimonies were collected by Dutch artist Rein Jelle Terpstra for his project The People’s View (2014–18). Fascinated by Fusco’s photographs, Terpstra retraced the journey of the train, knocking on doors and using Facebook to reach out to the people who had been alongside the tracks that day. On display for the first time, The People’s View captures this important historical event from the reverse perspective of eyewitnesses mourning Robert F. Kennedy.

The third work, June 8, 1968 (2009), by French contemporary artist Philippe Parreno, is a 70mm film reenactment of the funeral train’s journey, inspired by Fusco’s original photographs. The seven-minute film installation creates a sense of floating or suspension, what Parreno has called “the point of view of the dead.” Throughout the film, Parreno examines the tension between still and moving image, past and present.

 

IMAGE:

Paul Fusco. Untitled, from the series RFK Funeral Train, 1968, printed 2008; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, purchase through a gift of Randi and Bob Fisher, Nion McEvoy, Kate and Wes Mitchell, The Black Dog Private Foundation, Candace and Vincent Gaudiani, Michele and Chris Meany, Jane and Larry Reed, and John A. MacMahon; © Magnum Photos, courtesy Danziger Gallery