When the exhibition Photography – The First 100 Years closed on January 3, 2010, I had a chance to review feedback left behind from visitors who took the time to comment on the work of Walker Evans, who was the first photographer to be recognized with a one-person exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1938. A response station was set up in the gallery and we asked visitors, “are you a fan or a critic” of the late photographer’s work? An overwhelming majority of visitors expressed their praise for Evans’ straight documentary approach to 1930’s American subjects.
Evans was represented by over a dozen photographs in the exhibition, which traced the development of photography by over 50 photographers from about 1840 to 1940. Impressionistic imagery by pictorialist photographers and iconic modernist photographs by Edward Weston, Charles Sheeler and Edward Steichen were on view to the public as well. Walker Evans cared neither for the “artsiness” of the pictorialists nor the slickness of modernism, particularly when applied to advertisting work as seen in work by Edward Steichen.
With nearly 1,000 response cards submitted, I read them all – from eloquent to stoic and sparse – Evans clearly had a few critics, but mostly fans. Here are a few cards that represent a cross-section of the wide variety of responses we received.
Response stations are popular with our visitors and can be found throughout the museum. One particularly active station has been set up in the current Schwartz galleries for the exhibition “Government Support for the Arts: WPA Prints from the 1930s” – to view visitor responses, mostly hand drawn, check out our “WPA Response” Flickr page.