Tag Archives: Walker Evans

DIA visitors weigh in on the photographs of Walker Evans

Response station for the recent DIA photo exhibition

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.

View of Walker Evans' photographs in the DIA exhibition "Photography: The First 100 Years"

View of Walker Evans' photographs in the DIA exhibition "Photography: The First 100 Years"

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.

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The First 100 Years of Photography – Exhibition to Open Sept. 2@the DIA

Julia Margaret Cameron, Enid from Idylls of the King, 1874

Julia Margaret Cameron, Enid from Idylls of the King, 1874

On September 2 the DIA opens a new exhibition, Photography – The First 100 Years: A Survey from the DIA’s Collection. Taking a look at the early years of photography and its development as a new art form, the DIA presents a survey of 90 works from its collection. Included are a number of notable rare works from the 19th century as well as iconic imagery from the 1920s and 1930s. Photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron, Edward Weston, Walker Evans, Margaret Bourke White, Dorothea Lange in addition to 50 other pioneers and great innovators of the medium are on view in the exhibition which runs through January 3, 2010.

Unknown Photographer, Soldier and Companion, 1861-65, tintype.

Unknown Photographer, Soldier and Companion, 1861-65, tintype.

One of the highlights from this exhibition is a tintype portrait of an African American couple from the 1860s. The process, a photographic image made on metal, appeared in the 1850s.  The DIA was fortunate enough to acquire it back in 2001, when it went on the auction block with other items from the collection of Jackie Napoleon Wilson, a Detroiter who developed an important and rare collection of 19th-century portraits of African Americans over the years. The exhibition moves onward from the 19th century with sections devoted to the pictorialist, modernist and social documentary eras. Photography – The First 100 Years kicks off a new and exciting season of photography exhibitions this fall 2009 and into spring 2010 at the DIA – here’s the round-up:

Avedon Fashion Photographs 1944-2000– opening October 18, 2009 through January 17, 2010. The DIA will host the first large-scale fashion retrospective since Richard Avedon’s death in 2004. Organized by the International Center for Photography, New York, the exhibition includes 181 images – many are well-known photographs – in addition to magazines and other interesting ephemera that illustrates the long and legendary career of one of America’s most successful and interesting photographers.

Detroit Experiences: Robert Frank Photographs 1955 opening March 3 through July 4, 2010. This exhibition includes over 60 black-and white photographs taken by Robert Frank in Detroit. Made during his travels through the U.S. photographing for his book The Americans, Frank observed Detroiters as they lived and worked at mid century in the U.S. In this rare body of work, many of which will be on view for the first time at the DIA, Frank documented the day-to-day lives of Americans as he tried to mingle with assembly line workers at the Rouge Factory, took in a movie at the Gratiot Drive-In, and experienced public life on Belle Isle and in the streets of Detroit. All were part of the Detroit experience as Frank perceived it over fifty years ago.

Photography@DIA – Future Programs & Exhibitions in 2009

Many thanks to Michelle Stamler for posting recently on her involvement with Roeper High School photo students and the DIA. I am looking forward to their visit later this month at the DIA to view Of Life and Loss and talk about their work inspired by this exhibition. I did not expect such an overwhelming response to this exhibition. There is a constant stream of visitors in our galleries everyday.  And it seems that this very powerful group of photographs speak to a very diverse group of visitors on so many different levels with great emotional impact and resonance. I was fortunate to have exhibition curator Karen Sinsheimer deliver the most-illuminating lecture on Of Life and Loss this past Sunday to over 100 people in the DIA’s lecture hall.

Penny Picture Display, Savannah, 1936, by Walker Evans

Penny Picture Display, Savannah, 1936, by Walker Evans

The DIA is moving forward with our other photo exhibitions and programs for the year. This past week I have been busy working with interpretive educator Madeleine Winslow on an upcoming exhibition Photography-The First 100 Years. Although the exhibition does not open until September 2, 2009, plans for installation and development of interpretative materials for the gallery take place months and sometimes years in advance. Madeleine and I hope to get some feedback from our visitors in the gallery with a reader response table focused on the work of Walker Evans one of the featured artists in the exhibition. We plan to set up some online opportunities to hear your thoughts as well.

Avedon Fashion preThe exhibition Avedon Fashion Photographs 1944-2000 will also open at the DIA on October 18. 2009. I was fortunate to get an advance copy on the catalogue with essays by exhibition curators Carol Squiers and Vince Aletti. The authors have given their undivided and thorough attention to this very productive and influential period of the photographer’s career in fashion editorial work that appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue  and in later years for the Versace campaign beginning in 1980 and eventually as staff photographer for The New Yorker. The exhibition opened last week at the International Center for Photography, New York, and a sneak peak of some of Avedon’s fashion work can be found at the New Yorker Online – Here at the DIA, the exhibition will get four-star treatment in our special exhibition space with an elegant installation and some exciting programs and events to soon be announced.