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No. 8, July 2000
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Walker Evans
biography and exhibition
 
Exhibition: Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York (ended in May 2000), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (June 2 - September 12, 2000), Museum of Fine Arts in Houston (December 17, 2000 - March 11, 2001).
 
Catalogue: Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York in association with Princeton University Press, Princeton. March 2000, Hardcover, 318 p., including the 176 exhibition and other photographs and six essays by Maria Morris Hambourg, Douglas Ecklund, Jeff L. Rosenheim and Mia Fineman. Get the catalogue from Amazon.com or from Amazon.co.uk
 
On the left: Walker Evans [Coal dock Workers, Havana], 1933. Photograph: catalogue.
It was the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York which mounted the first important exhibition of American photographer Walker Evans (1903-1975) and published Evan's classic book American Photographs in 1938. A second MoMA retrospective and catalogue was organized in 1971. After the artist's death, more books and traveling exhibitions followed.
 
The present exhibition and catalogue are the first based on the unrestricted access to the artist's extensive papers (manuscripts, diaries, field notes, correspondence, personal library, collections) and stores of negatives. They were acquired by the MoMA in 1994. The materials have since been sifted, organized, catalogued and constitute the Walker Evans Archive within the MoMA's department of Photographs. Because Evans left his entire output to posterity, one can not only reexamine his most celebrated photographs but also trace the evolution of his thought and map his creative development in a very complete way.
 
The researchers work helped to identify several hundred previously unknown negatives by Evans in The Library of Congress in Washington, which contains its own file of his work. The exhibition and catalogue, which contains six essays presenting the artist, his life and work (e.g. his relation with the American South and his subway portraits), show over 175 of Evans' finest photographs.

Walker Evans: Main Street, Saratoga Springs, New York, 1931. Photograph: catalogue.

Walker Evans [Street Scene, New York], 1928. Photograph: catalogue.
Walker Evans was born in Saint Louis in 1903. His father was an ambitious advertising executive. The family moved to a new suburb north of Chicago. When Walker was twelve, his father took a job in Toledo, Ohio, with the Willys (Jeep) Motorcar Company. It was a shocking experience for Walker to live in a small town full of immigrants. His parents divorced. His mother and sister moved to New York in 1919, his father stayed in Ohio and moved in with the woman next door. Walker, 16, was sent to  a boarding school in northern Connecticut where expressed his rage by arguing continually with his headmaster. Later, Yale refused him entrance and he finally went to Williams College instead (1922/23). He was much into contemporary literature (Eliot, Pound, Joyce, Hemingway). After his freshman year, he dropped out of college. In 1923/24, living in New York, he began to write.
 
In 1926, he sailed for Paris and stayed abroad thirteen months where his accomplished his education in international modernism and had gathered most of the tools he would need to become an artist. He return to New York in May of 1927, together with his French books, his literary aspirations and his handful of little photographs. He translated Cocteau and Larbaud, worked in a Fifty-Seventh Street bookstore and made new friends who made him discover modern photographers.
 
In late 1928 or early 1929, Evans went to see 65-year old patriarch of American fine-art photography Alfred Stieglitz. The master was not in, but his wife, Georgia O'Keeffe, had a look at his photographs. Later, the two man not only did not like each other, but Evans also rejected Stieglitz's sumptuous, highly subjective and aestheticising photographs which he saw in 1929 at a MoMA-exhibition. Evans established his own documentary style as a Stieglitz antipode. He refined his concept of his subject and worked to make a seemingly simple, straightforward image appear inevitable, large in its symbolism, and irreducibly right (Philippe de Montebello).

Evans was influenced by the French photographer Eugène Atget, whose work he got to now in 1929 thanks to his friend Berenice Abbott. Walker was also impressed by another Frenchman, Henri Cartier-Bresson, whose pictures he admired when they were first shown in New York in 1933.
 
In the 1930s, Walker made famous photographs of the depression era in the American South. Among them is a series of pictures of 1936 which he shot when living - together with the writes James Agee - in the world of three sharecropper families. The result of the experience was his classic book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. From 1945 until 1965, when he accepted a professorship at Yale University, Evans worked as a staff photographer for Fortune. He died in 1975.
 


The exhibition and catalogue not only show his photographs from the American South, but also Evans' spare interiors, urban juxtapositions, gatherings in small towns, roadside stands, city-dwellers caught in moments of private isolations, etc. A major contribution to the history of American photography, get the catalogue from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. For the museums' websites and other links: Links. For information on the art market check the world's leader Artprice.

www.cosmopolis.ch
No. 8, July 2000
current edition & archives
Art  Film  Music  History  Politics  Archives
Links  For Advertisers  Feedback  German edition  Travel

Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.