Few images capture moments in American history as clearly as the oeuvre of Walker Evans. An American photographer whose influence on the evolution of ambitious photography during the second half of the 20th century was perhaps greatest than that of any other figure, he rejected the prevailing highly aestheticized view of artistic photography and constructed an artistic strategy based on the poetic resonance of common but exemplary themes. Documenting and distilling the essence of life in America, he has left a legacy that continues to influence generations of artists. After Centre Pompidou, the major retrospective of his work will soon be mounted at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. A highly comprehensive exposition, it will highlight the photographer’s fascination with American popular culture or vernacular.
By elevating the vernacular to the rank of art, Walker Evans created a unique body of work celebrating the beauty of everyday life. Through iconic images from his rich oeuvre, such as the work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) documenting the effects of the Great Depression on American life, early visits to Cuba, street photography and portraits made on the New York City subway, layouts and portfolios from his more than 20-year collaboration with Fortune magazine and 1970s Polaroids, the exhibition showcases the photographer's search for the familiar, quotidian street language of symbols of the American culture. The show will feature over 300 vintage prints from the 1930s to the 1970s, accompanied by more than 100 additional objects and documents including examples of the artist’s paintings; items providing visual inspiration sourced from Evans’ personal collections of postcards, graphic arts, enameled plates, cut images and signage; as well as his personal scrapbooks and ephemera.
Conceived as a thematic presentation, the exhibition begins with a display of Evans’ early modernist work created before he focused on the visual portfolio of everyday life. It than examines his fascination with the vernacular through two thematic contexts. The first half focuses on many of the subjects that preoccupied Evans throughout his career – the classic documentary images of life in America seen in the faces of office workers, laborers and people on the street, as well as mass-produced objects that moved him. The second half explores his preoccupation with the methodology of vernacular photography with examples that include architecture, catalog and postcard photography as well as studio portraiture. This work is juxtaposed with key source materials from the artist’s personal collections of 10,000 postcards, hand-painted signage and graphic ephemera. The show concludes with Evans’ look at photography itself, with photographs that unite his use of the vernacular as both a subject and a method.
The Walker Evans exhibition will be on view at SFMOMA in San Francisco from September 30th, 2017 until February 4th, 2018. It will encompass all galleries in the museum's Pritzker Center for Photography, the largest space dedicated to the exhibition, study and interpretation of photography at any art museum in the country. This exhibition is organized by the Centre Pompidou, Paris, in collaboration with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, with major support provided by Randi and Bob Fisher. The show will be accompanied by a fully illustrated, 320-page catalogue featuring essays by Svetlana Alpers, Anne Bertrand, David Campany, Clément Chéroux, Julie Jones, Didier Ottinger, Jeff L. Rosenheim and Jerry L. Thompson. The English edition is published by Centre Pompidou and DelMonico Books • Prestel.
Featured images: Walker Evans - Lenoir Book Co., Main Street. Showing Confederate Monument, Lenoir, North Carolina [from Walker Evans’s personal collection], 1900-40. Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Walker Evans Archive; © Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Untitled, 1960s. Collection of The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; © Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Walker Evans - Roadside Stand Near Birmingham/Roadside Store Between Tuscaloosa and Greensboro, Alabama, 1936. Collection of The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; © Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. All images courtesy of SFMOMA.