Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Los Angeles, CA
The Social Scene
"The Social Scene," featuring selections from The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Photography Collection at MOCA, is composed of more than 300 photographs made between the 1930s and 1980s by major artists working within the documentary tradition. The exhibition opened June 4, 2000 and remains on view through August 20, 2000. Historically significant portfolios by Diane Arbus, Brassaï; Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Helen Levitt, Danny Lyon, Roger Mertin, John Pfahl, and Garry Winogrand will be on view.(left: Helen Levitt, Untitled, c. 1946, image 6 1/2 x 9 5/8 inches, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Photography Collection, Photo: Brian Forrest)
Organized by MOCA associate curator Connie Butler, the exhibition is arranged thematically into six areas: American Icons--Ideas and Issues, Character Studies, Loss of Innocence, Natural Occurrences, Picture-Making, and Social Space.
The work of Diane Arbus offers a glimpse of communities and ways of life that are often shielded from the mainstream eye; her intimate portraits are selected from her posthumous untitled monograph. Brassaï also turned his camera to alternative subjects in his book The Secret Paris of the 1930s, photographing the performers, street cleaners, fortune-tellers, and prostitutes who gathered after-hours in cafés and bars throughout Paris. Selections from Helen Levitt's A Way of Seeing showcase her New York street photography during the 1940s and 1950s, which inspired future generations of photographers to choose the outdoor urban environment as their preferred backdrop. (left: Diane Arbus, A young man with his pregnant wife in Washington Park Square, N.Y.C., 1965, silver print, image 14 1/2 x 14 1/2 inches, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Photography Collection, Photo: Brian Forrest)
Granted a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1955, Robert Frank traveled across the United States by car and photographed postwar American culture. All of Frank's photographs in the exhibition were taken during this cross-country trip and later published in The Americans (l959), with a preface by Jack Kerouac. The work of Lee Friedlander represents a style in which the formal arrangement of the photograph contains the meaning of the image. From Factory Valleys to The American Monument, Friedlander's ironic placement of objects and people reveals uncanny truisms through humorous juxtapositions. Garry Winogrand captured a wide range of subjects--from high-society art openings to working-class women strolling down Fifth Avenue--in Public Relations and Women Are Beautiful. In many images, Winogrand used a wide-angle lens and casual framing, which often mocked these situations. (left: Robert Frank, Backyard - Venice West, California, 1956, gelatin silver print, 11 x 13 7/8 inches overall, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Photography Collection, Photo: Brian Forrest)
Danny Lyon's projects investigate social groups and their surroundings by infiltrating the group and photographing it from within. His book Conversations with the Dead investigates incarceration in six Texas prisons, and The Bikeriders probes the life of motorcycle racers and riders. Roger Mertin's gray-scale images of houses, garages, basketball hoops, and winter trees employ a scientific approach appropriate to the book's title, Records. Stylistically akin in his reductive formal vocabulary to a new wave of documentary photographers of the mid-1970s, Mertin exemplifies a transition point in photography. John Pfahl chooses the contemporary landscape and its unnatural inhabitants as the focus of his photographic investigations. In the color portfolios Power Plants and Arcadia Revisited, nuclear reactors and oil rigs loom on the horizon. (left: Danny Lyon, Untitled, silver print, image 8 x 12 inches, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Photography Collection, Photo: Brian Forrest)
In 1994, MOCA acquired 2,300 photographs from which this thematic selection was drawn. The collection was assembled by Robert Freidus, a New York dealer and collector who represented or worked extensively with several of these artists in the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s, including Clark, Friedlander and Winogrand. The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Photography Collection was named for The Foundation, which funded the purchase of the collection in 1995. (left: Garry Winogrand, Untitled, c. 1975, silver print, image 8 7/8 x 13 1/8 inches, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Photography Collection, Photo: Brian Forrest)
The exhibition is accompanied by a major catalogue, The Social Scene, published by MOCA. This fully illustrated 165-page catalogue features texts by Emily Apter, chair of the department of comparative literature at UCLA; MOCA associate curator Connie Butler; A. D. Coleman, photography historian and critic; Lit Kotz, Los Angeles-based writer and critic; and Max Kozloff, photographer and critic. (left: Lee Friedlander, Portland, Maine, 1962, silver print, image 7 3/8 x 11 1/8 inches, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Photography Collection, Photo: Brian Forrest)
Following its presentation at MOCA, the exhibition will travel to the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art (October 7 to December 30, 2000).
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For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 3/2/11
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