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Friday, January 6, 2012

Harry Callahan photographs on exhibition at the National Gallery of Art


Harry Callahan
Detroit, 1943
gelatin silver print
overall (sheet, trimmed to image): 8.3 x 11 cm (3 1/4 x 4 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Callahan Family
© Estate of Harry Callahan, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York



Harry Callahan
Eleanor and Barbara, Chicago, 1953
gelatin silver print
overall (image): 19.5 x 24.45 cm (7 11/16 x 9 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Promised Gift of Susan and Peter MacGill
© Estate of Harry Callahan, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York


Harry Callahan
Atlanta, 1985
dye imbibition print
overall (image): 24.4 x 36.7 cm (9 5/8 x 14 7/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Callahan Family
© Estate of Harry Callahan, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York


Not far from DC's core is a photography show which is capable of soothing a busy mind by means of a mental massage.

On the ground floor of the West Building, near the Seventh Avenue entrance at the National Gallery of Art, it is the exhibition of 100+ photographs spread over five galleries in celebration of the 100th birthday of the artist, Harry Callahan (1912-1999), "one of the most innovative artists of the 20th century" who produced "highly experimental, visually daring and elegant photographs," the National Gallery says.

Much like staring at the ocean and its horizon, the still, linear portraits allow the mind to wander aimlessly about a city, along a shore, beneath stark, wintry trees. Scenes of urban life, a captivating 1965 shot of pedestrians on a town sidewalk moving in two directions, a 1956 collage, and "Cutouts" (1956) carry the viewer from romantic influences "back down to earth."

Callahan was fond of lines and undecorated designs without much detail, able to skillfully convey haunting images of nature, city life, and his wife, Eleanor.

Five galleries of his photos are arranged chronologically and thematically, according to his life.

Hanging in the first gallery of the exhibition are black and white 1940 scenes of Detroit where he was born. Like today, Detroit looks rather bleak and bare (although word on the street says a revival in Motor City is presently underway). Found also in this gallery is an unusual self-portrait, a shadowy silhouette of Callahan's face superimposed on his shoes in multiple images which he made in 1942 in homage to Albert Stieglitz.  It is one of 45 photographs given to the National Gallery by Eleanor and their daughter, Barbara, in honor of the exhibition.

Those he loved most dearly, Eleanor and Barbara, are subjects in the second gallery, notably Eleanor, a classy nude in many whispery, unpretentious black and whites. The head of the National Gallery's photography department and senior curator, Sarah Greenough who consulted with Callahan, said Mrs. Callahan posed for her husband at any time and place he asked. (Some husbands might want to know his secrets.)

In the third gallery is Chicago from the 1940s and 1950s, and color appears in the fourth gallery with pictures of Providence and Cape Cod where mass culture's effects are observed.
The last gallery, "Later Works," depict places Callahan and Eleanor visited before his death: Atlanta, Ireland, Morocco.
Without any formal training in the medium, Callahan's artistic talent was recognized early on, and he was invited to teach at the Institute of Design in Chicago and the Rhode Island School of Design where hundreds of students enjoyed his lessons over the years.

The Trellis Fund is a major sponsor of the exhibition.

What: 100 photographs for Harry Callahan's Centennial Celebration
When: Now through March 4. The National Gallery of Art is open seven days a week from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday
Where: The West Building of the National Gallery of Art on the National Mall between Fourth and Seventh streets, NW along Constitution Avenue
How much: Admission is always free at the National Gallery of Art
Metro stations: Smithsonian, Navy-Memorial/Archives, Judiciary Square, China Town/Gallery Place, or ride the Circulator bus
For more information: 202-737-4215

And if you visit this weekend, you cannot dare miss the magnificent Gothic tapestries exhibition from Spain, set to close January 8 (East Building).

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