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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Smithsonian photos to exit Jan. 5

James VanDerZee, GGG Photo Studio at Christmas, 1933, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Julia D. Strong Endowment and the Smithsonian, Institution Collections Acquisition Program

It's a great show for a family event over the holidays, and it's free.

What little or big child among us is not interested in pictures?

Tina Barney, Marina's Room, 1987, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, copyright 1987, Tina Barney, courtesy Janet Borden, Inc.
At the American Art Museum the Smithsonian presents a fascinating popular history of the U.S. in photographs, sure to fascinate even the least history-minded person in the bunch and as diverse as one could expect, with land, sky, city, and plenty of peoplescapes to intrigue.

Helen Levitt, New York, c. 1942, printed later, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, copyright 1981,  Helen Levitt

Joe Deal, Backyard, Diamond Bar, CA, from the Los Angeles Documentary Project, 1980, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts through the Photography Museum of Los Angeles, copyright 1980, Joe Deal
To celebrate the 30th birthday of the Smithsonian's photo collection, guest curator, Merry Foresta, the museum's former curator of photography, studied 7,000 images in the collection, selecting 113 pieces for the show which are displayed in four sections: "American Characters," "Spiritual Frontier," "American Inhabited," and "Imagination at Work."

Robert Frank, Butte, Montana, 1956, printed 1973, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase
The name of the exhibition, A Democracy of Images, comes from Walt Whitman who believed the new picture-taking art form, which arrived in the U.S. in 1840, created possibilities for all Americans, Ms. Foresta said. He was right. More than the poet likely could have ever imagined, millions now take pictures using almost as many different kinds of equipment.

O. Winston Link, Living Room on the Tracks, Lithia, Virginia, Dec. 16. 1958, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Vladimir and Eileen Toumanoff, copyright O. Winston Link
At the exhibition's opening, Ms. Foresta briefly described the history of photography in the U.S. which early critics believed "was positioned to do miraculous things," and it did.  Ten years later people lined up to get their pictures made, so thrilled and amazed were they by the medium.

Jeremiah Gurney, Woman and Child, c. 1850, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

The creators designed many of the works for framing, to be hung as pieces of art in the home.

Guests to the show will recognize familiar photographs and see some new ones.  Some of the photographers are familiar (Sally Mann, Annie Liebovitz, Diane Arbus, Walker Evans, Ansel Adams) while others are not.  Some of the picture takers are anonymous like these from the San Francisco Police Department:
Unidentified photographers, San Francisco Police Department, c. 1942, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Richard A. Brodie and James F. Dicke II

A museum statement says the images "explore how photographs have been used to record and catalogue, to impart knowledge, to project social commentary, and as instruments of self-expression." 
It all ends Sunday, so rush is in order.

Robert Disraeli, Cold Day on Cherry Street, 1932, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible by Mr. and Mrs. G. Howland Chase, Mrs. James S. Harlan, Lucie Louise Fery, Berthe Girardet, and Mrs. George M. McClellan, copyright 1932, Robert Disraeli
For helping make the exhibition possible, the people of the United States are grateful to Saundra B. Lane, Lisa and John Pritzker, the Crown Equipment Exhibitions Endowment, the Margery and Edgar Masinter Exhibitions Fund, and the Bernie Stadium Endowment Fund. 

What: A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum

When: Now through Sunday, January 5, 2014, from 11:30 a.m. - 7 p.m. every day

Where: Smithsonian American Art Museum, 8th and F streets, N. W. , First Floor, West

How much: No charge

For more information: 202-633-1000

Metro station: Gallery Place-Chinatown or walk 10 minutes from Metro Center
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