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Friday, June 6, 2014

Last chance to see Garry Winogrand pictures at the National Gallery of Art

The cover of the catalogue, Garry Winogrand, edited by Leo Rubinfien, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Yale University Press, 2013

Garry Winogrand (1928-1984) may not be a household name, but his pictures are classics.

Almost 200 of them on display through Sunday at the National Gallery of Art. In the words of guest curator, Leo Rubinfien, Mr. Winogrand's friend and photographer, they are "an epic picture of American life," unlike those captured by any other.

Garry Winogrand (1928-1984), New York World's Fair, 1964, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
 
One of the nation's most respected photographers, Mr. Winogrand is chiefly known as a diarist of New York.

Sarah Greenough, a senior curator and head of photographs at the National Gallery of Art, said the New Yorkers photographed by Mr. Winogrand illustrate a "powerful sense of anxiety." The pictures depict "who we are and how we feel."  
Garry Winogrand (1928-1984), Centennial Ball, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Mr. Winogrand, a Bronx native, did not stay in New York.  Guggenheim Fellowships enabled his travel to other parts of the U.S., to large cities and the Southwest, where he took thousands of pictures which tell the stories of life on city streets, beaches, and other public places in post World War II America, a time of vast upheaval, the 1960s and 70s.

The big hair, the heavy makeup, the slick and stand-up hair for men, the styles, the huge cars, the "gas hogs," the demonstrations, sex. It's all here.

Mr. Winogrand, influenced by Robert Frank and Walker Evans, captured the land's mood and spirit in black and white, still videos, the work of a pictorial historian whom Mr. Rubinfien compares to Walt Whitman.

Many of the pictures reveal private moments of passersby on city streets, lost in thought and worry.  Their anguish is palpable. As with many photography exhibitions, a viewer may experience feeling like a voyeur, observing day-to-day lives of citizens who rarely smile or express sunny dispositions, but rather, they are like people found on sidewalks today everywhere, anxious and stressed. There we are.

In a video at Rice University taped in 1977 which runs continuously in the show, Mr. Winogrand, seated with his feet propped on a chair, answers questions from students who are offstage.

"I don't think you learn from teachers; you learn from working," he says.

And yes, he agrees, he does photograph a lot of women, but he is not obsessed by them. 

The pictures tell a different story.
 
What Mr. Winogrand didn't have time to do before he died of gall bladder cancer at age 56, was to edit his 22,000 contact sheets and thousands of rolls of film, but Mr. Rubenfien did.  He spent three years studying, developing, and making choices from Mr. Winogrand's collection of thousands of images, sometimes with Mr. Winogrand's handwritten directions found on the sheets.

Many of the 190 selections in the show have never been publicly displayed including one of John F. Kennedy with four African-Americans at the 1960 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. 

Garry Winogrand (1928-1984), Garry Winogrand Archives, Center for Creative Photography, the University of Arizona, copyright, the estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy, Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Some say that later in his career, Mr. Winogrand "lost his touch," and the National Gallery show seems to affirm the criticism (or perhaps it is the power of suggestion).  The spark and lustre of his earlier works are missing in the last two galleries, and what are represented are more common and indistinctive scenes and individuals.

Mr. Rubinfien edited the catalogue which notes that some of the later pictures are still, quiet, without "the energetic roiling of the urban crowd" found in earlier scenes which generally feature younger, more attractive people. 

At the end "the people here...seem to look inward, as if toward some trouble....Winogrand may well have seen them as mirrors of himself."

Where are the studies of people photographs juxtaposed with those from other nations of the same era where expressions and moods can be compared?

From Washington the exhibition travels to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, June 27–September 21, 2014; Jeu de Paume, Paris, October 14, 2014–January 25, 2015; and FundaciĆ³n MAPFRE, March 3–May 10, 2015.
 
Assisting Mr. Rubinfien for the exhibition and catalogue were Ms. Greenough and Erin O'Toole  of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which organized the show with the National Gallery of Art and where it opened last year.

The comprehensive catalogue of Mr. Winogrand's life and work, available in the shops, spans almost 500 pages and includes hundreds of photos, lists of his exhibitions, lectures, articles, and a timeline of his life.

The people of the United States are grateful to those who made the presentation possible in Washington:  the Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Foundation, the Trellis Fund, and the Blavatnik Family Foundation.  Sponsor for the international exhibition is the Terra Foundation for American Art with leadership provided by Randi and Bob Fisher.

What: Garry Winogrand

When: Now through  Sunday, June 8, 2014, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sunday.

Where: Ground Floor, West Building, National Gallery of Art, between Third and Ninth streets at Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. On the Mall.

Admission: No charge

Metro stations: Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Navy Memorial-Archives, or L'Enfant Plaza

For more information: 202-737-4215

patricialesli@gmail.com 

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