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"Ben Shahn's New York: The Photography of Modern Times"
2001-04-19 until 2001-06-10
Smart Museum of Art
Chicago, IL, USA United States of America

Ben Shahn's New York will present a pivotal, but little-examined body of photographic work from the 1930s by the celebrated American social realist artist Ben Shahn (1898-1969). The exhibition will explore the function and meaning of Shahn's experimental work in photography and his subsequent contribution to the emerging field of social documentary, within the larger social and political climate of the 1930s and the Great Depression.

This major traveling exhibition organized by Harvard University Art Museums will feature over 100 of Shahn's photographs as well as many of his paintings, drawings, mural studies, and related ephemera. His street photographs, taken between 1932 and 1935, defined urban life through the prosaic activities and expressive gestures of ordinary people. Using a handheld 35 mm Leica camera, Shahn captured scenes of everyday life in the neighborhoods of Manhattan and created images that addressed such topical issues as unemployment, poverty, protest, immigration, and social reform. Compelling examples of social-realist art in their own right, Shahn's photographs also inspired much of the work he was more widely known for: his socially conscious paintings and graphic works, as well as his public mural projects that promoted social reform programs of the day. Ben Shahn's New York explores how the artist's earliest photographs provided him with a fundamental means of interpreting urban life in modern times and shaped a highly influential documentary aesthetic that would characterize his work for decades. Infused by his commitment to leftist politics and his interest in the cultural force of mass media, Ben Shahn's photographs also provide an ideal vehicle for investigating the larger milieu of American social and visual culture during the Great Depression.

The Smart Museum of Art is the final destination of this traveling exhibition. Ben Shahn's New York was also presented at the Harvard University Art Museums; The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.; and the Grey Art Gallery at New York University. An extensive catalogue, published by the Harvard University Art Museums and Yale University Press accompanies the exhibition and includes critical essays, an illustrated checklist, and an extensive compendium of primary source documents.


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