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Indepth Arts News:

"The Photography of Charles Sheeler"
2003-06-03 until 2003-08-17
Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York, NY, USA

One hundred and twenty photographs by Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), one of the most important American artists of the first half of the 20th century and a pioneer of American modernism, will be on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from June 3 through August 17, 2003. The Photography of Charles Sheeler is the first major exhibition to concentrate on each of Sheeler's major photographic series made between 1915 and 1939, and will consist of rare vintage prints. The exhibition will reveal the full significance of Sheeler's photographic works as the foundation from which his better-known works in other mediums were derived.

This exhibition was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

All photographs were drawn from The Lane Collection.

The exhibition focuses in depth on Sheeler's inventive intertwining of the American vernacular with European abstraction, beginning with Cubist-inspired photographs of a simple farmhouse in Doylestown, Pennsylvania (1915-1917). Sheeler became familiar with the latest European artistic innovations from his association with members of the American avant-garde, whom he encountered at the home of collectors Walter and Louise Arensberg in the late 1910s and the 1920s. As he adapted the lessons of Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and Marcel Duchamp—artists whose work he saw and photographed at the Arensberg's apartment—to his own interests, he created work in a number of mediums simultaneously. All were vital in formulating his artistic approach, as the selected paintings punctuating The Photography of Charles Sheeler suggest.

As his next two series—Nudes (1918-19) and New York (1920)— reveal, however, photographic media formed the foundation of his pictorial expression, especially in the early years of his career. On view will be the complete set of semi-abstract photographs of his first wife Katharine—the only nude photographs Sheeler is known to have taken—which were created from a now-lost film produced in about 1918 with a 35mm hand-cranked movie camera.

Also on display will be the groundbreaking Manhatta made by Sheeler and Paul Strand in 1920, and considered the first American avant-garde film. In six minutes, Manhatta spans an imaginary day in the life of New York City, beginning with footage of Staten Island ferry commuters and culminating with the sun setting over the Hudson River. Brief shots and dramatic camera angles emphasize Manhatta's photographic possibilities, and 14 extant still photographs made from the footage are also featured in the exhibition. Shortly after making the film, Sheeler produced large-format photographs of New York—seven views of Broadway that employ a particularly cinematic effect. One of the photographs, New York, Park Row Building (1920), intones a visual duet with the painting Skyscrapers (1922, Phillips Collection) displayed alongside it.

The Photography of Charles Sheeler also includes an extensive selection of Sheeler's so-called River Rouge images made at the Ford Motor Company plant in 1927. Created to mark the occasion of the introduction of the new Model A automobile, this series is regarded by many as the high point of American machine-age photography. Criss-Crossed Conveyors—one of Sheeler's best-known works and an icon of modern photography—is featured alongside such images as Pulverizer Building and Ladle on a Hot Metal Car. Sheeler documented the many functional design elements of the vast complex, conveying the mysterious beauty of the machines rather than trying to capture the expanse of the plant. The River Rouge pictures make a fascinating contrast to Sheeler's views of Chartres Cathedral made in France in 1929, also featured in the exhibition. Consistent with his modernist approach in the earlier series (such as the Doylestown House and the Ford Plant, River Rouge), Sheeler chose to focus on the Gothic cathedral's architectural details.

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