TAMMY PLESHEK, (612) 870-3171; TPLESHEK@ARTSMIA.ORG
LYNETTE NYMAN, (612) 870-3173; LNYMAN@ARTSMIA.ORG
ANNE-MARIE WAGENER, (612) 870-3280; AWAGENER@ARTSMIA.ORG
Print-quality Images Available Online: http://www.artsmia.org/press
June 29–September 14, 2008
Minneapolis, March 20, 2008—The largest comprehensive retrospective of the photography of Lee Friedlander (American, b. 1934) will be on view at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA). This impressive overview—including color and black-and-white portraits of musicians in the 1950s and 1960s, and several hundred prints tracing Friedlander’s inexhaustible visual appetite for subjects ranging from female nudes and contemporary cityscapes to civic monuments and television sets—outlines the scope of one of the most prolific careers in the history of photography. Friedlander’s distinctly American images, inflected with a sharp wit and sense of humor, have captivated the art world for a half-century. The exhibition will be on view at the MIA June 29 to September 14.
“Friedlander: Photography” presents this prodigious career in rough chronological fashion, in groups organized by subject. Illuminating five decades, these images track the growth of Friedlander’s work and offer a vivid and far-reaching vision of what he calls the “American social landscape.” This central theme provides countless jumping-off points for Friedlander’s photography, which has also found excellent source material in Japan, Italy, and Great Britain. The broad-ranging quality of Friedlander’s interests are suggested by an alpha-numeric series (“Letters from the People”) and a series of American West landscapes presented for the first time in this exhibition. The exhibition is organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York (MoMa), and is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue.
The Early Years
Born in 1934 in Aberdeen, Washington, Friedlander fell in love with photography as a teenager. He studied at the Art Center School in Los Angeles in 1952, and in 1955 he moved to the New York City area, where he still lives. For the next fifteen years he worked steadily as a freelance photographer for various magazines, including Sports Illustrated, Holiday, and Seventeen. His other line of work, portraits of musicians for their album covers, grew out of his lifelong love of jazz and other music. Color portraits of John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, and Miles Davis are among the few examples of Friedlander’s commercial work on display in the exhibition.
Friedlander’s professional work had honed his craft and introduced him to a widening circle of friends. Pictures by friends Walker Evans and Robert Frank inspired him to train his eye on everyday American scenes such as streets, cars, storefronts, and billboards. Friedlander’s work showed a playfulness and talent for taking advantage of elements considered by most to be obstacles. In his pictures, a pole often gets in the way; the frame cuts off something important; a plate-glass window confuses inside and out; the photographer’s own shadow or reflection intrudes. Friedlander’s lively, irreverent glimpses of the city streets and his tongue-in-cheek self-portraits of the 1960s upended the earnest humanism of postwar photography.
The 1970s and 1980s
The Pop-inspired wit and graphic verve that mark Friedlander’s first maturity would never disappear from his work. Beginning in the early 1970s, however, his sensibility and style broadened considerably, yielding a fluid stream of observation, ever more graceful and sensuous. His pictures became richly descriptive and alert to subtle variations of texture and light. Another factor was his growing affection for tradition, notably for the work of Eugène Atget.
Affectionate portraits of family and friends became a major aspect of his work and a barometer of his evolving style. In contrast, his studies of workers in the factories of Ohio and Pennsylvania in the 1970s are admiring and intimate without pretending to be portraits. Instead, they are tributes to the skill and steady concentration of people “making things we all use,” as Friedlander later put it. Over the next two decades, five further commissions would enable him to extend the theme, from office workers at their computers to telemarketers on the phone.
In the early 1990s, Friedlander’s growing desire to photograph the grand natural landscape of the American West prompted him to trade in his Leica camera for a Superwide Hasselblad. The Hasselblad, with its unusually sharp and wide lens, was ideally suited to the Western views he started to make. These convoluted scenes, at once magisterial and bizarre, testify to the undiminished intensity of Friedlander’s passion for looking and to the capacity of his art to infect others with that passion.
George Slade, adjunct assistant curator in the Department of Photographs at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, curates the exhibition for the MIA. Slade is the artistic director of the Minnesota Center for Photography, and was awarded a grant from The Creative Capital/Warhol Arts Grant Writer Program in 2007 for his book Looking Homeward: Notes on a Photographic Minnesota.
The exhibition is accompanied by the major publication Friedlander, by Peter Galassi, Chief Curator, Department of Photography, MoMA, with an essay by Richard Benson. Published by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, it includes more than eight hundred reproductions, and the most comprehensive catalogue of Friedlander’s books, special editions, and portfolios. Distributed in the U.S. and Canada by D.A.P. and internationally by Thames & Hudson; 480 pages; 860 illustrations. Paperback versions are available in the MIA Museum Shop for $55.
The tour venues are The Museum of Modern Art, New York (MoMA), (May 31–August 29, 2005), Haus der Kunst, Munich (November 14, 2005–February 12, 2006), Jeu de Paume, Paris (September 18–December 31, 2006), Fundaci?n La Caixa, Barcelona (April 12–June 24, 2007), Fundaci?n La Caixa, Palma de Mallorca (September 7–November 25, 2007), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA) (February 23–May 18, 2008), Minneapolis Institute of Art (June 29–September 14, 2008), and Cleveland Museum of Art (March 1–June 7, 2009).
About the Minneapolis Institute of Art
The Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA), home to one of the finest encyclopedic art collections in the country, houses more than 80,000 works of art representing 5,000 years of world history. Highlights of the permanent collection include European masterworks by Rembrandt, Poussin, and van Gogh; modern and contemporary painting and sculpture by Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian, Stella, and Close; as well as internationally significant collections of prints and drawings, decorative arts, Modernist design, photographs, and Asian, African, and Native American art. General admission is always free. Some special exhibitions have a nominal admission fee. Museum hours: Sunday, 11 A.M.-5 P.M.; Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 10 A.M.-5 P.M.; Thursday, 10 A.M.-9 P.M.; Monday closed. For more information, call (612) 870-3131 or visit www.artsmia.org.