Exhibitions: Learning to Look: The Addison at 90
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Artists: Berenice Abbott
Conscious of her role as a cultural historian, Berenice Abbott aimed to record the city for her federally funded project, "Changing New York" (1935-39), so that it would "live for the eyes of the future."<sup>1</sup> Consequently, she created a thematically diverse archive of photographs that she classified according to three main headings: "Material Aspect" (architecture, street scenes, etc.); "Means of Life" (transportation and communication systems, supply of the city's food, water, heat, and power, etc.); and “The People and How They Live."<sup>2</sup> Further, she combined these themes whenever possible in each individual photograph so that the "facts" of the city would be "set forth as organic parts of the whole picture, as living and functioning details of the entire complex social scene.”<sup>3</sup>
Abbott's portrait of the painter Edward Hopper belongs to another of her extensive documentary projects, one that she published as part of Henry Lanier's book <i>Greenwich Village: Today and Yesterday</i>.<sup>4</sup> Apparently inspired by the Washington Square Association's plans for revitalizing the district's economy,<sup>5</sup> this project created a contextualized record of the architecture of the Village, its business establishments, and its social life. As might be expected, its tone was notably less critical and more intimate than that of "Changing New York," presenting the "facts" of the area with a simplicity and directness that Abbott reserved for expressing her approval of subjects before her lens.<sup>6</sup> Moreover, whereas "Changing New York" included no photographs of recognizable individuals-and thus offered a rather impersonal depiction of the city—Greenwich Village featured several photographs of known artists. Among them, Abbott portrayed Sam Kramer, Chaim Gross, John Sloan, Isamu Noguchi—and Edward Hopper, who posed for her beside the pot-bellied stove in his "unreconstructed" Washington Square North studio.<sup>7</sup>
Peter Barr, <i>Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years, A Selective Catalogue</i> (Andover, Massachusetts: Addison Gallery of American Art, 1996), pp. 309-310
I. "Outline for Photographing New York City, undated , WPA folder, Abbott Archives, East Rutherford, New Jersey.
2. Abbott adopted these terms, which originate with the city-survey technique of the Scottish sociologist and city planner Patrick Geddes, as the main headings for her outline. Moreover, she instructed the clerks who worked for her "Changing New York" project to inscribe them on the back of her photographs. Canyon was inscribed "Code #: 1. C.,” indicating that it belonged to the main heading "Material Aspect,” and to the subheading "Canyon.”
3. Berenice Abbott to Mr. Kaufmann, her supervisor on the Federal Arts Project, undated [c. 1936], WPA folder, Abbott Archives.
4. Henry W. Lanier and Berenice Abbott, Greenwich Village: Today and Yesterday (New York: Harpers, 1949).
5. Arthur C. Holden, Planning Recommendations for the Washington Square Area (New York: Washington Square Association, 1 July 1946), p. II. Holden's plan, like Abbott's photographs, suggested the need for preserving the artistic character of the neighborhood through coordinated civic action, improved zoning regulations, and changes to local street signage and traffic patterns.
6. In Abbott's Guide to Better Photography (New York: Crown, 1941), p. 94, she discussed the importance of composition in expressing her approval or disapproval of her subjects.
7. Lanier and Abbott, p. 136. When the city forced Hopper to remove the stove (because it was a fire hazard), he gave it to Abbott, who had been collecting American "folk art" since the early 1930s. Later, she returned it to Hopper's studio when New York University converted the apartment into offices after his death. See James McQuaid and David Tate, "Interview with
Berenice Abbott," 1975, transcript deposited at the George Eastman House, Syracuse, New York, pp. 417-18.
This object was included in the following exhibitions:Faces of the Addison: Portraits from the Collection, Addison Gallery of American Art, 4/23/1994 - 7/31/1994
Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years, Addison Gallery of American Art, 4/13/1996 - 7/31/1996
Explorations, Addison Gallery of American Art, 4/7/2001 - 7/31/2001
Explorations: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints in the Addison, Addison Gallery of American Art, 9/4/2001 - 1/13/2002
Look at Me, Addison Gallery of American Art, 9/1/2018 - 00/00/00
Learning to Look: The Addison at 90, Addison Gallery of American Art, 5/8/2021 - 2/6/2022
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