SANTA FE, NM.- The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum announces the exhibition The Photography of Charles Sheeler: American Modernist, organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The exhibition will run through May 1, 2005, and includes approximately 75 rare and sometimes unique vintage prints, all drawn from The Lane Collection—the largest, most comprehensive collection of Sheeler’s photographs in the world—which is on long-term loan at the MFA.
Charles Sheeler (1883–1965) ranks as one of the master modernist photographers of the 20th century, yet his work in this medium has been exhibited far less often than that of his peers, such as Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand. More than any of his contemporaries, Sheeler succeeded in bringing the stylistic breakthroughs of the cubist paintings of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso to his exciting photographs of numerous indigenous American subjects. Artist Marius de Zayas wrote: “It was Charles Sheeler who proved that Cubism exists in nature and that photography can record it.” Sheeler was also a highly gifted painter whose innovative integration of painting and photography foreshadowed much later trends and developments in American art.
Sheeler first took up photography simply as a way to make a living, but it gradually became central to all of his art. He carried out his first experiments in modern photography beginning about 1915, in such photographs as Side of White Barn, 1915, while photographing the barns of Bucks County and his 18th-century farmhouse in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
Sheeler continued making photographs of various subjects, and those of his best-known series are included in the exhibition, such as his evocative images of African sculpture and the extraordinary views of lower Manhattan, as in New York, Park Row Building, 1920, which was reproduced in Vanity Fair under the title Cubist Architecture in New York.
Other photographs in the exhibition include Sheeler’s series of the Ford Motor Company River Rouge plant. These photographs, such as Ford Plant, River Rouge, Criss-Crossed Conveyors, 1927, are arguably his most influential work. The Chartres Cathedral series is also included, as well as numerous photographs on the theme of power in American industry for which Sheeler was commissioned, beginning in 1938, by Fortune magazine. Power Series, Wheels, 1939, an important image from this commission, represented Sheeler’s return to the industrial subjects that he had last photographed in the River Rouge series. These photographs celebrate the power, beauty, geometry, and precision of his subjects.
The groundbreaking film Manhatta, 1921, as well as stills from it, are also on view. The film, a collaboration with Paul Strand, has been called the first avant-garde film made in America.
The Photography of Charles Sheeler: American Modernist was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and curated by Karen Haas, Gilles Mora, and Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. All works in the exhibition have been generously lent by The William H. Lane Collection, owner of the artist’s photographic estate.