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In Garry Winogrand Exhibit, a Completed Body of American Work

Courtesy National Gallery of Art
John F. Kennedy at the Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles, 1960.

The first section of the exhibit is devoted to Winogrand’s work in New York City from 1950 to 1971. The urban energy is captured in shots of comely women in pillbox hats, sidewalk protests, nuzzling couples, hippies and soldiers. There’s also a sense of the bizarre in photos such as the one of a well-dressed couple carrying a pair of chimpanzees in children’s clothing in Central Park.

Although he became disillusioned by politicians after the Cuban missile crisis, Winogrand photographed figures such as John F. Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy and Richard M. Nixon in theatrical settings at news conferences, rallies and party conventions. His shots of everyday Americans at political meetings and demonstrations grew more haphazard as the decade wore on, reflecting the mounting social upheaval.

A second section of the exhibit is devoted to Winogrand’s work outside New York, especially in Houston, Dallas, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, where his wide lenses emphasized vast, open spaces. Though the exhibit catalog notes that he concluded the dreams of many Americans were cheap and petty, the photos from this period mix sunlight and humor with kitsch, as if chaos and beauty couldn’t be separated.

The last section is primarily culled from Winogrand’s final years in Los Angeles. Though he was drawn to lively tourist sites, parades, football games and airports, the focus turned bleak and gloomy. Landscapes are austere and often rendered in a harsh light, featuring trash-strewn lots, empty road frontage and distant figures. While critics contend that Winogrand lost his way during this period, the exhibit makes the case he accurately portrayed a growing sense of isolation that was sweeping society.

Winogrand’s admirers see his output as a continuation of the cool, distant objectivism pioneered by Walker Evans during the Great Depression. Rubinfien, who reviewed thousands of photos for the exhibit, said the rejection of sentimentality and artifice enabled Winogrand to capture the immediacy of subjects and the angst of the era.

Garry Winogrand, co-organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the National Gallery of Art, is on display through June 8 in the National Gallery’s West Building. The show will continue on to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Jeu de Paume in Paris and the Fundación MAPFRE in Madrid.

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