Frist Art Museum Presents “Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing”
March 15–May 27, 2019
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (January 23, 2019)—The Frist Art Museum presents Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing, an exhibition that examines a broad range of the artist’s work through the lens of social and political activism. The Frist is the only U.S. venue that is hosting this exhibition after its 2017 debut in California. In addition to presenting Lange’s iconic photographs from the Great Depression, the exhibition will feature works from her early years as a studio portraitist in San Francisco, along with images of the grim conditions of incarcerated Japanese Americans during World War II, naval shipyard workers of different sexes and races contributing to the patriotic cause, and inequity in our judicial system in the 1950s. Organized by the Oakland Museum of California, which houses Lange’s personal archive, the exhibition will be on view in the Frist’s Upper-Level Galleries from March 15 through May 27, 2019.
Dorothea Lange (1895–1965) is recognized as one of the most important photographers of the twentieth century, and her insightful and compassionate work has exerted a profound influence on the development of modern documentary photography. With hardship and human suffering as a consistent theme throughout her career, Lange created arresting portraits with the aim of sparking reform. Politics of Seeing encompasses approximately 130 vintage and modern photographs and personal memorabilia, including a handwritten letter from the author John Steinbeck. Portions of a documentary produced by one of Lange’s granddaughters will also be on view.
Upon Lange’s death in 1965, her husband, the labor economist Paul Taylor, gave her extensive archive of more than twenty thousand negatives, six thousand prints, and assorted field notes and letters to the Oakland Museum of California, which is located near their longtime home in Berkeley. The exhibition is drawn from that noteworthy collection. In addition to appearing in Nashville and Oakland, Politics of Seeing has been presented at the Barbican in London and the Jeu de Paume in Paris.
Born in 1895 in Hoboken, New Jersey, Lange knew from a young age that she wanted to be a photographer. In San Francisco, she began work in a photography shop and quickly became enmeshed within the city’s artistic community. In 1919, she opened what would become a successful portrait studio. Lange shifted her attention from capturing the city’s elite to the impoverished unemployed figures she saw on the streets through her studio window as the devastating effects of the economic depression spread throughout the country. “Lange applied her skill as a portraitist to connect with her subjects throughout her career,” says Frist Art Museum curator Katie Delmez. “Her empathy for the ‘walking wounded,’ which she attributed to her own experience of living with a physical disability, led her to create photographs meant to raise awareness of suffering and injustices.”
In addition to recording scenes of urban poverty, Lange documented the plight of American refugees who had left the Midwest because of drought and dust storms. The 1936 photograph Migrant Mother, of a mother and three children in a pea-pickers’ camp in Nipomo, California, has become an emblem of the hardship endured by many during the American Great Depression. Lange worked for the government’s newly established Resettlement Administration (later called the Farm Security Administration), and her images were powerful arguments for government assistance. In southern states, Lange saw and made images that exposed racial and economic power relationships that led to exploitative tenant farming practices.
World War II, and the industrial jobs it created, helped bring the United States out of its economic depression. When President Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order calling for the forced removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans on the West Coast in the wake of the Pearl Harbor bombing, the government hired Lange again to photograph the process. “This time, though, she was not in agreement with the government’s motivations, which she saw as racist and unfair,” says Delmez. “Her disgust at the policy and her sympathy for her subjects is evident in her photographs. Most were censored and remained unseen for decades.”
After the war ended, Lange turned her attention to the changing people and landscape of California. Not everyone was benefiting from the booming economy and unrestrained development. Lange responded with a series devoted to the removal of an entire community and natural environment in order to build a dam and lake. She also was concerned about the lack of equity in our urban criminal justice system and created empathetic portraits of prisoners and their families as they experienced booking, arrest, and court appearances.
Through these works and others, Politics of Seeing offers a comprehensive examination of a woman who is widely recognized as one of the most important documentary photographers of the twentieth century. “Although Lange’s photographs were taken over half a century ago, many of the issues they address remain relevant today,” says Delmez. “Poverty, environmental degradation, the treatment of immigrants, and racism, as well as the role of images in shaping public opinion and political positions, are topics very much on our minds in today’s turbulent climate.”
Organized by the Oakland Museum of California
Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing is supported in part by the Oakland Museum Women’s Board, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Susie Tompkins Buell Fund, Ann Hatch and Paul Discoe, the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, and Peter Rossi/Stifel, Nicolaus & Co.
Thursday, March 14
Curator’s Perspective: “Lange: Artist or Activist?” presented by Drew Heath Johnson, curator of photography and visual culture, Oakland Museum of California
Frist Art Museum Auditorium
Free; first come, first seated
With hardship and suffering as consistent areas of focus throughout her career, Dorothea Lange created arresting portraits with the aim of sparking reform. Join Drew Heath Johnson as he examines the central theme of Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing: the power of Lange’s photography to sway people’s minds and spur them to action. Johnson will look at both the effects of her imagery and her intentions, which could be quite contradictory.
Drew Heath Johnson has worked at the Oakland Museum since 1989, and his duties include the guardianship and sharing of Dorothea Lange’s entire personal archive—a collection with more than six thousand vintage prints and forty thousand negatives, along with the artist’s personal correspondence, field notes, proof sheets, and working documents.
Silver Sponsor: Ameriprise Financial
This exhibition is supported in part by the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
About the Frist Art Museum
Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the Frist Art Museum is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit art exhibition center dedicated to presenting and originating high-quality exhibitions with related educational programs and community outreach activities. Located at 919 Broadway in downtown Nashville, Tenn., the Frist Art Museum offers the finest visual art from local, regional, national, and international sources in exhibitions that inspire people through art to look at their world in new ways. The Frist Art Museum’s Martin ArtQuest Gallery features interactive stations relating to Frist Art Museum exhibitions. Information on accessibility can be found at FristArtMuseum.org/accessibility. Gallery admission is free for visitors 18 and younger and for members; $15 for adults; $10 for seniors and college students with ID; and $8 for military. College students are admitted free Thursday and Friday evenings (with the exception of Frist Fridays), 5:00–9:00 p.m. Groups of 10 or more can receive discounts with advance reservations by calling 615.744.3247. The galleries, café, and gift shop are open seven days a week: Mondays through Wednesdays, and Saturdays, 10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays, 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.; and Sundays, 1:00–5:30 p.m., with the café opening at noon. For additional information, call 615.244.3340 or visit FristArtMuseum.org.