This installation celebrates the 75th anniversary of the first one-person photography exhibition at MoMA, and the accompanying landmark publication that established the potential of the photographer’s book as an indivisible work of art. Together and separately, through these projects Walker Evans created a collective portrait of the Eastern United States during a decade of profound transformation—one that coincided with the flood of everyday images, both still and moving, from an expanding mass culture and the construction of a Modernist history of photography.
Comprising approximately 60 prints from the MoMA collection that were included in the 1938 book or exhibition, the installation maintains the bipartite organization of the originals: the first section portrays American society through images of its individuals and social contexts, while the second consists of photographs of American cultural artifacts—the architecture of Main streets, factory towns, rural churches, and wooden houses. The pictures provide neither a coherent narrative nor a singular meaning, but rather create connections through the repetition and interplay of pictorial structures and subject matter. The exhibition’s placement on the fourth floor of the Museum—between galleries featuring paintings by Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol—underscores the continuation of prewar avant-garde practices in America and the unique legacy of Evans’s explorations of signs and symbols, commercial culture and the vernacular.
The exhibition is organized by Sarah Hermanson Meister, Curator, with Drew Sawyer, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography.