30
Sep
10

Exhibition: ‘Hipsters, Hustlers, and Handball Players: Leon Levinstein’s New York Photographs, 1950-1980’ at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 8th June – 17th October 2010

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Although taken in the same city at around the same period as the work of Helen Levitt, these photographs by Leon Levinstein have less formality in their composition and definitely possess a more eclectic style evidenced by the dissection and placement of bodies within the image frame. This is not to denigrate either artist but merely to observe how two great photographers can see the same city in totally different ways. In both previsualisation was strong, the camera freezing what is placed before the lens in a balletic display that captured “just what you see.”

Many thankx to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting.

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Leon Levinstein
Handball Players, Lower East Side, NY
c.1950s – 1960s
Gelatin silver print
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1987
© Howard Greenberg Gallery

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Leon Levinstein
Nuclear Protest, Wall Street
1970s
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Gary Davis, 2009
© Howard Greenberg Gallery

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Leon Levinstein
Street Scene: Elderly Man Walking with Cane, New York City
1970s
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Gary Davis, 2009
© Howard Greenberg Gallery

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Leon Levinstein
Street Scene: Woman in Blonde Wig and Tight Dress, New York City
1960s
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Gary Davis, 2009
© Howard Greenberg Gallery

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“A master of classic American street photography, Leon Levinstein (American, 1910–1988) is best known for his candid and unsentimental black-and-white figure studies made in New York City neighborhoods from Times Square and the Lower East Side to Coney Island. From June 8 through October 17, 2010, The Metropolitan Museum of Art presents Hipsters, Hustlers, and Handball Players: Leon Levinstein’s New York Photographs, 1950-1980. This exhibition, drawn exclusively from the Metropolitan’s collection, features 44 photographs that reflect Levinstein’s fearless approach to the medium. Levinstein’s graphic virtuosity – seen in raw, expressive gestures and seemingly monumental bodies – is balanced by an unusual compassion for his off-beat subjects from the demimonde.

Born in West Virginia in 1910, Levinstein moved to New York in 1946 and spent the next 35 years obsessively photographing strangers on the streets of his adopted home. Early in his career, Levinstein was quoted in Photography Annual 1955: “In my photographs I want to look at life – at the commonplace things as if I just turned a corner and ran into them for the first time.” With daring and dedication to his subject, Levinstein captured the denizens of New York City at extremely close range. He used his superb sense of composition to frame the faces, flesh, poses, and movements of his fellow city dwellers in their myriad guises: sunbathers, young couples, children, businessmen, beggars, prostitutes, proselytizers, society ladies, and characters of all stripes.

Although he was a life-long loner, Levinstein was mentored and supported by Alexey Brodovitch, artistic director of Harper’s Bazaar, and Edward Steichen, the eminent photographer and curator at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, both of whom recognized his unique talent in the medium of photography. He was also greatly influenced by workshops led by the distinguished photographer and teacher Sid Grossman.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Levinstein’s work appeared frequently in photography magazines and books alongside that of his peers, such as Robert Frank, Richard Avedon, and Diane Arbus. Nonetheless, he rarely worked on assignment, as they often did; nor did he ever produce his own book of photographs. Instead, he worked as a graphic designer and devoted his evenings and weekends to photography. In 1975, Levinstein received a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation to “photograph as wide a spectrum of the American scene as my experience and vision will allow… I want my photographs to be spontaneous rather than contrived.” Despite this recognition of his achievement, he never seemed able to fit into the commercial photography market that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, and consequently, his powerful body of work continues to be known mainly by other photographers and by specialists in the field.”

Press release from The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

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Leon Levinstein
Street Scene: Man in Boots Walking and Adjusting His Collar, New York City
c.1960s – 1970s
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Gary Davis, 2007
© Howard Greenberg Gallery

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Leon Levinstein
Street Scene: Man Resting Foot on Lip of Trashcan, New York City
1970s
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Gary Davis, 2009
© Howard Greenberg Gallery

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Leon Levinstein
Street Scene: Woman in Striped Dress on Stoop, New York City
1970s
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Gary Davis, 2007
© Howard Greenberg Gallery

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Leon Levinstein
Street Scene: Young Man Leaning against Shopfront Window, New York City?
1972
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Gary Davis, 2008
© Howard Greenberg Gallery

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street
New York, New York 10028-0198
Information: 212-535-7710

Opening hours:
Monday: Closed (Except Holiday Mondays)
Tuesday – Thursday: 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: 9:30 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Sunday: 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

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1 Response to “Exhibition: ‘Hipsters, Hustlers, and Handball Players: Leon Levinstein’s New York Photographs, 1950-1980’ at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York”


  1. October 1, 2010 at 2:03 am

    I like the composition of these photos very much.


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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