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Exhibition: ‘City of Abstractions: Brett Weston in New York, 1944–45’ at 1285 Avenue of the Americas Art Gallery, New York

Exhibition dates: 30th September 2013 – 10th January 2014

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Out of the 84 images online on eMuseum I have picked just 13 from the exhibition for this posting. While the press release is loquacious in its praise for these 8 x 10 view camera photographs – and Weston’s subjective and abstract view of the city with it’s flattened and abstracted deep space “distinguished by an attention to the formal values of linearity, depth, and contrast” – only the few that I have focused on here really work to any considerable degree.

Most of the photographs seem mundane, prosaic experiments in form, shape and detail. Church door, Bowery, New York and Wrought iron fence, New York (both c. 1945, below) are better examples of detail photographs by Weston, but other than their formal qualities they are pretty boring images. More interesting is the photograph Stoop with broom, arrow, and pushcart, New York (1944, below) with its cacophony of shapes and angles, form, light and shadow.

While most photographs in the posting have some interesting qualities, the only real show stopper is Air vents, New York (1944, below). This is a beautifully resolved modernist image which contrasts the air vents as sculptural objects with the city skyline beyond. Here Weston manipulates deep space (without deep focus / large depth of field) as part of the mise en scène, placing the significant props in different planes of the picture while successfully flattening the whole tableau vivant at the same time. The rendition of light is handsomely controlled, the air vents becoming Brancussi-like sculptures or some form of alien creature.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the International Center of Photography and the Avenue of the Americas Art Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. View all of the images from the exhibition on eMuseum.

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993) '[Air vents, New York]' 1945

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
[Air vents, New York]
1945
Image: 10 3/4 x 13 13/16 in. (27.3 x 35.1 cm)
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the Brett Weston Archive, from the collection of Christian Keesee, 2003

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993) '[42nd Street at First Avenue, New York]' c. 1945

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
[42nd Street at First Avenue, New York]
c. 1945
Image: 7 3/4 x 9 3/4 in. (19.7 x 24.8 cm)
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the Brett Weston Archive, from the collection of Christian Keesee, 2003

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993) '[Oceano Dunes, California]' 1934

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
[Oceano Dunes, California]
1934
Image: 10 5/8 x 13 13/16 in. (27 x 35.1 cm)
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the Brett Weston Archive, from the collection of Christian Keesee, 2003

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993) '[Stoop with broom, arrow, and pushcart, New York]' 1944

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
[Stoop with broom, arrow, and pushcart, New York]
1944
Image: 10 1/4 x 13 5/8 in. (26 x 34.6 cm)
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the Brett Weston Archive, from the collection of Christian Keesee, 2003

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993) '[Airshafts, New York]' c. 1945

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
[Airshafts, New York]
c. 1945
Image: 13 13/16 x 10 11/16 in. (35.1 x 27.1 cm)
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the Brett Weston Archive, from the collection of Christian Keesee, 2003

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993) '[Courtyard, New York]' c. 1945

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
[Courtyard, New York]
c. 1945
Image: 19 x 15 1/4 in. (48.3 x 38.7 cm)
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the Brett Weston Archive, from the collection of Christian Keesee, 2003

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“Brett Weston (1911-1993) is widely regarded as one of the leading photographers of the 20th century. He is known primarily for his bold compositions based on Western landscapes and natural forms, and for his extraordinary printing style. Weston was among a small group of California photographers in the 1930s, known as the Group f/64, who favored large-format view cameras, straight and uncropped images, and stark black-and-white prints, often contact printed. This group included Ansel Adams and Brett Weston’s father, Edward Weston. But Brett Weston’s style became even more radical when he was drafted into the army during World War II, and, in 1944, sent to the Army Pictorial Center in New York. There, in addition to routine Army work, Weston explored the streets of New York with his large 8 x 10 view camera. Over the next two years, Weston took over 300 photographs, each distinguished by an attention to the formal values of linearity, depth, and contrast. Turning away from the documentary style that characterized much of the photography of New York in the preceding decade, notably Berenice Abbott’s project Changing New York (1939), Weston pioneered a highly subjective and abstract view of the city, often focusing on details such as the finial on an iron railing or ivy on the side of a building. In pictures like Air Vents (1944) and Whelans Drugstore (1944), Weston flattened and abstracted the deep space of the New York cityscape creating rich, two-dimensional black-and-white images. This approach would govern the most prolific period of Weston’s work in the late 1940s and 1950s, when he utilized this highly polished style to photograph Western dunes, beaches, rocks, and vegetation.

This exhibition includes over 100 photographs, drawn largely from the collection of the International Center of Photography. The exhibition is a collaboration between the International Center of Photography, the Brett Weston Archive, and the host Gallery of the Americas. It is organized by Brian Wallis, Chief Curator at the International Center of Photography, and Julie Maguire, Director of the Brett Weston Archive.

Please note that this exhibition is at the 1285 Avenue of the Americas Art Gallery between 51st and 52nd Streets.

Press release from the ICP website

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993) '[House, Ewing Street, Staten Island, New York]' c. 1945

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
[House, Ewing Street, Staten Island, New York]
c. 1945
Image: 10 x 8 in. (25.4 x 20.3 cm) Paper: 10 x 8 in. (25.4 x 20.3 cm)
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the Brett Weston Archive, from the collection of Christian Keesee, 2003

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993) '[Sutton Place, New York]' c. 1945

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
[Sutton Place, New York]
c. 1945
Image: 10 x 8 in. (25.4 x 20.3 cm) Paper: 10 x 8 in. (25.4 x 20.3 cm)
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the Brett Weston Archive, from the collection of Christian Keesee, 2003

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993) '[Skylight and fences, Midtown, New York]' c. 1945

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
[Skylight and fences, Midtown, New York]
c. 1945
Image: 10 x 8 in. (25.4 x 20.3 cm)
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the Brett Weston Archive, from the collection of Christian Keesee, 2003

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993) '[Wrought iron fence, New York]' c. 1945

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
[Wrought iron fence, New York]
c. 1945
Image: 9 9/16 x 6 13/16 in. (24.3 x 17.3 cm)
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Christian K. Keesee, 2012

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993) '[Church door, Bowery, New York]' c. 1945

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
[Church door, Bowery, New York]
c. 1945
Image: 9 1/2 x 7 9/16 in. (24.1 x 19.2 cm)
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the Brett Weston Archive, from the collection of Christian Keesee, 2003

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993) '[Pillars and tree, New York]' 1944

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
[Pillars and tree, New York]
1944
Image: 10 x 8 in. (25.4 x 20.3 cm)
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the Brett Weston Archive, from the collection of Christian Keesee, 2003

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993) '[St. Francis Grocery & Fruit, New York]' c. 1945

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Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
[St. Francis Grocery & Fruit, New York]
c. 1945
Image: 9 1/2 x 7 9/16 in. (24.1 x 19.2 cm)
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Christian K. Keesee, 2012

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1285 Avenue of the Americas Art Gallery
1285 Sixth Avenue
New York, NY 10019

ICP exhibition website

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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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