Berman and Stieglitz Galleries, ground floor
This exhibition celebrates the centenary of the birth of prominent art dealer Julien Levy (1906–1981), one of the most influential and colorful proponents of modern art and photography and an impassioned champion of Surrealism, with a survey of his collection of photographs. Levy's lifelong devotion to the art of photography is represented in more than 230 photographs, many of which are being exhibited for the first time in more than five decades. In conjunction with the exhibition, the Museum is presenting a series of films made by artists affiliated with the Julien Levy Gallery.
A centenary survey of Levy's collection… var f_divname="mp3player"; var f_width=133; var f_height=100; var f_file="Dreaming the Collection,Dreaming Stieglitz,Dreaming Urban Photography,Dreaming Anti-Graphic"; var f_filetype="exhibitionMinutes"; var f_title="The Collection,Stieglitz,Urban Photography,Anti-Graphic"; Listen to or download curators Katherine Ware & Peter Barberie's 4-part Podcast. Available in Works by more than sixty photographers exhibited by Levy are represented, including American masters Walker Evans, George Platt Lynes, Lee Miller, Man Ray, Charles Sheeler, and Ralph Steiner. Artists working in France and Germany are particularly well represented, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dora Maar, Roger Parry, Maurice Tabard, László Moholy-Nagy, and Umbo. Mexican artists Manuel Álvarez Bravo and Emilio Amero round out the international roster. One of the pleasures of the exhibition is work by little-known artists
Arthur Gerlach, Samuel Gottscho, William Rittase, Thurman Rotan, and Luke Swank. Levy's collection also includes a cache of ephemeral pictures of every sort, from bygone celebrity portraits and press photos to film stills and everyday snapshots. While he honored the tradition of serious artistic work fostered by Alfred Stieglitz and others, these photographs clearly show he also valued anonymous images and "found objects." Another of Levy's interests—applied photography—is represented in the exhibition in several of its aspects. Examples are on view from the selection of photomurals he organized for the Museum of Modern Art's 1932 exhibition Murals by American Painters and Photographers. Levy also developed a sample line of household products decorated with photographic designs—including wastebaskets, lamps, and cigarette boxes—with the idea of providing images for textiles and a variety of manufactured goods. Other images were presumably made for advertising or graphic design use, and while their intended context may be lost to us, they stand alone as strong images. One of Levy's most famous exhibitions at the gallery was the 1932 show Surréalisme (at the time, he felt that the word could not be translated properly into English). Levy's offering of Surrealist works, the first to be presented in New York, included paintings, objects, journals, and photographs. While some of the photographs were by artists closely affiliated with the Surrealist movement in Europe, Levy added pieces by those he considered American Surrealists and by others whose work he felt resonated with Surrealist ideas. "Surrealism is a point of view, and as such applies to painting, literature, play, behaviour, politics, architecture, photography, and cinema." — Julien Levy, Surrealism, 1936 Selections from Levy's survey exhibitions, including American Photography Retrospective; Photographs of New York by New York Photographers; and Exhibition of Portrait Photography, Old and New are on view in conjunction with works that appeared in solo and group exhibitions at the gallery in the 1930s and early 1940s. A highlight of the exhibition is three small boxes by American assemblage artist Joseph Cornell, made to emulate daguerreotypes, an early form of photography. These magnificent objects are one-of-a-kind, made especially for Levy and including portraits of him and his first mother-in-law, Mina Loy. Also on view at the Museum for the first time is a bronze portrait of Levy by sculptor Isamu Noguchi. Letters and photographs documenting the gallery's heyday (on loan from the Julien Levy Archive) further enliven the exhibition. The works of art in Dreaming in Black and White are drawn from more than 2,500 images from Levy's holdings, acquired by the Museum in 2001; in part as a gift from Levy's widow, Jean Farley Levy, and with a major contribution from longtime Philadelphia residents and philanthropists Lynne and Harold Honickman. A combination of his personal selections amassed over two decades and the remaining inventory from the gallery, these images reflect Levy's adventurous eye and his vanguard contributions to the field of photography.
Like photography, film was integral to the conception of the Julien Levy Gallery. In conjuction with the exhibition Dreaming in Black and White: Photography at the Julien Levy Gallery, film programs are being presented on three Friday evenings in June and July. All shows begin at 7:00 p.m. in the Van Pelt Auditorium and are free with Museum admission, although tickets are required.
Born in New York City, Julien Levy (1906–1981) attended Harvard University to study literature but switched to the Fine Arts Department. His studies included a course on museum practices taught by Paul Sachs and Edward Waldo Forbes, both of the Fogg Art Museum. Professor Chandler Post was another important formative figure for Levy, due to his keen interest in popular film. In 1927, just a semester shy of graduation, Levy left the university in 1927 to sail to Paris with Marcel Duchamp with the idea of making a film with him. "Mr. Levy's enthusiastic approach toward the subject of photography is contagious and should bring a large following to his gallery in due time." —Art News, 1932 The film was never made but Levy had an eventful year in Paris, where he discovered Surrealism and Eugène Atget's () photographs of the city—experiences that had a profound formative impact upon him. He also married Joella Loy, the daughter of poet Mina Loy, who introduced him to a world of cultural figures living in Paris. Returning to New York with his bride, Levy worked briefly in his father's real estate business before securing a job at the Weyhe Gallery, where he gained practical knowledge on how to operate a gallery and organized the country's first solo show of work by Atget. In November 1931, Levy inaugurated his own gallery at 602 Madison Avenue, devoted to the work of living artists—particularly those working with photography and cinema. By his own account, Levy set out to unearth and explore all the manifestations of the camera and to create a fertile, lively, and playful environment at the gallery. The gallery also showed painting and sculpture – Levy was Salvador Dalí's American dealer for many years – which he was far more successful in selling. The Julien Levy Gallery operated from 1931 to 1948 and brought to light an impressive roster of international talent at a time when few galleries or museums exhibited photography. It was often the first to present photographs by many artists now considered the most creative and influential of their time, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Lee Miller, and was at the forefront of the wider recognition of photography as an art form. Levy also exhibited objects by the twentieth-century master Manuel Álvarez Bravo, and developed a relationship with the painter Frida Kahlo, who was the subject of a series of his own photographs that are featured in the exhibition. Levy did not shy away from exhibiting nearly all forms of photography, including commercial work, color pictures, and press photography, along with images made as works of art. "Those of us now prospering in the world of photography owe homage to Julien Levy." —Lee Witkin, 1977 During the gallery's first year, Levy boldly exhibited recent photographs by Paul Strand, Man Ray, Brassaï, André Kertész, and George Platt Lynes, keeping or buying a few examples by each artist for his personal collection. The list of the artists to whom Levy gave their first New York exhibitions illustrates his remarkable eye for talent and made him a key figure in shifting the cultural avant-garde from Paris to New York. The 1930s was a tremendously fruitful and diverse decade for photography, with several styles competing for attention. Despite this, Levy was not successful in establishing a market for photography at the gallery. He did live to see his dream realized, however. By the time of Levy's death in 1981, the medium was beginning to find an enthusiastic audience and the field has grown exponentially since then.
The exhibition and the accompanying book, co-published with Yale University Press, are made possible by The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation with additional support from Furthermore: a program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund. The book is also supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Fund for Scholarly Publications.
Katherine Ware • Curator of Photographs, Alfred Stieglitz Center
Peter Barberie • Horace W. Goldsmith Curatorial Fellow in Photography
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