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Untitled, 1960s Ralph Eugene Meatyard, American (1925-1972) Gelatin silver print. Image sheet: 7 1/4 x 6 3/4 in. © The Estate of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco


Ralph Eugene Meatyard: Dolls and Masks

May 19–August 5, 2012

Ralph Eugene Meatyard (American 1925–1972) is not a very familiar name in 20th-century photography, yet his impact on contemporary art, belatedly recognized, is significant. An optician in Lexington, Kentucky, Meatyard sustained a life-long interest in visual perception. Well read and deeply connected to a circle of poets and philosophers, he made photographs rich in literary allusion. Meatyard's photography was not accidental or documentary, but rather deliberate, often staged, and searching for inner truths rather than ephemeral surfaces. His simple presentations of fictional scenarios have found echoes in the work of artists such as Emmet Gowin, Cindy Sherman, and Francesca Woodman.

In his last decade, Meatyard kept returning to the tropes of dolls and masks, often photographing his children posed in abandoned houses and landscapes near his home. These pictures put an uncanny spin on family photography, exploring the contrasts between childhood and mortality, intimacy and unknowability, sharing and hiding. Meatyard's last project before his untimely death was The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater, a project based on the common snapshot album but featuring friends and family all wearing masks. Drawn from the photographer's estate, this focused exhibition of almost sixty photographs--all of them made before that iconic project--examines dolls and masks across Meatyard's different bodies of work as a window into his enigmatic practice.

Main Building


This exhibition was organized by the Art Institute of Chicago.


Peter Barberie, The Brodsky Curator of Photographs, Alfred Stieglitz Center

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