eugene m. schwartz

Surveying Garry Winogrand’s American Epic

Garry Winogrand (American, 1928–1984). Coney Island, New York, ca. 1952. Gelatin silver print. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase and gift of Barbara Schwartz in memory of Eugene M. Schwartz. © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

In order to enter the Garry Winogrand retrospective that opened last month at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you exit the main auditorium into the south wing, where you are greeted by a long corridor of Greek art from the sixth through fourth centuries BC. It mostly consists of statues in various poses—some at war, some lost in thought, some proclaiming, some brooding. By the time you reach the Winogrand show on the second floor and begin to survey the work, it may occur to you that the Greek gallery provided something of an anachronistic prologue. Known for his routine of tirelessly walking the streets candidly photographing city life, Winogrand was a photographer of people, from rodeo performers in Texas to socialites in Manhattan to the regulars at Venice Beach. Humanity—or perhaps American humanity—in all its iterations and range of expression, was his subject matter.

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Garry Winogrand (American, 1928–1984). New York, 1950. Gelatin silver print. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Fractional and promised gift of Carla Emil and Rich Silverstein. © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

The Met is the third stop of the exhibition’s tour, originating at San Francisco MoMA. The project began when gallerist Jeffrey Fraenkel asked photographer Leo Rubinfien to help compile a large retrospective book of Winogrand’s work. Rubinfien agreed, but in his own words, “it was immediately clear you needed a museum.” So Rubinfien approached San Francisco MoMA Curator of Photography Sandy Phillips, who jumped at the idea of doing an exhibition, in which Rubinfien, who is not a curator by trade, would act as such. This iteration at the Met was reduced from the original SF MoMA show by Jeff Rosenheim, curator in charge of the Department of Photographs at the Met. It is the first Winogrand retrospective in 25 years, a virtual eternity for an artist of Winogrand’s renown, let alone an artist no longer living.