Annie Leibovitz opens new art show at Smithsonian

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Her travels for “Pilgrimage” produced images of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud’s couch, sharpshooter Annie Oakley’s heart-shaped shooting target, Presley’s Harley-Davidson and a TV he once shot with a gun at Graceland.

As a nod to Sontag, Leibovitz visited the home of Virginia Woolf, one of her partner’s favorite writers, where she was happy to learn such a brilliant person could have such a messy studio, she said.

Andy Grundberg, guest curator for the show and a dean at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, said Leibovitz is presenting cultural history in a new way.

“She’s trying to convey a sense of people without the people actually being there in front of the camera,” he said of Leibovitz‘ travels. “She was kind of bushwhacking through our cultural legacy and figuring it out as she went along.”

In some cases, one destination would lead to several others. Leibovitz was fascinated with the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, which led her to find Lincoln’s top hat at the Smithsonian, models for Lincoln’s statue in the studio of sculptor Daniel Chester French and a concert gown of Marian Anderson, who sang at the memorial when she was shut out of a segregated concert hall.

Leibovitz eventually compiled the project into a book that evolved into the new exhibit. The show is on view in Washington through May 20 and then will travel to U.S. museums through 2014. The photographs on display will be donated to the Smithsonian American Art Museum for its permanent collection.

Leibovitz said she pursued her new project to protect and nurture her lucrative portrait work by going back to it revived with new energy.

“It’s a project I did for myself. I wanted to be seduced into a photograph and not make it up,” she said. “And I wanted to take my time.”


Smithsonian American Art Museum:


Brett Zongker can be reached at

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