- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 18, 2001

Kerry Brougher, who came to the Smithsonian Institution's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden as chief curator 11 months ago, decided to tackle photography for his first major show. His internationally focused exhibit, "Open City: Street Photographs Since 1950," opens June 13, 2002.
He co-curated the exhibit with Russell Ferguson, a former colleague at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles. Mr. Ferguson is now chief curator of the UCLA Hammer Museum, also in Los Angeles.
"The Hirshhorn hasn't concentrated on shows of photography, especially recent developments in certain photo genres such as street photography. Historically, it began shortly after photography's start in 1839 and went through big changes during the 1950s," says Mr. Brougher, 48.
He chose the title "Open City" to evoke Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini's 1945 film "Rome, Open City." The curator also wanted to imply the wide-ranging possibilities urban life holds for photographers. The show includes 100 photographs by 19 artists.
"Rossellini's coarsely shot films, with their 'gritty realism,' changed the sleek black-and-white approaches of prewar cinematography," Mr. Brougher says.
"He introduced the 'gritty naturalism' that influenced the whole next generation of photographers. After Rossellini, many postwar photographers decided to make artistic as well as documentary use of the camera," the curator explains.
The idea for "Open City" began in Los Angeles when Mr. Brougher was a curator at MOCA. An important photo collection was offered to the museum in 1994, the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Photography Collection.
Mr. Brougher says MOCA bought it, although the staff was divided about purchasing the collection. It numbered 2,300 photographs and included works by Diane Arbus, Brassai, Robert Frank and Garry Winogrand, among other greats.
"It had an important group of artists that greatly influenced the younger ones," he says.
Mr. Brougher, a California native, had become interested in photography and film while earning a bachelor's degree in art history at the University of California at Irvine in 1974. He says the art program was experimental, and he switched from a major in neoclassic art to one in contemporary art.
"Installation and performance art were just beginning, and I became fascinated with seeing how certain art forms such as art, film, literature and music interconnect. I was deeply interested in experimental film and modern and contemporary art," he says.
The curator says he became very interested in the artists in the Parsons Foundation collection at MOCA and realized that "the street" was one of the key genres. Mr. Ferguson was there and agreed.
Mr. Brougher took the idea with him when he became director of the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford, England, in 1997. Mr. Ferguson joined him as co-curator of the exhibit, and they completed it when Mr. Brougher arrived at the Hirshhorn.
At first they considered making the show a survey from the 1950s to the present, but they opted instead to select the work of a few outstanding photographers.
"We chose Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, William Klein and Lee Friedlander for the raw, sometimes off-balance they brought to photography in the 1950s and 1960s," Mr. Brougher says.
Pointing to images in the catalog, the curator selects Mr. Klein's "Gun 2, New York." He likes it for its "in-your-face" close-up of two mischievous Hispanic youngsters and the "informality" in cutting off a figure behind the two children.
Mr. Brougher prizes Mr. Winogrand's "Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, California" for what he calls "the edginess and underlying violence."
He says photographers were then using the portable, hand-held camera that permitted angled shots such as this and great speed in shooting.
It also allowed photographers to "become part of the action" and to "shoot from the hip" as part of a crowd. Mr. Brougher says they participated in street life, as with photographers Klein and Friedlander.
By the 1960s, fashion photography influenced street photos, as in Terence Donovan's "Top Coats," in which a handsome male model looks straight at the viewer from a tenement-lined city lot.
Mr. Brougher says the line between documentary and art became further blurred by Philip-Lorca diCorcia, who paid his subjects to participate. The curator opens the catalog to a large-scale light box by Jeff Wall with a complexly staged scenario.
The Hirshhorn curator says he likes to work on an exhibit with another curator. "We enjoy having a dialogue about the exhibition, and we keep prodding each other," he says.
They divided up the tasks and artist selection. Mr. Ferguson was closer to Los Angeles and looked at works there. "I was close to New York and its galleries and selected the Kleins and [William] Egglestons from there. We worked with artists we were already close to," Mr. Brougher adds.
He says he made a big change when he came to the Hirshhorn after three years in England. But the curator feels the museum ranks among the top of museums collecting and showing modern and contemporary art. Mr. Brougher also wanted to work with outgoing director Jim Demetrion.
Mr. Brougher and his wife, Nora Halpern, have settled in Bethesda with their two young daughters.


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