- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2006

New York City’s flavor can hardly be contained in 66 black-and-white photographs, but “The Streets of New York: American Photographs From the Collection, 1938-1958,” a new exhibit at the National Gallery of Art, packs a wallop far beyond its size — especially for anyone with memories of the place from that era.

At Wednesday evening’s preview reception, gallery President Victoria Sant said the show reflects the “energy” she recalls from days when she worked in public relations for the Hearst Corp. The 20 artists represented on the walls purposefully broke the rules “to capture the city’s vitality and vulgarity,” as NGA Director Earl A. “Rusty” Powell III had noted at an earlier press preview.

“It’s more like movie New York,” remarked Washington Convention and Tourism Corp. Vice President Vicky Isley while touring the rooms, part of the two-year-old permanent photo galleries in the West Building. “The faces are always interesting and engaging.”

Guests, who included George Washington University President Stephen Trachtenberg, a New York native, and National Endowment for the Humanities head Bruce Cole, were treated to such gustatory reminders as Manhattan cocktails, oysters Rockefeller, New York strip loin of beef and Lindy’s-style cheesecake.

Timing of the Sunday opening, close to September 11 commemorative events, was “entirely coincidental,” said exhibit curator Sarah Greenough, head of the department of photographs, who spoke of how many emerging photographers in the midcentury were “true to the city but not [always] to reality” and of the 1950s as having “a nervous, edgy quality” seen in much of the work.

Classic images on view include the Subway portraits Walker Evans took without looking into the lens, Weegee’s flash-lit gritty scenes, William Klein’s portrayals of street life, and Richard Avedon’s classic portrait of poet W.H. Auden on St. Mark’s Place. A few of the photographers are still alive, but none was present Wednesday.

“World War II was over. All these young photographers are back home with huge a burden off them,” remarked Howard Greenberg, a New Yorker who has had an eponymously named Midtown gallery for 25 years. Several vehicles impelled them, he said: “strong mentors” and the fact that “it now was possible to make a living working for magazines.”

Sixteen of the works on the walls come from a fund established by local collectors Mallory and Diana Walker. (The latter was for years a staff photographer for Time magazine, covering the White House.) New York certainly is associated with visual images, Mr. Walker noted, while at the same time, “more photographs probably are taken [in Washington] than anywhere in the world.”

Ann Geracimos



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