Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity

Berenice Abbott (July 17, 1898 – December 9, 1991), was an American photographer best known for her portraits of between-the-wars 20th century cultural figures, New York City photographs of architecture and urban design of the 1930s, and science interpretation in the 1940s to 1960s.

Berenice Abbott was a central figure in and important bridge between the photographic circles and cultural hubs of Paris and New York. She was born in Springfield, Ohio, and in 1918 moved to New York, where she studied sculpture independently, meeting and making vital connections with Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, leaders of the American avant-garde. 

Arriving back in New York in 1929, Abbott was struck by the rapid transformation of the built landscape. On the eve of the Great Depression she began a series of documentary photographs of the city that, with the support of the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project from 1935 to 1939, debuted in 1939 as the traveling exhibition and publication Changing New York.

For the rest of her life Abbott advocated for a documentary style of photography as exemplified in this project, continuing the legacy of documentary tradition of Eugène Atget.

From February, 20 until May 19, the exhibition will opening in Barcelona, Casa Garriga Nogués Exhibition Hall (and then in Madrid from May 30 to August 26, 2019).

The exhibition has been produced by Fundación MAPFRE and curated by Estrella de Diego, professor of Contemporary Art at the Universidad Complutense of Madrid and member of the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts. This exhibition includes works from some of the most important North American collections: The New York Public Library, The George Eastman Museum (Rochester, New York), The Howard Greenberg Gallery (New York), The International Center of Photography (New York), the MIT Museum (Cambridge, Massachusetts) and The Museum of the City of New York.

Her modern portraits of the most avant-garde artists and intellectuals of the time and her breathtaking views of New York City are brought together in the catalog published by Fundación MAPFRE. The publication is available in Spanish, Catalan and English and includes texts by Estrella de Diego, the curator of Architecture, Design and Photography at the MIT Museum, Gary Van Zante, and the New York-based novelist Cara Hoffman.

This handsome publication presents Berenice Abbott’s work in three categories: her portraits, photographs of the city and scientific photographs.
The opening section presents Abbott’s portraits of mold-breaking individuals who changed the world from the mid-1920s onward such as Djuna Barnes, the New Yorker’s Janet Flanner, Jean Cocteau and James Joyce.

The second part offers a dazzling portrait of New York which takes into account Abbott’s relations with and her fascination for the work of Eugène Atget by including an introductory group of his photographs, which she printed from his negatives.

The third and final section focuses on Abbott’s scientific photographs, which she started to produce in the late 1940s.

More info on the exhibition.
More info on the publication.

Text by Estrella de Diego, Gary Van Zante, Cara Hoffman.
ISBN: 9788498447040 | US $65.00
Pub Date: 4/23/2019

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