Arnold Newman: Masterclass

  • SAN FRANCISCO, California
  • /
  • October 09, 2014

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Arnold Newman, Georgia O’Keeffe, painter, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, 1968 Gelatin silver print © 1968. Arnold Newman/Getty Images. Arnold Newman: Masterclass. On view October 23, 2014–February 1, 2015. Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco

A retrospective showcasing the work of the twentieth century’s master of modern portrait photography, October 23, 2014–February 1, 2015.

Arnold Newman: Masterclass celebrates the singular vision of one of the most influential portrait photographers of the twentieth century. Over the course of nearly seven decades, Arnold Newman (1918–2006) created iconic images of some of the most prominent innovators, celebrities, and cultural figures of his time. Martha Graham, Phillip Glass, Marilyn Monroe, Grandma Moses, Salvador Dali, Paul Auster, and Pablo Picasso are only a few of his celebrated sitters.

This first posthumous retrospective of the photographer’s work features over 200 vintage black and white photographs including Newman’s most famous portraits, as well as numerous works never before shown publicly.

Arnold Newman: Masterclass has been organized by the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography (FEP), Minneapolis, and the Harry Ransom Center, Austin, and curated by William A. Ewing.

“This is a wonderful time to reappraise the work of Arnold Newman,” says Lori Starr, The CJM’s Executive Director. “In this age of Facebook, Instagram and selfies, we are, more than ever, fascinated by our own likenesses and can all learn a great deal from the uncanny way in which Newman’s photographs capture the very essence of his subjects. A visit to this exhibition is, indeed, a masterclass in portraiture.”

A bold modernist with a superb sense of compositional geometry, Newman is known for a crisp, spare style that incorporated the personal environment, the work, and the intellectual background of the subject in his photographs with great sensitivity and care. This use of carefully composed settings to convey something essential about personality became known as “environmental portraiture,” and Newman was its pioneer despite his dislike of the term, which he felt did not encompass the psychological dimension. Artists delighted in sitting for him, knowing that he would find a way to convey their sensibility in a forceful, yet always appropriate, fashion.

“For me the professional studio is a sterile world,” said Newman in a 1991 interview. “I need to get out: Be with people where they’re at home. I can’t photograph ‘the soul,’ but I can show and tell you something fundamental about them.”

His subjects included world leaders, authors, artists, musicians, and scientists—Pablo Picasso in his studio; Igor Stravinsky sitting at the piano; Truman Capote lounging on his sofa; and Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank, in the attic where his family hid from the Nazis for more than two years.

But Newman’s productive career as a photographer was wide-ranging and included commissions for corporations, magazines, and advertising assignments. His enormous body of work (more than 8,000 images in all) includes portraits of businessmen, bankers, and leaders of industry, as well as group portraits such as his 1977 image of Polaroid employees at a Massachusetts plant. These images, on a par with those of his more famous subjects, were rarely, if ever, seen in his books and exhibitions.

Arnold Newman: Masterclass presents many of these for the first time and takes stock of the entire range of Newman’s photographic art including lesser-known and rarely exhibited still lifes, architectural studies, cityscapes, and earliest portraits. Also on view are test prints with various cropping possibilities marked out that reveal Newman’s process and attention to detail.

Arnold Newman

Arnold Newman was born March 3, 1918 in New York City to a relatively poor family of second-generation Jewish immigrants. He was raised in Atlantic City, New Jersey and Miami Beach, Florida, and studied art under a scholarship at the University of Miami from 1936 to 1938.

Newman began his career in photography in 1938 working at chain portrait studios in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and West Palm Beach, while outside of the studio he began working on his own in abstract and documentary photography. In June of 1941, Beaumont Newhall of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and photographer Alfred Stieglitz took note of his work, and he was given an exhibition with Ben Rose at the A.D. Gallery. In 1945, his solo exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Artists Look Like This, attracted nationwide attention. Well established, Newman moved to New York in 1946 to open his own studio and became a member of the American Society of Magazine Photographers.

In his private life, Newman was a strongly Jewish-identified artist, but his work and public persona only occasionally revealed those concerns.

Newman’s work is collected and exhibited in major museums around the world including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Chicago Art Institute; The Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Philadelphia Museum of Art; The Tate Modern and the National Portrait Gallery, London; The Israel Museum, Jerusalem; and many other prominent museums in Europe, Japan, South America, and Australia.

Newman was an important contributor to publications such as New York, Vanity Fair, LIFE, Look, Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, Town and Country, Scientific American, New York Times Magazine, and many others. He received major awards by leading professional organizations in the U.S. and abroad including the American Society of Media Photographers, The International Center of Photography, The Lucie Award, The Royal Photographic Society Centenary Award as well as France’s “Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters.” In 2005, Photo District News named Newman as one of the 25 most influential living photographers. In 2006, Newman was awarded The Gold Medal for Photography by The National Arts Club. He was the recipient of nine honorary doctorates and lectured and conducted workshops throughout the country and the world.

Arnold Newman died on June 6, 2006 in New York City. He was 88 years old.

Exhibition Catalog

Arnold Newman: Masterclass is accompanied by a catalog of the same name edited by William A. Ewing, Curator, FEP. Published by Thames & Hudson Inc., New York, the catalog includes more than 200 photographs, four essays, and short biographies of Newman’s sitters. Essay contributors include Ewing; David Coleman, director of the Witliff Collections and former curator of photography at the Harry Ransom Center; and Arthur Ollman, professor at San Diego State University and curator of an important earlier Newman retrospective. The catalog will be available for $50 in The Museum’s store.

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