First Retrospective of Photographer Anthony Hernandez Opens at SFMOMA This Fall

  • SAN FRANCISCO, California
  • /
  • June 20, 2016

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Anthony Hernandez, Discarded #50, 2014; courtesy the artist; © Anthony Hernandez

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) announces the first retrospective to honor the more than 45-year career of the major American photographer Anthony Hernandez. Featuring approximately 160 photographs, many of which have never before been seen or published, Anthony Hernandez will be on view from September 24, 2016 through January 1, 2017 as the inaugural special exhibition in the museum’s new Pritzker Center for Photography. The exhibition will present the full scope of Hernandez’s long and prolific career, celebrating the artist’s unique brand of street photography and how it has changed and developed over time.

“Hernandez’s photographs have long been admired by curators, collectors and other photographers,” said Erin O’Toole, curator of the exhibition and Baker Street Foundation Associate Curator of Photography at SFMOMA. “SFMOMA is thrilled to have the opportunity to introduce his incredible body of work to a broader audience.”

The child of Mexican immigrants, Hernandez was born and raised in Los Angeles. Largely unaware of the formal traditions of the medium, he developed his own individual photographic style, one attuned to particularities of L.A., its desolate beauty and sprawling expanses of asphalt and concrete. Over the course of his career, Hernandez has deftly moved from black-and-white to color photography, from 35mm to large-format cameras, and from the human figure to the landscape to abstracted detail, producing an unusually varied body of work united by its arresting formal beauty and subtle engagement with contemporary social issues.

Highlights from the exhibition will include black-and-white photographs from the early 1970s that were taken on the streets of downtown Los Angeles, color pictures made on Rodeo Drive in the mid-1980s and selections from his critically acclaimed series Landscapes for the Homeless that was completed in 1991. For this series, Hernandez photographed what had been left behind at vacant homeless encampments, offering glimpses into the lives of the people who once found refuge there. Anthony Hernandez will also feature more abstract, large-scale color work taken recently in Los Angeles and on the road in locations ranging from Oakland and Baltimore to Rome.

Hernandez has published six monographs, and his work has been featured in numerous group exhibitions, including SFMOMA’s Crossing the Frontier (1996) and MOCA’s Under the Big Black Sun (2011). In 2009, his work was the subject of a monographic exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery co-curated by artist Jeff Wall.

A fully illustrated catalogue will accompany the exhibition published by SFMOMA in association with D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, New York. In addition to more than 200 black-and-white and color plates, the book will include a preface by photographer Robert Adams; essays by Erin O’Toole and Ralph Rugoff, Director of the Hayward Gallery, London; as well as a dialogue between Hernandez and his long-time friend, photographer Lewis Baltz.

SFMOMA has been collecting and exhibiting photography since its founding in 1935 and was one of the first American art museums to do so. An independent department was established under the direction of Van Deren Coke in 1980. Under the leadership of Senior Curator Sandra Phillips, who joined SFMOMA in 1987, the collection has grown exponentially in size and quality, and the program, based on a philosophy of collecting and interpreting the photographic medium in all its richness and complexity, has earned an international reputation.

Today the photography collection numbers more than 17,000 objects, and is the largest collection at the museum. Its strengths include outstanding examples of work by West Coast modernist masters like Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and their counterparts on the East Coast, most notably Alfred Stieglitz and Charles Sheeler. A small but important group of European modernist works by Hans Bellmer, Claude Cahun, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray, among others, represents another highlight of this period. The collection also demonstrates a deep commitment to the work of major 20th- and 21st-century figures, including Robert Adams, Diane Arbus, Lewis Baltz, Rineke Dijkstra, William Eggleston and Larry Sultan.

SFMOMA is particularly renowned for its thematic exhibitions, presenting photography as a vital modern visual language. This strong interest in photography’s social and cultural importance and this pioneering commitment to examining the medium’s distinguishing—and changing—characteristics continues to grow in relevance, as newer generations and evolving technologies challenge the very definition of photography as never before.

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