Monday, April 19, 2010

Weegee at the Indianapolis Museum of Art

360 degree panorama of the exhibit

Shots in the Dark

Photographs by Weegee the Famous

Without any fanfare, on Saturday April 17 the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) opened their Weegee exhibit, “Shots in the Dark.

On the way home from a camping trip in Kentucky, two women purchased a trunk at a yard sale. Inside the trunk were 210 vintage Weegee prints and 62 letters. The trunk was assumed to be at one time in the possession of Wilma Wilcox, Weegee’s companion. The material was shown to an Indianapolis rare documents dealer. Subsequently, through purchase and a partial gift, IMA acquired the collection. Although the collection is small as compared to the Weegee archive in the International Center of Photography, the collection of photographs represents a wide overview of Weegee’s career so it is a very nice addition to IMA’s modest photography collection.

Weegee’s (Arthur Fellig) career is a storied one of photographing crime scenes and the seedy side of New York City. He also experimented with darkroom and in-camera manipulations, even having a Hasselblad and other cameras with a kaleidoscope attached to its lens!

On Saturday friends Denis Ryan and Mary Ann Kelly, Connie Price, my wife Satch and I met for lunch at the Nourish Cafe and then took in the exhibition.

“Shots in the Dark” presents 48 photographs. The exhibit appears to reflect the entire collection as it presents a broad overview of Weegee’s work. Not only are there the expected journalistic photographs, but some of his more “artistic” photographs, such as darkroom manipulations of the Mona Lisa, Picasso and Bette Davis and a kaleidoscope image of people entering London’s Tate to view a Picasso exhibition are shown.

The photographs are grouped in a thoughtful way. The photographs are shown in context with similarly themed images. The prints are exquisite. The photograph’s accompanying explanations are well written and full of information helping the viewer understand the work. The inclusion of quotes from Weegee is a very nice touch and almost makes one feel that Weegee himself is guiding a tour of the exhibit.

The work is framed in lightly colored, somewhat wide, wooden frames and the wall colors are sort of a light “latte” color. (This was the same presentation theme used for the exhibit "Paired Photographs.") While this scheme matches nicely with the hardwood floor, simple narrow dark frames and a more neutral gray wall color would better complement the work; in my opinion, of course.

The exhibit being limited in scope only whetted my appetite. It is always easy to complain and want more of something, but the high quality of this exhibit really did make me wish for another roomful of Weegee’s work. I fear that IMA will believe that this exhibit is adequate for presentation of the Weegee collection. Here’s hoping that a comprehensive exhibit of the collection including all of the prints (that are suitable for exhibition) along with the letters along with the letters will be organized and shown in the near future.

“Shots in the Dark” is the third exhibition of photography over the last two years. “On the Road Again with Jack Kerouac and Robert Frank” featured 83 photographs from Robert Frank’s seminal work, “Le Americains” along with the 120 foot long original scrolled transcript of Kerouac’s “On the Road." “Paired Photographs” explored various themes by pairing historic, modern and contemporary photographs from the museum’s collection.

It is great that the IMA, under the direction of Maxwell Anderson, is embracing photography. That being said, while briefly speaking with Mr. Anderson at the Tara Donovan opening we found out that IMA does not have a photography curator. He did encourage us to write to the curators at IMA and request more photographic exhibitions. And I would encourage the readers of this blog to do the same.

Don’t miss “Shots in the Dark.” It is a great opportunity to see the work of Weegee, one of photography’s masters.

Photographs from IMA's Weegee collection

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