Hirshhorn Plaza

Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

June 20 to September 8, 2002
Enlarged from its spring 2001 premiere at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, this exhibition was installed in the Museum’s second-floor galleries and tracked a half-century of photographers’ fascination with the faces, gestures, and architecture of the urban streetscape, from edgy postwar imagery and pioneering work in color to contemporary conceptual explorations. Included were more than 130 photographs by 19 international artists. Washington, DC, was the show’s final and only stop in the United States.

Taking its title from Roberto Rossellini’s stark neorealist film of 1945, this exhibition charted the history of development of the street photograph from the 1950s onward. Its starting point was the raw and edgy photographs produced by Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, William Klein, and Garry Winogrand, who were instrumental in the development of a radical new approach to documentary photography. For these and other artists, including Daido Moriyama, Nobuyoshi Araki, Nigel Henderson, and William Eggleston, the street fascinates as a theater of human activity. Open City reflected the diversity of work that the street has inspired, ranging from Terence Donovan’s advertising and fashion photography to Susan Meiselas’s photographs of war-torn areas of Nicaragua and Raghubir Singh’s vibrant and colorful images of his native India.

The exhibition concluded with works from the 1980s and 1990s by photographers who, influenced by the Conceptual art of preceding decades, turned the camera on itself, rethinking the traditions of the street genre and of the photographic apparatus. the work of Jeff Wall, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Nikki S. Lee, Catherine Opie, Allan Sekula, Beat Streuli, Thomas Struth, and Wolfgang Tillmans was representative of this newer generation of artists.

Cocurated by Hirshhorn Chief Curator Kerry Brougher and Russell Ferguson, Chief Curator of the UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, the exhibition was organized and toured by the Museum of Modern Art Oxford with kind support from The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The John S. Cohen Foundation, Pro Helvetia, and the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations, Stuttgart.

Additional funding for the Hirshhorn presentation was provided in part by the Canadian Embassy, The Japan Foundation, Pro Helvetia, and the Embassy of Switzerland, Cultural Fund. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) was the promotional partner for the Washington, DC, showing of this exhibition.

A 205-page illustrated catalogue, with essays by Russell Ferguson and Kerry Brougher exploring the historical roots of street photography and the way in which artists have continued the tradition, was published to accompany the exhibition.