The Akron Art Museum Presents The Knight Purchase Award: Helen Levitt
For Release: May 2009
Akron, Ohio, May 29, 2009 — The Akron Art Museum is honored to present an exhibition of recently deceased American photographer Helen Levitt’s work June 6 – October 4, 2009. Known for her “street photography” around New York City, Levitt was one of the most celebrated artists of our time.
In 1943, after five years of shooting photos, Levitt had her first solo exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, one of the pinnacles of art world success both then and now. Decades later, the extraordinary, precocious artist would be announced winner of the Akron Art Museum’s 2007 John S. and James L. Knight Purchase Award for Photographic Media. This exhibition, held 66 years later, comprises pictures from the Akron Art Museum’s collection including works donated by the artist’s colleagues, friends and admirers over the past decade, as well as the recent Knight Award purchases.
Never a household name, Levitt has always been regarded as "a photographer’s photographer." Levitt’s explanation of her decision to become a photographer, writes critic Adam Gopnik, "is so startlingly simple that it sounds, it must be, sincere. She became a photographer because she wanted to be an artist and couldn’t draw. She was affected by the time [the end of the Great Depression] and tried to photograph ‘conditions.' Then she...realized it was better not to photograph conditions, and she started photographing people."
The streets of New York were Levitt’s milieu. She made many of her images in the days before air conditioning and television, when communal and domestic pleasures and dramas were played out on the front stoop, the sidewalk and in the street. Because her images were found rather than posed, she had to be patient and have an intuitive relationship with the camera, an exceptional eye for gesture and composition, and a deep understanding of human behavior. While Levitt photographed New York, her pictures reveal universal truths about human nature and human relationships.
An outstanding artist whose talents went beyond photography and into the world of film and books, Levitt received an Academy Award nomination for her screenplay of The Quiet One in 1948 and published eight books of her documentary photography.
She lived modestly in a spare fourth-floor walk-up in New York’s Greenwich Village. Her constant companion was an enormous and very spoiled cat. Friends regularly dropped by to help and chat. On March 29, 2009, Levitt passed away there in her sleep at age 95. Her legacy to us is a marvelous body of photographs and films.
This exhibition is organized by the Akron Art Museum and is supported by a generous gift from George and Sue Klein.
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Admission: Adult general admission is $7, Student and Senior (65+) general admission is $5, Children (12 and under) are FREE, members are FREE. On the first Sunday of every month, individual admissions to the collection are FREE. Special exhibitions may require paid admission. No tours available on these days.