Gallery Views of Friedlander

March 1-May 31, 2009
Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Exhibition Hall

Born in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1934, Lee Friedlander fell in love with photography as a teenager. He arrived in New York City in 1955, and for the next 15 years earned his living taking photographs for magazines and record albums.

In 1963, Friedlander summed up his subject as "the American social landscape"-the everyday backdrop of our lives. Over the next four decades, Friedlander created a uniquely vivid and far-ranging image of the American scene.

What was new about Friedlander's work was his talent for turning familiar photographic errors into beguiling puns and puzzles. A pole often gets in the way; a plate-glass window confuses outside and inside; the photographer's own shadow or reflection behaves like a character with a mindlessness of its own.

His early work is witty but willful: insistent upon photography's power to transform concrete fact into pictorial fiction. Beginning in the early 1970s, the range of his subjects broadened, and his craft matured to meet the challenge. Without ever losing its humor and verve, his style has grown ever more nimble, lyrical, and sensuous. Working in extended series, which he often makes into books, he has become one of the most prolific artists in photography's history.

To accommodate the breadth of Friedlander's work, the exhibition presents some 360 photographs, along with examples of his books and special editions. Several of his early portraits of musicians are presented here, but otherwise the retrospective is devoted to Friedlander's personal work from the late 1950s to the present. The pictures are grouped by date, subject, and style, helping to clarify the complex evolution of his rich career.

A simple declaration of fact, a bold invention of form, a sly act of artifice: a Friedlander photograph can be any of these-and all of them at once.

Peter Galassi
Chief Curator of Photography
The Museum of Modern Art, New York


This exhibition was organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Made possible by Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell, Agnes Gund, Toby Devan Lewis, and Mark Schwartz and Bettina Katz. The Cleveland Museum of Art is generously funded by Cuyahoga County residents through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. The Ohio Arts Council helped fund this exhibition with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence, and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans.