The Akron Art Museum Presents Edward Weston: Life Work

Edward Weston: Life Work, on view at the Akron Art Museum January 31 – April 26, 2009, surveys the five-decade career of this American master through an outstanding grouping of over 100 vintage photographs. Astonishingly, all the works are from the collection of one couple, New York photography collectors Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg. Weston, who was one of the greatest photographic printers of the 20th century, often reserved his choicest prints for family and close friends. Mattis and Hochberg managed to acquire many works – in fact, most of the prints in this exhibition – directly from members of the Weston family.

“This exhibition makes it clear why Hochberg and Mattis consider Weston ‘the Picasso of the camera.’ We get to see not just Weston’s signature images, but also a number of previously unpublished masterpieces,” says Dr. Barbara Tannenbaum, director of curatorial affairs at the Akron Art Museum. “The amazing range and depth of Mattis and Hochberg’s collection gives us a fresh look at Weston’s art and broadens our understanding of his thought process.”

To see a chronological survey of Weston’s art “is to witness a purposeful and heroic shelling away of subjective addenda, of all the trimming that, to the average observer, transmutes a photograph into a work of art,” wrote painter Jean Charlot. Weston’s striking 1909 outdoor Pictorialist study of his wife Flora is perhaps his first nude. His famous image of Armco Steel in Middletown, Ohio, 1922, marked his final break from the confines of Pictorialism and studio work, and announced the emergence of a sharply focused style. In the mid-1920s, Weston unleashed his newly spare approach to photography in Mexico with Heaped Black Ollas and his famous image of a toilet, Excusado. Returning to Glendale in 1926, he continued to experiment with pure form and disconcerting scale shifts in his long exposures of shells, peppers, mushrooms, radishes and kelp. These memorable still lifes, which Weston termed “quintessences,” segue naturally into a remarkable set of sculptural nudes done between 1933 and 1934.

Subsequently, Weston pulled back and loosened up his style considerably as he turned to the open landscape. This exhibition includes an important suite of six dune studies made near Oceano, California in 1934 and 1936. In addition to landscapes and studies of desert detritus made with the support of a Guggenheim grant, portraits of prominent artistic and literary figures are also well represented. The exhibition concludes with Weston’s consummate final photograph, nicknamed The Dody Rocks, 1948.

Whether exploring still life, the human face, the landscape or the nude, it is the picture—its composition, style, mood and technique—that is Weston’s subject. Weston’s goal is not a literal recording; it is depicting the object “in its deepest moment of perception,” when it reveals the photographer as well as the photographed. Viewing this exhibition, you will realize that Weston’s prints are not merely black and white. Dody Weston Thompson has described how they, “shine with a mysterious inner light, arousing a sensuous response to their print quality alone: the blacks seemed rich as oil or deep as velvet, a thousand intermediate grays gleamed out—soft pewters, glinting silvers—and at the upper end of the scale were whipped cream, pearls and sunlight.”

All works are from the collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg.

This exhibition was organized by art2art Circulating Exhibitions. Its presentation in Akron is made possible by exclusive sponsorship from Akron Community Foundation.