The Indianapolis Museum of Art announced it will premiere an exhibition showcasing 48 works selected from the Museum’s recent major acquisition of 210 photographs by Arthur Fellig, the father of New York Street photography better known as Weegee the Famous. Shots in the Dark: Photos by Weegee the Famous, on view exclusively at the IMA from April 17, 2010 to January 16, 2011, will follow Weegee’s career from 1931 to 1965, when his photography chronicled the daily workings of the city. Shots in the Dark marks the first time that these works will be displayed publicly since the Museum acquired this extraordinary collection of photographs in 2008. The majority of the works featured in Shots in the Dark have never been shown in a museum exhibition.
“A prolific photographer, Weegee produced thousands of images in his lifetime, many of which have not yet been made available to the public,” said Maxwell L. Anderson, The Melvin & Bren Simon Director and CEO of the IMA. “The collection of 210 Weegee images acquired by the IMA boasts great breadth, allowing the Museum to present a thorough overview of his career.”
Shots in the Dark will explore a range of works that defined Weegee’s career, including photos of crime scenes in the 1930s, Harlem jazz clubs in the ’40s, audiences at Sinatra concerts or in darkened movie theaters taken surreptitiously with infrared film, strippers, transvestites, Greenwich Village coffee houses in the ’50s and portraits of the famous, shot through distorting lenses of his own devising.
“For Shots in the Dark, the IMA has selected 48 images spanning Weegee’s career to introduce Museum audiences to this cigar-chomping, Runyonesque New Yorker as he ventured where other photographers did not go and photographed what others chose to ignore,” said Martin Krause, curator of prints, drawings & photographs at the IMA.
The IMA announced in 2008 that it had acquired 210 photographs by Weegee (Arthur Fellig, 1899–1968). The collection is considered second only to that from the artist’s estate at the International Center of Photography in New York. The collection, which belonged at one time to Weegee’s longtime companion Wilma Wilcox, contains photographs spanning Weegee’s career and portraying all aspects of his idiosyncratic subject matter. It was purchased in part with funds from the Caroline Marmon Fesler Fund and the Alliance of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
Weegee was a photojournalist whose work was synonymous with New York City. From 1930 to the end of his life, he prowled the metropolis with his Speed Graphic camera—from Uptown to Downtown, from the upscale to the down-and-out. While Weegee’s intent was simply to photograph “the soul of the city I knew and loved,” his unflinching eye set the trend for young, edgy photographers in the 1960s, most notably Diane Arbus, who was a great admirer. Ever the intrepid chronicler of the city, he began his career as a freelance photographer, providing gritty crime scene photos to the tabloids and he arrived on the scene so frequently in advance of the police that they told him that he must be using a Ouija board, which the photographer adopted as his moniker—”Weegee.” In 1945, Weegee compiled a selection of his candid street photographs into a book, Naked City, which brought him fame and which inspired the film noir classic of the same title. This film drew Weegee to Hollywood in 1947 where he embarked on a second phase of his career. For five years, he photographed the glamorous at movie premiers and Oscar ceremonies and then, in the darkroom, distorted those portraits into wicked and perceptive caricatures of movie stars and personalities. These were published for the first time in Weegee’s Naked Hollywood in 1953.
The Weegee works are among the highlights of the IMA’s growing photography collection. In 1992, the Museum embarked on building a comprehensive photography collection. While still accounting for a small fraction of the IMA’s collection of 28,000 works on paper, the photography holdings now number some 700 works and include vintage images by William Henry Fox Talbot, Julia Margaret Cameron, Carleton Watkins, Charles Sheeler, Andre Kertesz, Alexander Rodchenko, Brassai, Berenice Abbott, Margaret Bourke White, Dorothea Lange,Edward Weston, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman, James Casebere and Gregory Crewdson, among other masters of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.
TIndianapolis Museum of Art 4000 Michigan Road, the IMA and Lilly House are open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. The IMA is closed Mondays and Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s days. For more information, call 317-923-1331 or visit www.imamuseum.org
Image: Weegee with his Speed Graphic Camera, 1944. ©Wegee/International Center of Photography/Getty Images