Picturing America: Photorealism in the 1970s

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Ralph Goings, McDonalds Pickup, 1970

Ralph Goings, McDonalds Pickup, 1970. Oil on canvas, 104.1 x 104.1 cm. OK Harris Works of Art, New York. © Ralph Goings, courtesy OK Harris Works of Art, New York

Picturing America: Photorealism in the 1970s

March 7–May 10, 2009

At the end of the 1960s, a number of young artists working in the United States began making realist paintings based directly on photographs. With often-meticulous detail, they portrayed the objects, people, and places that defined both urban and suburban American life. Variously presented under the labels Hyperrealism, Radical Realism, New Realism, and Photorealism, their work quickly became one of the most discussed topics in contemporary art. Unlike the Pop artists, the Photorealists did not present their ubiquitous, and in many cases mundane, subject matter—for example, reflective shop windows, shiny cars, and sugary foodstuffs—in an ironic manner. Rather, they stayed more or less faithful to the mechanical reproductions that served as their point of departure, using a variety of methods to translate photographic information onto canvas and paper.

Picturing America, the first major showing of Photorealism in Germany in nearly thirty years, features thirty-one paintings, a number of which are the most iconic works of the period, by artists Robert Bechtle, Charles Bell, Tom Blackwell, Chuck Close, Robert Cottingham, Don Eddy, Richard Estes, Audrey Flack, Ralph Goings, Ron Kleeman, Richard McLean, Malcolm Morley, John Salt, and Ben Schonzeit. At once deeply nostalgic and incredibly fresh, these works will be presented in three thematic sections—Reflections on the City, The Culture of Consumption, and American Life—that, taken together, will provide a snapshot of both a single chapter in art history and a particular moment in American history. A fourth section is dedicated to a portfolio of ten lithographs made on the occasion of the fifth Documenta (1972), a contemporary art exhibition in Kassel, Germany, begun in 1955 and presented every five years, which featured the first extensive group presentation of Photorealism in the 1970s.

Organized by Valerie Hillings, Assistant Curator.

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