[MoMA]. Murals by American Painters and Photographers. New York: Museum of Modern Art, (1932).

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Murals by American Painters and Photographers.
New York: Museum of Modern Art, (1932).

4to (253 × 192 mm), pp.64. Black-and-white reproductions of 25 painted murals with studies, and 11 photographic murals. Introduction to the paintings by Lincoln Kirstein, introduction to the photographs by Julien Levy; occasional light offsetting. Printed wrappers, orange, text in black; minor sunning and dust-marking to spine, two horizontal marks to rear. Near-fine.

First edition of the catalogue for the first Museum of Modern Art, New York exhibition of photography, May 3 - May 31, 1932. This was the sixteenth exhibition staged by the museum, and the second in their new space on 53rd street. The preceding exhibition Modern Architecture: International Exhibition had used photographs to illustrate new European building and design practices, but Murals by American Painters and Photographers was the first to exhibit photographs in and of their own right.

The Museum’s Advisory Committee wanted to show domestic artwork alongside the new work that was coming in from Europe, and Alfred Barr, the museum’s director wanted a chance to present photography as an independent art. Murals By American Painters and Photographers gave exactly that opportunity and Barr approached Lincoln Kirstein for help. Kirstein, in turn, went to his friend and New York gallery owner Julien Levy, and between them, they procured the photographs that were displayed. These three men were all important supporters of photography, and the following year in 1933, Kirstein was director of an exhibition of Walker Evans photographs of nineteenth-century homes — first one-man photography show at MoMA.

The photographic panels in Murals By American Painters and Photographers comprised of prints backed on canvas and glazed with a varnish. Each designed to fit in a space seven feet high by twelve feet long. In his introduction, Julien Levy writes that it was only recently that producing photographs on this scale became possible with the perfected manufacture of large enough sheets of sensitized paper, employed extensively in Hollywood to replace painted backdrops.

‘The history of photo-mural repeats in a condensed span of time the history of photography, first as a primitive in the service of economic reality, then self-consciously imitating painting and the graphic arts; yesterday using the actual photographic medium as a basis for expression, and only today in this present exhibition inviting recognized artists in the medium to study the new problem and contribute their projects.’

The photographers whose work was included in the exhibition are Berenice Abbott, Maurice Bratter, Hendrick V. Duryea & Robert E. Locher, Arthur Gerlach, Emma Little & Joella Levy, George Platt Lynes, William M. Ritasse, Thurman Rotan, Charles Sheeler, Stella Simon, Edward Steichen, and Luke H. Swank. All are reproduced in the catalogue with the exception of the mural by Emma Little & Joella Levy, which has a note stating that it was not completed in time for inclusion in the catalogue.


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