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Color Rush at the Milwaukee Art Museum exposes color in American photography
Marion Post Wolcott (American, 1910-1990), A cross roads store, bar, “juke joint,” and gas station in the cotton plantation area, Melrose, La., June 1940. 35mm color transparency. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF35-113.
MILWAUKEE, WIS.- Color in photography has had a checkered history. Although photographs in color had been desired since the medium’s invention in the nineteenth century, commercially viable color photographic processes were not available until the early twentieth century. By that time, monochromatic photography had become a common part of everyday life, so much so that black-and-white images seemed “real” despite their chromatic deficiencies. As color photographic technologies developed, discussions about the realism of black and white versus color emerged.

Color Rush: 75 Years of Color Photography in America captures the medium’s evolution throughout the first seven decades of the twentieth century, exploring the historical developments that led to color photography becoming the norm in popular culture and fine art. With framed photographs, as well as publications, slide shows, and film clips, this exhibition and catalogue present the story of color photography in America as it has never been told before. Color Rush runs February 22 through May 19, 2013 at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

The exhibition charts—from magazine pages to gallery walls, from advertisements to photojournalism—the interconnected history of color photography in the United States from 1907 to 1981 through nearly 200 objects.

“Respectively, these years mark the introduction of the first commercially available color photographic process—the autochrome—and the published survey that signified the widespread acceptance of contemporary art photography in color,” said Lisa Hostetler, exhibition co-curator. “In the intervening years, color photography captured the popular imagination through its visibility in magazines such as Life and Vogue, as well as through its accessibility on the marketplace thanks to companies such as Kodak. At the same time, artists were exploring the potential of color photography for their own creative practice.”

Co-curator Katherine Bussard adds, "This exhibition and catalogue give form to the fascinating dialogue that always surrounded American color photography. Together, Lisa Hostetler and I set out to rectify the problematic—if prevailing—notion that color photography prior to the 1970s was either amateur or commercial and only recognized as such. The historical reality was never that simple, never so definitive."

The Milwaukee Art Museum demonstrated an early interest in color photography when, in 1979, curator Verna Posever Curtis organized Color: A Spectrum of Recent Photography. Featuring photographs by William Christenberry, William Eggleston, Joel Meyerowitz, John Pfahl, and Neal Slavin, among many others, the exhibition was among the earliest to look at the emergence of color photography in the art world. Color Rush updates this treatment substantially, expanding its purview to include historical precedents and enlarging its field of vision to address color photography’s use in popular and commercial contexts, as well as in artistic ones.

Among the artists represented in the exhibition: Ansel Adams, Harry Callahan, William Eggleston, Walker Evans, Nan Goldin, Jan Groover, Barbara Kasten, Saul Leiter, Susan Meiselas, Joel Meyerowitz, László Moholy-Nagy, Nickolas Muray, Paul Outerbridge, Eliot Porter, Cindy Sherman, Stephen Shore, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Joel Sternfeld, and Edward Weston.

The exhibition is co-curated by Lisa Hostetler, former curator of photographs at the Milwaukee Art Museum and currently McEvoy Family Curator of Photography at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Katherine A. Bussard, associate curator of photography at the Art Institute of Chicago.



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