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Iconic news photographs of 1960s on view in exhibition at Worcester Art Museum
Joseph Louw, South African, about 1945-2004, The Death of Martin Luther King, Jr., Lorraine Hotel, Memphis, April 4, 1968, Gelatin silver print, gift of David Davis, 2011.148

WORCESTER, MASS.- Worcester Art Museum announces its major fall exhibition, Kennedy to Kent State: Images of a Generation, opened September 29 and on view through February 3, 2013. The exhibition features some of the most powerful and provocative American photographs of the 1960s.

The photographs chronicle world events during the turbulent decade of the 1960s. From disturbing assassinations, the Vietnam War, antiwar protests, the thrill of space exploration, and the lightheartedness of pop culture, this exhibition represents a range of human emotion. The photographs are from the museum’s permanent collection. The photographs were originally collected by David Davis, as a way to recall and reflect his memories of the era.

The photographs also reveal the activities of news gathering and publishing in the 1960s. Many are vintage wirephotos or file photographs from newspaper and magazine archives. These were used in editing, layout, and as camera art for the creation of printing plates. In the 1990s, when news outlets transformed their imaging libraries to digital formats, these objects were discarded or released onto the market. Many of the prints were stamped or inscribed on the back with a record of each use, and in this way they reveal their own history, and carry powerful qualities as artifacts.

“The Worcester Art Museum was among the very first American museums to exhibit photographs as works of fine art,” said Matthias Waschek, director. “In 1961, coincidentally the time that the Kennedy to Kent State era began, we established a curatorial department of photography and began building a permanent collection. These holdings now represent a survey of the history of photography in the United States in its fascinating variety. To the post-Baby Boomer generations, this exhibition has the power to awaken them to the correlation between their present lives and the not-so-distant past.”

Kennedy to Kent State: Images of a Generation was organized by David Acton, curator of prints, drawings, and photographs at the Worcester Art Museum. He has organized nearly 100 exhibitions at the museum, and published extensively on Old Master, American prints and drawings, and the history of photography. Notable among his exhibition catalogues are A Spectrum of Innovation: Color in American Printmaking 1890-1960, The Stamp of Impulse: Abstract Expressionist Prints, and Photography at the Worcester Art Museum: Keeping Shadows.

“Then, as now, pictures were the medium by which most people experienced the wider world,” said Acton. “Photographs created a common experience, plotting a historical arc of embracing familiarity. Kennedy to Kent State presents a selection of these pictures, providing a glimpse of that turbulent time. Many of the images transcend reportage. In their momentary imagery, refined compositions, and humanity, they attain the stature of true works of art.”

In 2000, David Davis founded the Schoolhouse Center for Art and Design, home to the Driskel Gallery of Photography, and the Silas Kenyon Gallery of Regional Art in Provincetown, Massachusetts. When Davis acquired the famous Vietnam photographs by Nick Ut and Eddie Adams, he began his 12-year project to collect a survey of the iconic images by which Americans experienced a transformative period of their history.

“I wished to do something that I have not seen before,” said Davis, “to present a kind of storyboard of the 1960s. From the time I entered my teen years until that of my college graduation, there were assassinations, an unpopular war, a trip to the moon and the rise of the protest movement and counterculture. It was a confusing, unsettling, exciting, and ‘far out’ time to grow up.”

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