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Dayton Art Institute opens exhibition 'Yousuf Karsh: American Portraits'
Marx Brothers by Yousuf Karsh, Gelatin silver print, 1946, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Estrellita Karsh in memory of Yousuf Karsh © Estate of Yousuf Karsh.


DAYTON, OH.- Spend the summer with some of the 20th century’s biggest icons and idols, when The Dayton Art Institute presents the special exhibition Yousuf Karsh: American Portraits, on view June 23–September 16.

From Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson and Albert Einstein, to Grace Kelly, Andy Warhol, Walt Disney, and even Colonel Sanders–these are just a few of the featured celebrities, creatives, inventors, business people, and politicians who played pivotal roles in the history and identity of America in the 20th century. The exhibition presents 48 black-and-white photographs by acclaimed photographer Yousuf Karsh, from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.

“Photographing numerous, important figures of the 20th century, Karsh was also a master of his practice—he knew exactly when to click the shutter, revealing the essence of his sitters with dignity and respect, creating beautiful and lasting images,” says Katherine Ryckman Siegwarth, The Dayton Art Institute’s in-house curator for the exhibition. “There is a photograph for everyone to connect to—whether you are interested in photography, science, the Space Race, American history, political history, are a movie buff, or even a lover of fried chicken—you will find a photograph that resonates with you.”

Yousuf Karsh: American Portraits features the work of the celebrated photographer throughout a storied career that spanned more than six decades. Karsh believed that “the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera,” and he developed a genuine rapport with his subjects to create evocative and revealing portraits.

A refugee from his native Armenia, Karsh immigrated to Canada in 1925. His uncle was a professional photographer who, in 1928, facilitated Karsh’s apprenticeship with the renowned Boston portrait photographer John H. Garo. By the time Karsh returned to Canada in 1931, he had “set [his] heart on photographing those men and women who leave their mark on the world,” and two years later, he opened a portrait studio in Ottawa. The phenomenal success of his 1941 portrait of Winston Churchill, included in this exhibition, launched Karsh’s career. Thereafter, he traveled the world fulfilling portrait commissions and editorial assignments.

Yousuf Karsh: American Portraits was curated by Ann M. Shumard, senior curator of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery. The majority of the photographs in this traveling exhibition are drawn from a gift of more than 100 works the Portrait Gallery received from Karsh’s wife, Estrellita Karsh. The Portrait Gallery presented photographs from this gift in two consecutive installations between November 2013 and November 2014. The Dayton Art Institute will be the only Midwest venue for this tour.

In conjunction with the exhibition, The DAI will also display photographs from its collection by noted Dayton photographer Jane Reece (1868–1961), in commemoration of her 150th birthday. At a time when most women photographers were labeled “amateurs,” Reece owned a profitable portraiture business. She exhibited photographs nationally and internationally, winning various awards and honors, and was one of the first women to be admitted to the Pictorial Photographers of America. Jane Reece Photographs will present engaging portraits of early 20th century celebrities, and poetic, soft-focused images demonstrating the tenets of Pictorialism, as well as a selection Reece’s autochromes, considered the first commercially successful color photography process. Admission to Jane Reece Photographs is included as part of the admission to Yousuf Karsh: American Portraits and cannot be purchased separately.

“You won’t want to miss these amazing portraits from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, and The DAI has many fun things in store for you this summer,” said the museum’s Director & CEO Michael R. Roediger. “As a special thank you to community, we will also be offering free admission to the special exhibition on the first four Sundays of July! We hope you’ll spend some time with the icons and idols of Yousuf Karsh: American Portraits this summer.”





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June 23, 2018

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