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Philadelphia Museum of Art opens the first in-depth exhibition devoted to Dave Heath
Kansas City, Missouri, March 1967 (negative); 1968 (print), by Dave Heath (The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation).

PHILADELPHIA, PA.- The Philadelphia Museum of Art presents the first in-depth exhibition devoted to Dave Heath, one of the most original photographers to emerge from Philadelphia in the second half of the twentieth century. The exhibition focuses on Heath’s work from the late 1940s through the late 1960s and highlights the artist’s defining achievement, A Dialogue with Solitude (1965), one of the great photography books of that period. This is the first time the book’s complete series of images is shown together in a United States museum.

Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener Director and Chief Executive Officer, stated: “Dave Heath is a rare talent whose unique contribution to American street photography eloquently addresses the always shifting and often uneasy place of the individual within the larger community. We are especially pleased that this major exhibition, organized by our colleagues at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, will debut here in Heath’s native city of Philadelphia, the place that shaped his unflinching artistic vision.”

Multitude, Solitude traces the crucial moments in Heath’s artistic development, from images he made during his formative years in Philadelphia, to the new directions that he began to explore as he established himself as one of the medium’s major talents in the 1960s. From the late 1940s through the late1960s, Heath’s production evolved from eloquent individual images to the narrative complexity of the photo-book, to the time-based experience of the audio-visual slide program.

Poetic and universal in its evocation of emotion and pain, A Dialogue with Solitude is structured in ten visual units, each accompanied by text that reflects Heath’s readings in poetry, philosophy, art, and aesthetics. The presentation emphasizes the artist’s concerns about the sequencing and orchestration of photographs, and the interplay of words and images.

The exhibition contains Heath’s earliest book projects as well, including his first compendium of photographs titled 3 (1952), inspired by magazine picture-stories and featuring fifty-two prints arranged in sequence. Other one-of-a-kind photographic book prototypes include No Dancing in the Streets (1954), made following his return from military service in Korea; In Search of Self: A Portfolio (1956); and Chicago (1956).

From 1964 to 1968, Heath focused on images of crowds, exploring the vast, visual inventory that comprised the American people, and traveled across the United States in search of new subjects. The exhibition includes two contact sheets of selected individual rolls of film from Heath’s travels, providing critical insight about his formal concerns and choice of motifs. The final work in the exhibition, Beyond the Gates of Eden (1969), is a dual-screen slide projection of 160 paired images set to music, which marked a new point of departure for the artist.

Peter Barberie, the Brodsky Curator of Photographs, Alfred Stieglitz Center at the Philadelphia Museum of Art said: “From his very earliest work, Heath sought both to explore and to understand himself through photography. The presentation enables us as viewers to participate in his investigation of the artist’s role in modern society, and also to discover something essential about ourselves in the larger urban world that he captures.”

Born in Philadelphia in 1931, Dave Heath was abandoned by his parents and raised in foster care until the age of sixteen. Largely self-taught as a photographer, Heath took courses in commercial art, worked in a photo-processing lab, and was a frequent visitor to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. While stationed in Korea with the US Army from 1953 to 1954, he photographed his fellow soldiers, creating images that are at once candid and subdued. In 1957 Heath moved to New York City and established himself as a major artistic talent, receiving Guggenheim grants in 1963 and 1964. Heath taught at the Dayton Art Institute in Ohio and Moore College of Art in Philadelphia before moving in 1970 to Toronto, where he headed the photography program at Ryerson University for many years. His work is in the collections of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, among other leading museums. His major monograph, A Dialogue with Solitude, was published in 1965 and reprinted in 2000.

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