Attaining ‘America’

Photographs from a Private Collection

November 8 – December 31, 2021

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Flynn Fine Art is pleased to announce Attaining ‘America’, an online-only presentation of thirteen vintage gelatin silver prints from a private collection, running November 8, 2021 through the end of this year. This exhibition features classic images by some of photography's best-known and most respected names including Julius Shulman, Andreas Feininger, Gordon Parks and Walker Evans.

The mid twentieth century was a time when global thinkers and artists sought to understand and secure principles that lay at the center of things. American political and cultural leaders further asserted that their nation stood at the center of world awareness. From the onset of the Cold War, they asked: What defines the essential character of American culture and an American self? Are there key elements to democracy, to the integrity of a society, to order in the world? Could the scientific method rescue truth from error, illusion, and myth? Answers to such questions promised intellectual and moral stability in an age haunted by the memory of world war and the possibility of future devastation on an even greater scale. Yet other key figures rejected the search for a center, asserting that freedom lay in the dispersion of cultural energies and the plurality of American experiences.

The artists presented in Attaining 'America' sought answers by exploring the depth of these experiences. Walker Evans’ three photographs appeared in a photo-essay on the newspaper of Paducah, Kentucky that he published in Fortune Magazine, "One Newspaper Town.” They tell the story of how one family in this small city bought up its competitors to secure “a monopoly on Paducah’s front porches but not on the minds of its readers,” as Evans puts it. This story illustrates two sides of the American Dream as it existed after World War II—the will of the Conglomerate and that of the People. In Main Street, we hover above the city center; in Shoe Store we see men gathered outside a shoe store, all watching an off-camera event; in Train Station we see a structure stretching into the distance, manned only by wooden train carts.

Andreas Feininger’s Pouring ingots, Carnegie Steel Plant continues this theme. One of the photographer’s most famous images (published in Life Magazine), this black and white photograph documents a crucial step in steel production and further illustrates America’s industrial might: sunlight streams in through the factory’s large windows to highlight buckets used to hold molten steel, as though the whole process was being blessed by the Divine. Though taken in Canada, Gordon Parks’ photographs speak toward the pastoral mythology in American thinking where farms, not cities or heavy industry, are the heart’s blood of American culture. Rebecca Lepkoff’s South Street, Manhattan, displays a window broken by an unknown force, past which we glimpse the skyscrapers of the famous isle. Her perspective shot Queensboro Bridge displays the underside of the landmark as it spans East River. All three artists present the viewer with glimpses of Man’s dominance over Nature.

Julius Shulman’s classic image Kaufmann House, Palm Springs places us poolside, on the lawn approaching the Richard Neutra-designed house with California’s dusty peaks rising in the distance. Although this image is more about leisure, it hammers home a central part of the American experience, an aspect of which Evans, Parks and each of these photographers sought to capture—the persistent quest for attainment.

© flynn fine art 2021