THE ROUGE MANUFACTURED IN BLACK AND WHITE
THE DETROIT INSTITUTE OF ARTS PRESENTS
The Photography of Charles Sheeler: American Modernist
August 2, 2004 (Detroit)—The Ford Rouge
Steel plant, an historic icon, industrial symbol and artistic model,
will be a major focus of the exhibition The Photography of Charles
Sheeler: American Modernist at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA)
from Sept. 8 to Dec. 5, 2004. This exhibition is the first major retrospective
to focus exclusively on Sheeler’s photographic work, including
more than 100 pieces, many with unique ties to the city of Detroit.
Most significantly, the visually arresting images of Sheeler’s
mural Industry. Also on view will be documentation of American
industry created for Fortune magazine in the late 1930s; photographs
of African sculpture (1916–18); images of Chartres Cathedral
(1929); the film Manhatta accompanied by stills of New York
City (1920); and images of Sheeler’s house in Doylestown, Pennsylvania
Sheeler’s innovation in merging art
and industry was as revolutionary as the era itself,” said Graham
W. J. Beal, director of the DIA. “Hosting this important exhibition
at the DIA is especially relevant given Detroit’s industrial
background and the fact that the museum is home to another important
work depicting the Ford River Rouge plant, Diego Rivera’s incomparable
Detroit Industry murals.”
Sheeler (1883-–1965) was born in Philadelphia
and started his career painting, being taught by renowned American
artist William Merritt Chase. Sheeler discovered photography as a
way to support his painting, taking commission assignments from Vanity
Fair and Vogue magazines and Ford Motor Company. In
the 1920s, Sheeler began to use photography as a fine art, focusing
his work on depictions of American rural and urban landscape. In 1931,
Sheeler’s photography output lessened, as he concentrated fully
on his career as a painter.
Ford Motor Company’s
River Rouge Plant and Detroit Industry
Images Sheeler shot at the River Rouge plant in 1927 will be the focal
point of this exhibition, occupying the entire central gallery. On
the occasion of the introduction of the new Ford Model A, Sheeler
was commissioned to photograph the plant in Dearborn as part of a
larger $1.3 million advertising campaign. During Sheeler’s six-week
stay at the 1,100-acre plant, he struggled to make visual sense of
such a vast enterprise, finally deciding to document details of the
operation and make portraits of machinery, rather than panoramic views
of the factory and its famous assembly line. The series, consisting
of fewer than 40 photographs, is regarded as the high point of machine-age
The DIA will re-create Sheeler’s four-by-seven-foot
mural Industry (1932), which was originally installed in the 1932
exhibition Murals by American Painters and Photographers at New York’s
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). This portrayal of Detroit industry, together
with the DIA’s Rivera murals will offer insight into how both
artists responded to this subject; Sheeler found inspiration in the
beauty of machine-age design and industry while Rivera saw the Rouge
as a relationship of man and machine.
and the Power Series
This exhibition also reveals Sheeler’s characteristic emphasis
on architectural detail through his photographic series of Chartres
Cathedral; the interiors of his homes, with their antique and
Shaker furnishings; and the Shaker meetinghouse in Mt. Lebanon, New
York. The DIA’s Sheeler painting, Home Sweet Home (1931),
will offer insight into how the artist’s work in photography
influenced his painting. In the late 1930s, Fortune magazine commissioned
Sheeler to create a series of paintings on the theme of power in America.
The exhibition includes striking photographic studies for these paintings
taken during his travels in the United States to such places as the
Boulder Dam and the Tennessee Valley. One photograph that resulted
from this commission was the rare photograph Wheels, which
Fortune published in December of 1940. Only four original prints of
this photograph exist today, one in the DIA’s collections.
Manhatta, Views of
New York, and Nudes
The groundbreaking short film Manhatta (made by Sheeler and Paul Strand
in 1920), along with the series of still images derived from the film,
are included in the exhibition. The six-minute film spans an imaginary
day in the life of New York City and has been described as the first
avant-garde film made in America. Fourteen extant still photographs
from Manhatta, and eight photographs from Sheeler’s
New York Park Row Building series reflect Sheeler’s
focus on the details of urban life. Also on view will be a selection
of nude stills from Sheeler’s earliest film that feature his
first wife Katharine. These images are the only nude photographs he
is known to have taken during his career.
Photography of Works
of Art, Bucks County and the Doylestown House
Photographing works of art from a spectrum of cultures was a formative
experience for Sheeler as he came to believe that all great art grew
out of the same tradition. The DIA will feature Sheeler’s powerful
photographs of African art (1916–18) juxtaposed with African
sculpture from the museum’s collection, as well as Sheeler’s
photographs of works by other artists including Marcel Duchamp, Paul
Cézanne and Pablo Picasso. Images by Sheeler taken in Bucks
County, Pennsylvania, including the radically modern Side of White
Barn (1915) and others taken at the artist’s weekend retreat
in Doylestown, mark Sheeler’s first extended foray into artistic
photography. The photographs of the house—of utilitarian subjects
such as stoves, windows, doors and abstractions of the central staircase—show
the clear influence of Cubism in Sheeler’s work.
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Located in the heart of Detroit’s Cultural
Center, the DIA is recognized as one of the country’s premier
art museums. From the first van Gogh to enter a U.S. museum (Self
Portrait, 1887), to Diego Rivera’s world-renowned Detroit Industry
murals, the DIA's collection reveals the scope and depth of human
experience, imagination and emotion.
Visit online at www.dia.org.
Museum hours are 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Wednesdays
and Thursdays, 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Fridays, and
10 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Admission is a donation. We recommend $4 for adults and $1 for children.
DIA members are admitted free. For membership information call 313.833.7971.