SAN FRANCISCO, CA (November 2, 2017) — The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) announces three new photography exhibitions: The Train: RFK’s Last Journey, examining a historically important event from different perspectives; Selves and Others: Gifts to the Collection from Carla Emil and Rich Silverstein, looking at the complexity of identity through portraits; and Carolyn Drake: Wild Pigeon, presenting a recent acquisition, opening this March in the museum’s Pritzker Center for Photography.
March 17–June 10, 2018
On June 8, 1968, three days after the assassination of Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, his body was carried by a funeral train from New York City to Washington, D.C. for burial at Arlington National Cemetery. Just two months after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and five years after President John F. Kennedy’s death, Robert Kennedy’s passing united diverse communities grieving the loss of a politician who had represented hope for much of the nation during a tumultuous decade.
In conjunction with the 50th anniversary of his death, The Train: RFK’s Last Journey looks at this historical journey through three distinct artists’ projects shown together for the first time. Presented in three rooms, each dedicated to one artist, the exhibition features approximately 80 photographs, a video installation and a 70mm film projection.
“This multidisciplinary exhibition shows how art can inform and expand our understanding of history through photographs, videos and documents from different points of view,” said Clément Chéroux, senior curator of photography at SFMOMA. “By bringing historical and contemporary works together in dialogue, we aim to demonstrate a fresh approach to photography at SFMOMA.”
The first work, RFK Funeral Train (1968), is a group of color photographs by Magnum photojournalist Paul Fusco. Taken aboard the funeral train, the images capture the thousands of mourners who spontaneously lined the railway tracks to pay their final respects. Commissioned by Look magazine, Fusco took hundreds of photographs using a panning motion that created a remarkable combination of blurring and light, heightening the movement of the train and illuminating the emotion of the public. Fusco’s images of individuals, communities and families holding flags and farewell signs present a poignant portrait of the American people unified in mourning. SFMOMA is acquiring 26 of these photographs, and several will be on view in the exhibition.
Looking from the opposite vantage point, the second work features photographs and home movies made by the spectators along the train route. These personal snapshots and testimonies were collected by Dutch artist Rein Jelle Terpstra for his project The People’s View (2014–18). Fascinated by Fusco’s photographs, Terpstra retraced the journey of the train, knocking on doors and using Facebook to reach out to the people who had been alongside the tracks that day. On display for the first time, The People’s View captures this important historical event from the reverse perspective of eyewitnesses mourning Robert F. Kennedy.
The third work, June 8, 1968 (2009), by French contemporary artist Philippe Parreno, is a 70mm film reenactment of the funeral train’s journey, inspired by Fusco’s original photographs. The seven-minute film installation creates a sense of floating or suspension, what Parreno has called “the point of view of the dead.” Throughout the film, Parreno examines the tension between still and moving image, past and present.
The Train: RFK’s Last Journey is accompanied by an illustrated publication produced by Editions Textuel in French and English featuring an essay by Clément Chéroux and artist interviews with Paul Fusco, Rein Jelle Terpstra and Philippe Parreno. Following its debut at SFMOMA, the exhibition will travel to the Rencontres d’Arles photography festival in France, July through September 2018.
Generous support for The Train: RFK’s Last Journey is provided by The Black Dog Private Foundation, Nion McEvoy and Wes and Kate Mitchell. Additional support is provided by Lynn Kirshbaum and the Mondriaan Fund.
March 24–September 23, 2018
The most compelling photographic portraits reveal more than simply a sitter’s physical appearance — they hint at an individual’s character, suggest a psychological state or perhaps even offer a glimpse of the sitter’s soul. Drawn from the many generous gifts trustee Carla Emil and her husband Rich Silverstein have donated to SFMOMA’s collection since the late 1990s, Selves and Others explores the variety of ways photographers have addressed the complexity of identity through portraiture: of the self; of personas or avatars; of family members, lovers and friends; and of strangers. The exhibition will feature approximately 120 works made from the 19th century to the present, including photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron, Rineke Dijkstra, Man Ray, Cindy Sherman and Gillian Wearing, among many others.
March 17–September 23, 2018
Between 2007 and 2013, American photographer Carolyn Drake made several visits to Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China, where she engaged in a collaborative work with the people she met, asking them to draw on and alter her photographs. In 2017, SFMOMA acquired the entire set of 32 unique photo-collages made for the Wild Pigeon project. This series will be presented in a newly dedicated space for recent contemporary photography acquisitions in the Pritzker Center for Photography.