The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is pleased to present The Art of Lee Miller, on view from July 1 through September 14, 2008. Celebrating the life and career of one of the most original and creative photographic artists of the 20th century, this exhibition brings together some of the greatest images both by and of Miller, and features several works never before exhibited or published. The photographs on view also explore Miller’s other callings—as model, muse, and photojournalist—charting her unconventional and eventful life.
Miller’s prolific output features many different genres of photography, from striking surrealist images and portraits of celebrated figures—including Charlie Chaplin and Pablo Picasso—to fashion and advertising work to travel and documentary photography of locales such as Egypt and Romania. This astonishing oeuvre is represented in the exhibition by more than 140 works, and includes drawings, a rare collage, film extracts, and magazine pages.
The Art of Lee Miller presents some of the artist’s most outstanding photographs, including the avant-garde work Exploding Hand (c.1930); Portrait of Space (1937), a haunting photograph of the Egyptian desert; Women with Fire Masks (1941), which captures the surreal quality of life during the Blitz; and the moving war portraits Bürgermeister of Leipzig’s Daughter Suicided (1945) and Dead SS Guard in Canal (1945). Also on view is the witty portraiture from Working Guests, her final series for Vogue magazine, including the memorable image of Alfred H. Barr Jr., the first director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, feeding the pigs at Miller’s family home in Sussex. Severed Breast (c.1930) is among the photographs shown for the first time publicly.
The exhibition also highlights Miller’s career as a model and showcases studies made of her by many of the era’s greatest fashion and art photographers, including George Hoyningen-Huené, Man Ray, and Edward Steichen. Miller’s drawings are also featured, revealing unease with her role as a model as are extracts from Jean Cocteau’s 1930 avant-garde film The Blood of a Poet, in which she stars.
Miller was the only female photojournalist officially allowed in combat areas during World War II. Her work during this time as an accredited freelance war correspondent for Vogue will be shown through original magazine spreads, and will attest to both the power of her images and her eloquent reporting.
The exhibition is organized chronologically and consists of six main sections:
– The Art of the Model begins with Miller’s debut in 1927 as a Vogue cover girl and charts her role as muse to many of the period’s greatest photographers, including Hoyningen-Huené, Steichen, and Ray.
– Paris 1929–32 reveals Miller as one of the most remarkable surrealist photographers of the time.
– New York 1932–34 explores the portraiture, fashion, and advertising works she produced during her time in New York, where she established her own photographic studio after leaving Paris and her lover, Man Ray.
– Egypt 1934–39 includes photographs of the country’s landscape and ruins, taken after Miller’s marriage to engineer Aziz Aloui Bey brought about her move to Cairo. The section also features portraits of surrealists at play, including Roland Penrose, for whom Miller would leave Egypt and her husband.
– War covers Miller’s work as a freelance war correspondent for Vogue, when she captured in words and pictures the liberation of Paris, the siege of St. Malo, the Buchenwald and Dachau death camps, and the kitsch banality of Adolf Hitler’s Munich flat.
– Post-war spans the end of Miller’s photographic career in a humorous series called Working Guests, in which she captured her renowned friends—including Max Ernst, Picasso, and Saul Steinberg—at her family farm in Sussex.
The Art of Lee Miller is organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The San Francisco presentation is organized by SFMOMA Senior Curator of Photography Sandra Phillips. The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue, the definitive account of the relationship between Miller’s eventful life and her art, featuring an essay by exhibition curator Mark Haworth-Booth.