Toward the end of his career, the well-known twentieth-century American photographer Edward Weston (1886–1958) created a body of work distinct from what he had previously produced. Edward Weston: The Last Years in Carmel, on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) March 2 through July 9, 2002 is the first exhibition ever to focus on these masterful pictures; in fact, more than a dozen of the photographs have never been shown or published. Organized by the Art Institute of Chicago, the exhibition features 76 black-and-white photographs, all taken between 1938 and 1948 in and around the artist’s home in the Carmel Highlands of the central California coast.
In 1938 Edward Weston and his young wife, Charis Wilson, returned to Carmel after four years taking photographs throughout the American west on a Guggenheim Fellowship. They built a small house and studio overlooking the Pacific. The unspoiled location, near Point Lobos, had become a favorite site for Weston; it was here he was able to test ideas and advance his art. Weston, a formalist, had become known for crafting eloquent sculptural photographs—his work included details from nature or of objects, such as the famous Pepper No. 30, 1930, and Cabbage Leaf, 1931. By 1944 Weston allowed his personal experiences more directly to influence his photographs. He produced moody, fragmentary pictures ranging from portraits of his family to landscapes documenting kelp and dead birds washed ashore on the rugged coast, his work taking on a greater emotional complexity than it had before. No longer the adventurer, Weston was aging and suffering from Parkinson’s disease, his marriage was failing, and he saw his four sons leave for military service in World War II. During all of this, his work became both a reflection of and a release for his feelings.
According to exhibition organizer David Travis, Curator of Photography at the Art Institute of Chicago, “Weston’s transformation accomplished in the face of intractable adversities becomes not a depressing story, but rather a heroic one of perseverance, acceptance and fulfillment. It is one of the inspiring stories in the history of American art, to which the relatively little-known works of his last 10 years powerfully attest.
“The later part of an artist’s career can be a private realm and its work difficult to appreciate if one demands that art must always communicate one sensibility to another. Older artists who once expounded their ideas to the wide world often turn quietly inward to examine what the creative life means not to their contemporaries but to themselves.”
SFMOMA’s Education Department will present a curatorial perspective on the exhibition in a Free Tuesday lecture featuring SFMOMA Senior Curator of Photography Sandra S. Phillips at noon, Tuesday, April 2, 2002, in the Phyllis Wattis Theater. For additional information, please contact SFMOMA’s Education Department at 415/538-2691.
The exhibition is accompanied by a 144-page, fully illustrated catalogue by the same title, written by David Travis. This elegant book, distributed by D.A.P. (Distributed Art Publishers), New York, features 108 tritone illustrations and is available in hardcover for $45 at the SFMOMA MuseumStore.
Edward Weston: The Last Years in Carmel is organized by The Art Institute of Chicago and has been supported by a major grant from American Airlines. Additional support has been provided by the Hyatt Vacation Club. The San Francisco presentation is sponsored by The Estate of Emily and Lewis S. Callaghan, The George Frederick Jewett Foundation and the Modern Art Council, an auxiliary of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.