Amateur Snapshots Provide Window to American Culture at Nelson-Atkins

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 8.34.18 AM.pngKansas City, MO. April 4, 2016-When photography was introduced in 1839, the making of even a single picture was difficult and painstaking. The medium was transformed in the 1880s with the introduction of easier processes and the simple Kodak camera. Amateur photography was born: images became casual and spontaneous, and they were called “snapshots.”

Amateur snapshots are highlighted in An Anonymous Art: American Snapshots from the Peter J. Cohen Gift, which opens at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City April 15. The Chicago-born Cohen, an investment manager who now lives in New York, bought his first snapshots at a flea market in 1991. Within 20 years he had amassed more than 50,000 of them, and has given away as many as 12,000 snapshots. Cohen gifted the Nelson-Atkins with 350 photos.

“This incredible exhibition of amateur snapshots depicts broadly shared aspects of everyday life,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell CEO & Director of the Nelson-Atkins. “It highlights the deep cultural importance of photography, a visual tradition that flourishes today in images that are made and shared in a variety of ways.”

There are snapshots of pets, baseball games, Christmas trees, amateur plays, vacation fun-and even subjects snapping themselves in mirrors, which could be considered the original selfies.

“The large themes of this exhibition have tremendous continuity,” said Keith F. Davis, Senior Curator, Photography. “Snapshots represent a collective visual unconsciousness of 20th-century American culture-a connection to basic human concerns that is both direct and mysterious.”

Each of the 238 snapshots in An Anonymous Art was hand-selected by Davis himself from an extensive survey of the Cohen collection. The exhibition suggests the medium’s profound social importance as well as its quirky and surprising nature. It features groupings of works illustrating key visual traits and cultural motifs, ranging from accidental multiple exposures to comic and play-acting images. An Anonymous Art runs through Sept 4.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

The Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City is recognized nationally and internationally as one of America’s finest art museums. The Nelson-Atkins serves the community by providing access and insight into its renowned collection of nearly 40,000 art objects and is best known for its Asian art, European and American paintings, photography, modern sculpture, and new American Indian and Egyptian galleries. Housing a major art research library and the Ford Learning Center, the Museum is a key educational resource for the region. The institution-wide transformation of the Nelson-Atkins has included the 165,000-square-foot Bloch Building expansion and renovation of the original 1933 Nelson-Atkins Building.

The Nelson-Atkins is located at 45th and Oak Streets, Kansas City, MO. Hours are Wednesday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursday/Friday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission to the museum is free to everyone. For museum information, phone 816.751.1ART (1278) or visit nelson-atkins.org.

Image: Unknown maker, American. Woman with drink on bed, 1950s. Gelatin silver print, 3 1/8 x 4 ½ inches. Gift of Peter J. Cohen, 2015.9.44.

This exhibition us supported by the Hall Family Foundation and the Campbell-Calvin Fund and Elizabeth C. Bonner Charitable Trust for exhibitions.

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