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Evelyn Hofer Exhibition to Open at Nelson-Atkins


Acclaimed Photographer’s City Photographs Featured

Kansas City, MO. Sept 6, 2023–The first major museum exhibition in the United States in over 50 years dedicated to Evelyn Hofer opens at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City Sept. 16. Evelyn Hofer: Eyes on the City focuses on photographs from Hofer’s series of widely distributed photobooks devoted to European and American cities, published throughout the 1960s, and features more than 100 vintage prints in both black and white and color from those publications. The works are drawn exclusively from the artist’s estate and the collections of the Nelson-Atkins and the High Museum, who co-organized and debuted the exhibition earlier this year.Evelyn Hofer, Bicycle Girl, in the Coombe, Dublin, 1966

“We are delighted for the opportunity to present these photographs together for the first time at our institutions and to highlight Hofer’s important artistic contributions, including as an early adopter of color photography,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Director & CEO of the Nelson-Atkins.

Born in Germany in 1922, Hofer left with her family for Switzerland in 1933 in response to the rise of fascism, settling first in Geneva, where she studied photography with Hans Finsler, a pioneer of the “new objectivity” movement. After time in Madrid, the family moved to Mexico, where Hofer worked briefly as a professional photographer. In 1946, she arrived in New York, where she worked with famed art director Alexey Brodovitch to produce photo essays for Harper’s Bazaar. She quickly expanded her practice and became an acclaimed editorial photographer.

Hofer’s celebrated editorial work spanned five decades, but she remained underrecognized in her lifetime, due in part to her unique style and methods.

42nd Street, New York, 1964 Evelyn Hofer“She had no interest in the gritty, snapshot aesthetic of small format street photography popular during the 1950s and 1960s,” said April Watson, Senior Curator, Photography at the Nelson-Atkins and co-curator of the exhibition. “She also embraced the expressive potential of color materials before many of her peers.”

Greg Harris, the High’s Donald and Marilyn Keough Family curator of photography and co-curator of the exhibition, adds: “Hofer’s photographs, made using a large-format camera, convey a captivating stillness, exactitude and sobriety that ran counter to the dominant aesthetics of the day. As a result, she never achieved recognition commensurate with the quality and originality of her work.”

Hofer made her greatest impact through a series of photobooks produced between 1958 and 1967 which focus on the cities of Florence, London, New York, Washington DC, Dublin, Paris (an unpublished project) and the country of Spain. Produced in collaboration with notable writers, the books combined portraits, landscapes and architectural views to convey the unique character and personality of these urban capitals during a period of intense transformation after the end of World War II.

“Hofer wanted to get under the skin of a city, to picture the essential character of a place and its people,” said Watson. Eyes on the City includes prints from each of these projects, along with the artist’s notebooks and archival documents.

The exhibition and accompanying catalogue offer new scholarship about Hofer’s understudied practice, tracing the early development of her career; the exchanges between her editorial and fine artwork; her mastery of color and her contribution to the history of 20th-century photographic portraiture; the nature of her intense collaborations with writers; and the ways her photographs intersected with emerging discourses and practices around post-war urban planning. In addition to essays by Watson and Harris, the catalogue features a contribution by UC Berkeley Associate Professor of Geography Brandi Thompson Summers. Evelyn Hofer: Eyes on the City runs through February 11, 2024.

In an adjacent gallery in the Bloch Building Cities Are for People: Street Photography, 1945 – 1970 will also be on view. Curated by Marijana Rayl, Assistant Curator, Photography, it features 54 photographs from the Nelson-Atkins permanent collection by 40 different photographers and includes 35 photographs that have never before been on display here. Photographers featured in this exhibition include long established artists like Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, and lesser known, though no less significant, practitioners like Beuford Smith, Ruth Orkin, and Tosh Matsumoto. This is the first exhibition at the Nelson-Atkins dedicated to this major genre of photography that does not focus on a single artist.

“Street photography is deeply human,” said Rayl. “It can be brash, confrontational, and witty, bringing us face-to-face with the world and people around us. We’re very excited for our public to explore this subject in-depth through the eyes of so many great photographers.”

Cities Are for People is designed as a complement to Evelyn Hofer: Eyes on the City and shares an almost concurrent schedule. Visitors to each gallery will be encouraged to view the other, and to draw connections between the two exhibitions that help contextualize Hofer’s work by placing it into a broader photographic moment, subtly conveying the uniqueness of her practice and style.

The following programs are associated with Evelyn Hofer: Eyes on the City:

Portrait of a City Photography Workshop
Presented in partnership with the Kansas City Society for Contemporary Photography
3-session series, adults (18+)
$60, $48 museum members, $20 students (price includes one exhibition ticket and one project catalogue)

How do you picture this place we call home? What are the defining features of its neighborhoods and neighbors? What signs of change and transformation speak to you? This multi-part program invites you to train your lens on Kansas City and create a collaborative portrait of our community. Selected images from each participant will be included in a catalogue for participants.

  • Thursday, September 21, 6–7:30 p.m.
    Tour and Project Introduction
    Gallery L13 and Lens 2
    April Watson leads a tour and discussion with Angie Jennings, President, Kansas City Society for Contemporary Photography.
  • Saturday, November 4, 10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
    Collaborative Workshop
    Lens 2
    Reconvene to study selected images from each participant, discuss emerging narratives, and collaboratively sequence the works to create a portrait of the city.
  • Thursday, February 8, 6–7 p.m.
    Catalogue Release and Reflection Event
    Noguchi Court
    Celebrate the publication of the exhibition catalogue and pick up your complimentary copy.

The Curator is IN!
Thursday, October 12, 6-7 PM
$8 public / $5 members
Gallery L13
Explore urban capitals across Europe and America during a period of extraordinary transformation following World War II with Curator April Watson as your guide.

The Art of Evelyn Hofer
January 12, 12:00 – 1:00 p.m.
FREE | Presented virtually via Zoom
Join exhibition curators April Watson (Nelson-Atkins), and Gregory J. Harris (High Museum of Art, Atlanta) for a conversation about the life and work of Evelyn Hofer with photographer Andreas Pauly, Hofer’s longtime assistant and head of her estate.

Imagining the City: A Community Conversation
Thursday, January 25, 6-7 PM
$8 public / $5 members
Gallery L13
Consider different dimensions of the urban environment through stories and insights from community members whose texts in the exhibition Evelyn Hofer: Eyes on the City add fresh context to our understanding Hofer’s photographs. This program features architect Dominique Davison, poet and storyteller José Faus, photographer Joe Johnson, and photographer Elise Kirk.

The following programs are associated with Cities Are for People:

Street Photography in Photobooks
Through November 1, 2023
Spencer Art Reference Library
Drop in any time to study iconic photobooks by street photographers including Roy DeCarava, Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Lewis Hine, Max Yavno, and more.

The Curator is IN!
Thursday, January 18, 6–7 p.m.
$8 public | $5 members
Galleries L10–11
Wind your way through 25 years of Street Photography with exhibition curator Marijana Rayl as your guide.

Tivoli at the Nelson-Atkins

Force of Evil
Friday, November 10, 7 p.m.
Sunday, November 12, 2 p.m.
Atkins Auditorium
$10 Public | $7 Members
Film Noir is Street Photography’s American cinematic sibling. This classic noir crime drama exposes greed and corruption in the shadows of New York City and tests the limits of brotherly bonds. Abraham Polonsky, 1948, NR, 76 min.

The Naked City
Friday January 19, 7 p.m.
Sunday January 21, 2 p.m.
Atkins Auditorium
$10 Public | $7 Members

Introduced by Assistant Curator Marijana Rayl, this Academy Award winning Film Noir delves into the promises and perils of New York City’s streets. 1948, NR, 96 min.

Image credit: Evelyn Hofer (American, born Germany, 1922–2009), Bicycle Girl, in the Coombe, Dublin, 1966, dye transfer print The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, gift of the Hall Family Foundation, 2016.75.106. © Estate of Evelyn Hofer.
Evelyn Hofer (American, born Germany, 1922–2009), 42nd Street, New York, 1964, gelatin silver print, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, gift of the Hall Family Foundation, 2020.7.38. © Estate of Evelyn Hofer.

Evelyn Hofer: Eyes on the City is co-organized by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. In Kansas City, generous support has been provided by the Hall Family Foundation, Paul DeBruce and Linda Woodsmall-DeBruce; Bill and Sara Morgan; Shirley Bush Helzberg; Nancy and Rick Green; and the Atterbury Family Foundation.

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 museum opens its doors free of charge to people of all backgrounds.

The Nelson-Atkins serves the community by providing access to its renowned collection of more than 42,000 art objects and is best known for its Asian art, European and American paintings, photography, modern sculpture, and Native American and Egyptian galleries. Housing a major art research library and the Ford Learning Center, the Museum is a key educational resource for the region. In 2017, the Nelson-Atkins celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the Bloch Building, a critically acclaimed addition to the original 1933 Nelson-Atkins Building.

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

For media interested in receiving further information, please contact:

Kathleen Leighton, Manager, Media Relations and Video Production
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art