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Melissa Shook Photography Exhibition to Open at Nelson-Atkins


Self-Portrait Series Illuminates Artist’s Search for Self

Kansas City, MO. February 28, 2024–A unique and compelling body of work by photographer Melissa Shook opens March 9 at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. In a series of approximately 200 self-portraits, made between December 1972 and August 1973, Shook explored her identity on both sides of the camera as a woman, a mother, and an artist. The exhibition To Prove that I Exist: Melissa Shook’s Daily Self-Portraits, 1972-1973 marks the first museum exhibition of this full series, which the Nelson-Atkins acquired as a unique set in 2015 as a gift of the Hall Family Foundation. The show runs through Aug. 4.

“Today, the act of taking selfies is commonplace,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Director & CEO of the Nelson-Atkins. “Melissa Shook was making daily self-portraits well before the invention of camera phones or social media. Her powerful images invite us to consider serial self-portraiture more deeply, as a conceptual and philosophical practice.”
Though artists such as Eleanor Antin, Cindy Sherman, Francesca Woodman, and Hannah Wilke gained renown for their investigations of self-portraiture during the mid to late 1970s, Shook remains underrecognized for her important and timely project.Melissa Shook March 18, 1973

“Shook began this series as a personal artistic challenge,” notes April M. Watson, Senior Curator of Photography at the Nelson-Atkins. “Struggling with an unreliable memory after the traumatic death of her mother, who died when she was twelve, Shook wanted to see if she could remember to take pictures every day. The days she failed to take a photo became just as important as the days she succeeded.”

Watson adds: “When seen collectively, Shook’s remarkable body of work reveals an intimate, nuanced exploration of selfhood that we now see as prescient for its time.”

Shook staged all her photographs in her spare, New York City apartment, using a medium-format camera, a tripod, and a self-timer. As both photographer and subject, Shook investigated the dynamic possibilities of self-portraiture. Engaging new ideas from month to month, she assumed playful postures and seductive poses. She often appeared alone, nude and clothed, though several images feature friends, neighbors, and most notably, her daughter Krissy.

Melissa Shook February 3, 1973Shook’s search for self-identity, though rooted in the personal, resonated with the experiences of others who came of age during the women’s liberation movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. As many women sought to redefine themselves while challenging gender-biased laws and social limitations, Shook searched for her own answers to these personal and political questions. As she wrote: “I think the issue of identity often lies in a profound and unnoticed dissociation from oneself…the strength of the serial portrait is in just this distance, this alienation.” Shook’s project aimed to affirm her presence in the world, and in her words, “to prove that I exist.”

The following program is associated with this exhibition:

The Life and Work of Photographer Melissa Shook

Saturday, May 4, 2024
2-3:30 p.m.
Lens 2 and Gallery L11

Join art historian Sally Stein and Kristina Shook, Melissa Shook’s daughter and occasional subject, for a conversation with Senior Curator of Photography April Watson in conjunction with the exhibition “To Prove that I Exist”: Melissa Shook’s Daily Self-Portraits, 1972-1973. Immediately following the presentation and discussion, we invite you to join our guests in the gallery for continued conversation.

See nelson-atkins.org for the latest program updates.

Organized by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, this exhibition is supported by the Hall Family Foundation.

Image captions:
Melissa Shook, American (1939-2020). March 18, 1973. Gelatin Silver print, 4 7/16 × 4 7/16 inches. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc., 2015.20.145. © Kristina Shook & The Estate of M. Melissa Shook
Melissa Shook, American (1939-2020). February 3, 1973. Gelatin Silver print, 4 3/8 × 4 5/16 inches. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc., 2015.20.104. © Kristina Shook & The Estate of M. Melissa Shook

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.

The Nelson-Atkins is located at 45th and Oak Streets, Kansas City, MO. Hours are 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Monday, 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 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