The most comprehensive retrospective of the work of American photographer, filmmaker, and writer Danny Lyon in twenty-five years debuts at The Whitney Museum of American Art on June 17, 2016. The first major photography exhibition to be presented in the Museum’s downtown home, Danny Lyon: Message to the Future is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, where it will make its West Coast debut at the de Young Museum on November 5, 2016.
The exhibition is organized by Julian Cox, Founding Curator of Photography for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and Chief Curator at the de Young Museum. The installation at the Whitney Museum is overseen by Elisabeth Sussman, Curator and Sondra Gilman Curator of Photography.
Shaped in collaboration with the artist, the exhibition provides a fuller understanding of Lyon’s motivations and accomplishments. The exhibition assembles approximately 175 photographs and is the first to assess the artist’s achievements as a filmmaker as well as a photographer. The presentation also includes many objects that have seldom or never been exhibited before and offers a rare look at works from Lyon’s archives, including vintage prints, unseen 16mm film footage made inside Texas prisons, and his personal photo albums.
A leading figure in the American street photography movement of the 1960s, Lyon has distinguished himself by the personal intimacy he establishes with his subjects and the inventiveness of his practice. With his ability to find beauty in the starkest reality, Lyon has presented a charged alternative to the vision of American life presented in the mass media. Throughout, he has rejected the traditional documentary approach in favor of a more immersive, complicated involvement with his subjects. “You put a camera in my hand,” he has explained, “I want to get close to people. Not just physically close, emotionally close, all of it.” In the process he has made several iconic bodies of work, which have not only pictured recent history, but helped to shape it.
“We are delighted to partner with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco on Danny Lyon: Message to the Future,” stated Adam D. Weinberg, the Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art. “Since the early 1960s, Lyon’s photographs and films have upturned conventional notions of American life. The Whitney has long championed Lyon’s work and we are thrilled to present this retrospective, which encompasses more than half a century of important work.”
In 1962, while still a student at the University of Chicago, Lyon hitchhiked to the segregated South to make a photographic record of the Civil Rights movement. His other projects have included photographing biker subcultures, exploring the lives of individuals in prison, and documenting the architectural transformation of Lower Manhattan. Lyon has lived for years in New Mexico, and his commitment to personal adventure has taken him to Mexico and other countries in Latin America, China, and the less-traveled parts of the American West.
“Danny Lyon is one of the great artists working in photography today,” said Cox. “Lyon’s dedication to his art and his conviction to produce work underpinned by strong ethical and ideological motivations sets him apart from many of his peers.”
Danny Lyon: Message to the Future will debut at the Whitney from June 17 through September 25, 2016, before traveling to de Young Museum from November 5, 2016, through March 12, 2017.
Generous support for Danny Lyon: Message to the Future is provided by the Henry Peterson Foundation.