SFMOMA Presents Exciting Array of Photography Exhibitions Including Major Career Retrospective of Dawoud Bey

Exhibitions of Work by Elad Lassry as well as Lew Thomas, Donna-Lee Phillips and Hal Fischer Open This Winter

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) presents an exciting array of photography exhibitions in its Pritzker Center for Photography this winter and spring. Dawoud Bey: An American Project, the influential photographer’s first major retrospective in 25 years, will be on view from February 15 to May 25, 2020. The month prior, two exceptional photography exhibitions will open on January 4: Thought Pieces: 1970s Photographs by Lew Thomas, Donna-Lee Phillips, and Hal Fischer, which explores an intensely active period from the mid to late 1970s for this group of Bay Area–based photographers; and Elad Lassry, which includes three distinct groupings of new work by the Los Angeles–based Israeli artist that analyze the relationship between objects and their representations.

Bey has dedicated more than four decades to portraying underrepresented communities and histories. From portraits in Harlem to nocturnal landscapes, classic street photography to large-scale studio portraits, his works combine an ethical imperative with an unparalleled mastery of his medium.

Dawoud Bey, Mary Parker and Caela Cowan, Birmingham, AL, from the series The Birmingham Project, 2012; Rennie Collection, Vancouver; © Dawoud Bey

Featuring approximately 80 works, the exhibition, co-organized with the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, spans the breadth of Bey’s career, from the 1970s to the present. Organized both thematically and chronologically, it ranges from his earliest street portraits in Harlem (1975–78) to his most recent exploration of the Underground Railroad (2017).

The power of Bey’s work comes from the marriage of his extraordinary formal skill as a photographer with his deeply held belief in the political power of representation,” said Corey Keller, curator of photography at SFMOMA. “He sees making art as not just a personal expression but as an act of social responsibility, emphasizing the necessary work of artists and art institutions to break down obstacles to access, to convene communities and open dialogue. It has been truly inspiring to work with him on this project.

Describing his process, Bey has said, “It begins with the subject, a deep interest in wanting to describe the black subject in a way that’s as complex as the experiences of anyone else. It’s meant to kind of reshape the world, one person at a time.

(Read peviously posted article here.)

Exhibition Venues and Dates

  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: February 15 to May 25, 2020
  • High Museum of Art, Atlanta: June to October 2020
  • The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York: November 20, 2020 to Spring 2021

Related Programs

A series of related public programs will be presented in conjunction with Dawoud Bey: An American Project, including a conversation with the artist and a robust film program. Advance tickets are strongly recommended, and will be available after January 2020 at sfmoma.org.

Dawoud Bey in Conversation with Leigh Raiford. Thursday, February 13, 6 p.m. Phyllis Wattis Theater

On the occasion of Dawoud Bey’s major retrospective Dawoud Bey: An American Project (opening February 15), the artist joins with Leigh Raiford, chair of UC Berkeley’s African American Studies program for a conversation. Moderated by exhibition curator Corey Keller, Bey and Raiford’s conversation will expand on the representation of blackness as an aesthetic and political act, and the role that photography plays in visualizing history. Free with RSVP. No museum admission required. For more details, see sfmoma.org.


Always Moving: African-American Portraiture in Experimental Film, Thursday, April 2, 7 p.m., Phyllis Wattis Theater

SFMOMA and San Francisco Cinematheque present an evening of artist-made film and video works that offer glimpses of lived experiences of black Americans, both public and private. Thanks to the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) for promotional support. $5 tickets available to SFMOMA, SF Cinematheque and MoAD members / $12 non-members. For more details, see sfmoma.org/film.


The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Saturday, April 25, 2 p.m., Phyllis Wattis Theater

This wistful odyssey populated by locals on the margins offers a poignant story of how hometowns are made and kept alive by the people who love them. Preceded by Tina Takemoto’s Wayward Emulsions (2018) and followed by discussion and Q+A with cast and crew, City College of San Francisco (CCSF) Cinema Chair Denah Johnston and California College of the Arts Dean Tina Takemoto. Organized by CCSF’s Film Club and Black Student Union. $5 students/members, $10 non-members. For more details, see sfmoma.org/film.


On Dawoud Bey’s “A Boy in Front of the Loew’s 125th Street Movie Theater” (1976), May 2–30

Bey’s photograph, A Boy in Front of the Loew’s 125th Street Movie Theater (1976), will be the jumping-off point for this series of films that screened at Loew’s 125th Street movie theater in 1976. Included will be Gordon Park’s Leadbelly (May 2, 2 p.m.), Lady Sings the Blues (May 16, 2 p.m.) and John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (May 28, 7 p.m.). $5 members / $12 non-members. For details, see www.sfmoma.org/Dawoud-Bey.


The Diaspora Suite (2010–2017), Thursday, May 7, 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m., and 7 p.m., Phyllis Wattis Theater

Ephraim Asili’s five-part series The Diaspora Suite, created over the course of seven years, is both a personal and global study of the African diaspora. Thank you to community partner the Museum of African Diaspora for promotional support. Free and open to the public, RSVP encouraged. For more details, see sfmoma.org/film.


An Evening with Brontez Purnell Unstoppable Feat: The Dances of Ed Mock and other works, Thursday, May 14, 7 p.m., Phyllis Wattis Theater

Oakland-based writer, musician, choreographer and filmmaker Brontez Purnell hosts a special evening of films including his celebrated documentary that explores “Blackness, queerness and maleness and Southern-ness.” Presented in association with community partner Frameline. Free and open to the public, RSVP encouraged. For more details, see sfmoma.org/film.

Thought Pieces: 1970s Photographs by Lew Thomas, Donna-Lee Phillips, and Hal Fischer

January 4–August 9, 2020, Floor 3

Lew Thomas, 34th Avenue Between Geary and Clement, 1972; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, gift of Jane and Larry Reed; © Lew Thomas

In the early 1970s, Lew Thomas set out to disrupt photography in San Francisco. Tired of the mystical thinking and emotionalism that he felt had dominated work produced in the region since the 1940s, Thomas pursued a practice grounded in Conceptual art and Structuralist philosophy. Donna-Lee Phillips and Hal Fischer were among the cohort of photographers Thomas mentored who embraced Thomas’s mission and followed his lead in questioning long-held orthodoxies and exploring the relationship between photography and language. For a short but intensely active period from the mid to late 1970s, the three frequently exhibited together, wrote about one another’s work and published books under the imprint NFS Press, founded by Thomas and Phillips. This exhibition will reunite their work for the first time since 1981, when Thomas organized the show Photographs and Words for SFMOMA.

Drawn from the museum’s permanent collection and supplemented with loans from the artists and a community of supporters, Thought Pieces will offer an opportunity to reassess the trio’s legacy in the Bay Area and their place in the larger history of photography.

Support: Generous support for Thought Pieces: 1970s Photographs by Lew Thomas, Donna-Lee Phillips, and Hal Fischer is provided by The Black Dog Private Foundation Fund and Randi and Bob Fisher.

Elad Lassry, January 4–May 10, 2020. Floor 3

Elad Lassry, Untitled (Assignment, Purple Buckle Jacket 2), 2019; © Elad Lassry; courtesy the artist and 303 Gallery, New York

Elad Lassry probes and disrupts photographic images and prescribed modes of looking to analyze the relationship between objects and their representations. By flattening and compressing the space in and around his photographs and inserting sculptural components, he reorients our connection to images in an uncanny and perplexing way. In this exhibition, Lassry will present three distinct groupings of new work: photographic collages that combine amateur snapshots of nature with archival negatives sourced from sales catalogues; outtakes from an imaginary fashion campaign; and container-like structures made from used motorcycle gas tanks.

Viewed together in the gallery, these photographs and sculptures aim to feel familiar yet disorienting. Lassry’s rigorous conceptual strategies generate intentional collisions, highlighting perceptual paradoxes inherent to the photographic medium, while questioning the very meaning of pictures in contemporary culture.

This exhibition will be in the New to the Collection gallery, a space dedicated to showing recently acquired work or new work by an artist.

Support: Generous support for Elad Lassry is provided by Wes and Kate Mitchell.

Hours and Admission: Open Friday–Tuesday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., and Thursday, 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Closed Wednesday. Adult general admission to SFMOMA is $25; admission for seniors 65 years and older is $22; and admission for visitors ages 19 through 24 is $19. General admission and special exhibitions are free for all visitors aged 18 and younger.

Private guided tours and group discounts for Dawoud Bey: An American Project are available through the SFMOMA Group Sales team. Tours are one hour in length and are not included with museum admission. Tours must be booked at least two weeks in advance. For more information or to submit an inquiry, please visit sfmoma.org/groups.