Berenice Abbott’s Route 1 at The Wolfsonian, Summer 2017
North and South: Berenice Abbott’s U.S. Route 1 (June 9–October 8, 2017)
reveals daily life in 1950s America from Key West to northern Maine
MIAMI BEACH (February 7, 2017) — The Wolfsonian–Florida International University is pleased to be the Summer 2017 destination for North and South: Berenice Abbott’s U.S. Route 1, a selection of images from the artist’s June 1954 journey along the American East Coast. Culled from Syracuse University’s premier collection of Abbott’s work, North and South brings together approximately 50 black-and-white photographs from over 2,400 shots captured between Key West, Florida, and Fort Kent, Maine—her largest portfolio devoted to one subject, and a notable departure from earlier subject matter. The mostly unknown series presents a singular visual summary of American life in the 1950s, from scenes of peach picking, dancing, and alligator wrestling to candid portraits of potato and tobacco farmers.
North and South is organized by the Syracuse University Art Collection and will be on view at The Wolfsonian from June 9 through October 8, 2017. It will be the first major photography exhibition displayed at the museum in more than a decade.
“I think almost more than any other work she did, this (Route 1) really got to the heart of what she was interested in illustrating, which was the sense of a changing landscape through photographs that were truly objective in their presentation,” said David Prince, associate director & curator of collections at SUArt Galleries, who curated North and South. “Construction of the country’s interstate highway system was underway and Abbott wanted to document the historic character of the East Coast while it survived.”
Celebrated for her no-frills approach to photography, Berenice Abbott (1898–1991) built a career as a documentarian, preferring to thoughtfully frame and focus each shot on site over manipulating negatives back in the studio. After honing her craft under the tutelage of Man Ray, Abbott established her name through a few distinct photo series: portraiture of Paris’ cultural avant-garde, the evolving urban landscape of New York City, and scientific photography. Throughout all, she balanced an artful eye with a straightforward, factual approach.
Abbott’s road trip in 1954, armed for the first time with a portable Rolleiflex camera, marked a shift in theme as much as a continuation of style. As in her previous work, the vistas and vignettes of North and South are presented without staging or editorializing—faithfully recording the daily life of Americans as the country was changing, without idealization or nostalgia, criticism or commentary. Many of the images capture the working class and reflect the diverse character of regions along the Eastern seaboard.
“North and South fits perfectly into the Wolfsonian approach of highlighting the human experience in the modern age,” said assistant curator Whitney Richardson, who is organizing The Wolfsonian’s presentation of the exhibition. “These photographs are incredibly revealing when it comes to the layers of history that exist in a particular place at a particular moment. We’re thrilled to bring Berenice Abbott’s work to a Miami audience, in a city where Route 1 still plays a major role in shaping day-to-day life.”
In tandem with the exhibition, The Wolfsonian will host a suite of dynamic programs including a road trip-themed film and tour series, a family-friendly event, and public and member workshops with contemporary photojournalists and street photographers.
North and South has previously traveled to the High Museum of Art; Hillwood Art Museum; Museum of Art, University of Maine, Orono; Museum of Our National Heritage; and the Southeast Museum of Photography, Daytona State College.