Michener Art Museum Casts New Light on Charles Sheeler and His 1920s Fashion Photography

Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), Helen Menken, Vanity Fair, October 1, 1931. © Condé Nast.

Painter and photographer Charles Sheeler is best known as one of the founding figures of American modernism. Audiences may be surprised to learn that Sheeler’s aesthetic vision was influenced by his experience working as a commercial photographer at Condé Nast, where he created fashion portraits for Vanity Fair and Vogue. This unknown body of work has never been publicly displayed—until now.

From March 18 through July 9, 2017, the James A. Michener Art Museum will present Charles Sheeler: Fashion, Photography, and Sculptural Form, an exhibition featuring 85 portraits and fashion photographs created between 1926 and 1931, on loan from the Condé Nast archives. “It was [at Condé Nast that Sheeler] fine-tuned his particular style—objective, distant, and rigorously formal—that he then applied to all of his subsequent work,” says Kirsten M. Jensen, Ph.D., the Gerry & Marguerite Lenfest Chief Curator at the Michener and curator of the exhibition.

Evoking the character and energy of the Jazz Age, the exhibition will be complemented by prints from Sheeler’s “Doylestown House” series, early portraiture, and his photographs of modern sculpture, as well as period costumes. Textiles designed by Sheeler will also be on view, along with paintings and photographs on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, and Philadelphia Museum of Art, among others.

Accompanying the exhibition is a colorful, 256-page catalogue that includes essays illustrating how Sheeler’s work shifted contemporary trends in architecture and fashion, and highlighting the influence of his experimentation with filmmaking on his later works, and on future generations of fashion photographers. The publication is available for purchase at the Michener Museum and online ($49.95).

Exhibition programming will include lectures, curator talks, a “Scholars Day,” film screenings, musical performances, and a New York-based symposium. Visit the exhibition website to see the full schedule.>>

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