12444 - 20170319 - Groundbreaking Dave Heath exhibition at Nelson-Atkins - Kansas City, MO - 19.11.2016-19.03.2017


Dave Heath, American (1931-2016). Kansas City, Missouri, 1967. Gelatin silver print (printed 1968), 7 3/8 x 10 3/4 inches. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, Gift of the Hall Family Foundation, 2011.67.23.
A major exhibition showcasing the work of Dave Heath, one of the most original photographers of the last half of the 20th century, opened at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City on Nov. 19. Multitude, Solitude: The Photographs of Dave Heath is curated by Keith F. Davis, Senior Curator, Photography, who wrote a widely acclaimed catalogue of the same title to accompany the exhibition. The Nelson-Atkins has the largest holding of Heath’s work in the United States, and the exhibition was entirely assembled from the museum’s collection. A smaller version of the show opened at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in September 2015 to critical praise. 
“Dave Heath has had one of the most important careers in modern photography,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell CEO & Director of the Nelson-Atkins. “With little formal training, he applied his determination and curiosity to learning about photography and the history of art. And we see the result in this exhibition: the flowering of one of the greatest talents of his generation.”

The exhibition spans the full breadth of Heath’s creative career, from the late 1940s into the 21st- century. It begins with his earliest pictures, his first book prototypes, his first audio-visual artistic work (“Beyond the Gates of Eden,” 1969), and concludes with his color street pictures of 20012007. The exhibition centers on Heath’s 1965 photo-book A Dialogue with Solitude, a sequence of 82 photographs widely considered his defining achievement.

Heath’s photographs are a powerful expression of his emotional life, his concern for interpersonal contact and communion. Abandoned by both parents at age 4, he grew up in foster homes and an orphanage in Philadelphia. This experience shaped his creative vision, an expression of a profound sense of pain, loneliness, alienation, longing, joy, and hope. Guided by an entirely personal expressive need, Heath used the camera to understand himself and the society around him.

“Heath has always, and instinctively, understood the power of sympathetic vision,” said Davis. “His photographs of people are infused with a special emotional directness and power. They reflect a fundamental, and almost tactile, need to connect.”

Heath’s interest in photography was sparked in 1947, when he saw Ralph Crane’s photo-essay “Bad Boy’s Story”, about an alienated boy in an orphanage, in Life magazine. He identified with Crane’s subject and grasped the power of the photograph to transcend simple reportage. Largely self-taught, Heath studied for a year at the Philadelphia College of Art before working for a commercial photo studio in Chicago. He came to national attention after his move to New York City in 1957. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1963 and his work was included in major exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and elsewhere. He taught from 1965 to 1996, with 36 of those years spent at Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario.

Heath died on his 85th birthday, June 27, 2016, knowing that his work had reached wider audiences and recognized for his individual and powerful voice.