Consulting curator Maurice Berger
“I chose my camera as a weapon against all the things I dislike about America— poverty, racism, discrimination.” — Gordon Parks
A career-spanning exhibition of Gordon Parks photographs from the Dean Collection will debut this spring at The Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African and African American Art at the Hutchins Center, Harvard University. Gordon Parks: Selections from the Dean Collection will premiere a range of works from the collection of Kasseem Dean and Alicia Keys, who own the largest private holdings of works by Gordon Parks. Recognized as the most important African-American photographer of the 20th century, Parks represented his subjects—from the rural poor and black families living under segregation to fashion models and prominent cultural and political figures—with empathy and dignity, employing the arts to champion social change. On view April 26 through July 19, 2019, the exhibition is co-organized by The Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art at the Hutchins Center, Harvard University and The Gordon Parks Foundation in cooperation with consulting curator, Dr. Maurice Berger.
“As the only art space at Harvard University that focuses exclusively on African and African American art, the Cooper Gallery is thrilled to serve as the site for the inaugural exhibition of the Dean Collection,” Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, said. “Gordon Parks was a major artist of the 20th century, whose work, with its journalistic precision and sublime artistry, shines a light on individuals and stories that were—and still are—too often hidden and overlooked.”
“The Deans have been important champions of the work of Gordon Parks, and this exhibition is an opportunity to share his work with a broader audience through the outstanding platform offered by Harvard University,” said Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., Executive Director of The Gordon Parks Foundation. “The exhibition additionally builds on the Foundation’s strong history of collaborative programming with leading institutions in the mounting of exhibitions, conferral of scholarships, and mounting of public programs that engage the public with Parks’ legacy.”
The Dean Collection’s holdings span Parks’ entire career from his civil rights era images to fashion photography to portraits to lesser-known works. For several years, Keys and Dean have served as co-chairs of the annual Gordon Parks Foundation Awards Gala, and they announced the acquisition of 80 works by Gordon Parks at last year’s event. The exhibition will premiere a selection of highlights, including portraits of prominent civil rights leaders and cultural figures such as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, images of life in Jim Crow-era rural Alabama, fashion pictures, and documentary photographs, along with many lesser-known images.
The exhibition features a broad range of work, including portraits of eminent artists and public figures, such as Muhammad Ali, Langston Hughes, Alberto Giacometti, and Malcolm X; documentation of historic civil rights protests, including the 1963 March on Washington; intimate scenes of everyday life, from the daily rituals and challenges of a Harlem family to a 12-year-old boy struggling to survive in a ramshackle favela in the hills outside Rio de Janeiro; and a fascinating visual retelling of Ralph Ellison’s epochal novel, Invisible Man.
“People need to see this type of greatness to inspire themselves,” Kasseem Dean has said of Parks’ work. Berger, the consulting curator, writes in the exhibition’s introductory text, “It is fitting that the Deans have embraced his photographs. In their own work, as musicians and producers, they exemplify the power of art to transform, motivate, and enlighten. Gordon Parks: Selections from the Dean Collection attests to the photographer’s transformative role in 20th-century art, as a master storyteller who helped change the world, one commanding image at a time.”