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Voyage of Discovery: The Landscape Photographs of Ray K. Metzker


An exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) presents the first major survey of landscape images by American photographer Ray K. Metzker (b. 1931). Voyage of Discovery: The Landscape Photographs of Ray K. Metzker presents 107 black-and-white photographs created between 1985 and 1998. This exhibition will remain on view through Feb. 29, 2004. (left: Ray K. Metzker (b. 1931), Castagneto, Italy form the Feste di Foglie Series, 1985, gelatin silver print, 13-7/16 x 13-7/16 inches, Courtesy of the Laurence Miller Gallery, New York)

This first major exhibition of Metzker's landscape work is divided into nine groups, representing the chronology and different locales of this series. It was beautifully selected for the Philadelphia Museum of Art by Evan H. Turner, who was responsible for establishing the CMA's photography collection during his 1983­93 directorship.

Since the late 1950s, Ray K. Metzker has been one of the brightest stars in the galaxy of contemporary photographers, marked by his conceptual inventiveness and sublime technical mastery. Over the past 40 years, Metzker has created distinct bodies of work that combine formal issues and humanistic concerns. He frequently has been in the vanguard of experimental photography, forging new ways of visually presenting ordinary subject matter through creative use of light, pattern, focus, print size and composition. Until the mid 1980s, Metzker rendered in stark lights and darks figure studies and the street life of cities-especially Chicago and Philadelphia.

Between 1983­94, he reviewed his body of work in preparation for his 25-year retrospective, Unknown Territory, organized for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which traveled to six major institutions (1984­86). After this intense experience, Metzker changed his approach to photography to one in which he would "try to go out and see things with a fresh mind, fresh eyes." (right: Ray K. Metzker (b. 1931), Dordogne, France, from the Sojourn Series, 1989, gelatin silver print, 13-3/8 x 13-9/16 inches, Philadelphia Museum of Art: Purchased with funds contributed by Lynne and Harold Honickman, Marion Boulton Stroud, and the Alice Newton Osborn Fund)

During a trip in September 1985 to Tuscany, he produced a series of works titled Feste di Foglie (Celebration of Leaves). He abruptly switched from photographing the urban subjects most associated with his career to photographing landscapes. He spent almost four months living in a small house in Tuscany. Working daily among the nearby olive trees, he recorded, with characteristic insight, their distinctive swirling branches and grounded trunks. His goal was to produce "something very light, on the delicate side"-imagery that represented a dramatic break from his dark, primarily urban work.

The artist's joyous response to Italy introduced him to a subject he would pursue for more than a decade, resulting in one of the most poetic and varied treatments of this theme in the history of photography. These lyrical photographs are a significant departure from the bold, urban images for which Metzker previously had been known. He often became interested in subjects that he perceived as metaphors for human situations. (left: Ray K. Metzker (b. 1931), Cigali, Turkey, 1997, gelatin silver print, 13-3/8 x 13-1/2 inches, Courtesy of the Laurence Miller Gallery, New York)

In the early 1990s Metzker traveled and worked in many diverse locations, including Colorado, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Maine, Southern France, Turkey, and since 1994, almost exclusively in Moab, Utah. Less intimate than the images at the beginning of the project, these recent photographs capture particularly dramatic vistas of Western landscapes. Never drawn to famous sites or monuments, he was attracted to spots that captured his interest, presenting an essence rather than identifiable specifics. His passion and keen eye for light define his landscape photographs. Taken during all seasons, his work ranges from tight details to expansive vistas. This series shows his reliance on black-and-white negatives (exquisitely printed) and a square compositional format that he called "a perfect frame for chaos." Especially in his close-up views, he avoided the hierarchy of a typical landscape, with its clearly established center of interest. Instead, the borders of his photographs are bombarded by an abundance of diverse, fluid visual elements, all demanding equal and simultaneous attention. (right: Ray K. Metzker (b. 1931), Moab, Utah, 1995, gelatin silver print, 13-5/16 x 13-7/16 inches, Courtesy of the Laurence Miller Gallery, New York)

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1931, Metzker has made his home in Philadelphia since 1962. Prior to that, he studied with Harry Callahan (American, 1912­1999) and Aaron Siskind (American, 1903­1991) at the Institute of Design in Chicago. The artist has been the recipient of many awards, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. His work is well represented in museums and public collections in the United States and Europe.


Free Lecture

Wed., Jan. 14 at 6:30 p.m. in Lecture Hall

Voyage of Discovery: A Dialogue between Ray K. Metzker and Evan H. Turner

Art historian and former Director of the Cleveland Museum of Art Evan H. Turner along with Ray K. Metzker will conduct a free dialogue. Turner has served as director of four museums: the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Free Gallery Talks

Wed., Dec. 17 and Sun., Dec. 21, 1:30 p.m. with CMA educator Kate Hoffmeyer.

Wed., Jan. 14 and Sun., Jan. 18, 1:30 p.m. with CMA educator Debbie Apple Presser.

Sun., Feb. 1 and Wed., Feb. 4, 1:30p.m. with CMA educator Saundy Stemen.



The 149-page black-and-white catalogue Ray K. Metzker Landscapes (Aperture Foundation, 2003) includes an essay and chronology by former Cleveland Museum of Art Director and co-curator to the exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Evan H. Turner. The essay investigates the evolution of Metzker's photography and the influence of historical landscape painters on his work which include John Constable (British, 1776-1837), Joseph Mallord Turner (British, 1775-1851), Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926) and Gustav Klimt (Austrian, 1862-1918).

This exhibition was organized by the Alfred Stieglitz Center of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Cleveland Museum of Art receives operating support from the Ohio Arts Council and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.


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