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William Christenberry: Photographs, 1961-2005

September 12 ­ November 8, 2009 


William Christenberry Photographs, 1961-2005, a phenomenal  retrospective exhibition of Christenberry's photographs, opens to the public at the Morris Museum of Art on September 16, 2009. The Morris Museum is the only Georgia venue hosting this exhibition. (right: William Christenberry, Rabbit Pen, near Moundville, Alabama, 1998, plate 26, 8 x 10)

"William Christenberry Photographs, 1961-2005 is an overview of the career of one of the South's most important living artists," said Kevin Grogan, director of the Morris Museum of Art." Organized by the Aperture Foundation, this exhibition brings to Augusta a body of work like no other. No one has so scrupulously and attentively captured a sense of place and time in quite the way that Bill Christenberry has. He is a remarkable artist, as is proven by this extraordinary body of work. He is America's Proust."

Since the early 1960s, William Christenberry has plumbed the regional identity of the American South, focusing his attention primarily on his childhood home, Hale County, Alabama. Widely recognized as a pioneer in the field of color photography, Christenberry draws inspiration from the work of Walker Evans, while paralleling the work of such international practitioners as Bernd and Hilla Becher. Ranging from his earliest Brownie photographs to his later work with a large-format camera, William Christenberry Photographs, 1961-2005 is a survey of the artist's poetic documentation of the Southern landscape and vernacular architecture that surrounded him as he grew up. The exhibition, coupling never-before-seen photographs with images that are now iconic, reveals how the history, the very story of place, is at the heart of Christenberry's ongoing project. While the focus of his work is the American South, it touches on universal themes related to family, culture, nature, spirituality, memory, and aging. Christenberry photographs real things in the real world -- ramshackle buildings, weathered commercial signs, lonely back roads, rusted-out cars, whitewashed churches, decorated graves. Dutifully returning to photograph the same locations annually -- the green barn, the palmist building, the Bar-B-Q Inn, among others -- he has fulfilled a personal ritual and documented the physical changes wrought by every single year. Straddling past and present, Christenberry's art suggests the gravity and power of the passage of time. 

The exhibition is accompanied by a stunning monograph entitled William Christenberry, published by Aperture in cooperation with the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The book, a comprehensive survey, presents all aspects of the artist's oeuvre as he intended it to be viewed and considered. More than half the work reproduced has not been previously published.

William Christenberry Photographs, 1961-2005 remains on view at the Morris Museum of Art through November 8, 2009.  


(above: William Christenberry: Old House, near Akron, Alabama, 1964, plate 100, 35mm)


(above: William Christenberry: Rear of House, near Stewart, Alabama, 1996, plate 121, Brownie)


William Christenberry Biography

William Christenberry (b. 1936) has been a professor at the Corcoran College of Art and Design,Washington, D.C., since 1968. He is world-renowned for his photography, sculpture, drawings, and paintings that pay tribute to his roots in rural Alabama. His work can be found, notably, in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.; Museum of Modern Art in New York; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among many museum collections.  He is also represented in corporate and private collections too numerous to cite. 


William Christenberry Chronology

1936 William Christenberry is born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
1954-59 Attends University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa; receives bachelor of fine arts (1958) and master of arts in painting (1959).
1958-59 Instructor at the University of Alabama. Begins taking photographs with Brownie camera.
1960 Discovers James Agee and Walker Evans'sLet Us Now Praise Famous Men.
1961-62 Lives in New York City, where he meets Walker Evans. The two remain friends until Evans's death in 1975.
1962 Takes teaching position as assistant professor of art at Memphis State University. Begins friendship with William Eggleston. Produces first drawings and paintings forThe Klan Room.
1963 Shifts primary focus of work from painting to sculpture and photography.
1967 Marries Sandra Deane.
1968 Becomes professor of drawing and painting at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, Washington, D.C. Begins making annual working trips to Hale County,  Alabama and surrounding areas.
1973 October-Visits Hale County, Alabama with Walker Evans.
1974-75 Completes Sprott Church, his first building construction inspired by photographs. Included in the exhibitionsStraight Color,Rochester Institute of Art, Rochester, New York;14 American Photographers,Baltimore Museum of Art; and Light/Sculpture,William Hayes Ackland Memorial Art Center, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
1976 First solo show in New York at Zabriskie Gallery, with sculpture and photographs.
1977 Begins photographing with 8-by-10-inch Deardorff camera.
1979 Majority of pieces inThe Klan Roomare stolen from the artist's studio by persons unknown. First Dream Building completed. Included in American Photography of the Seventies, Art Institute of Chicago.
1980 Makes first Southern Monument. Included inZeitgenössische Amerikanische Farbphotographie, Galerie Rodolf Kicken, Cologne, Germany.
1981 Included in The New Color: A Decade of Color Photography, International Center of Photography, New York.
1982 Awarded Lyndhurst Foundation Prize.
1983 Aperture publishes his first major monograph,William Christenberry: Southern Photographs.Visits Hale County, Alabama, with Lee Friedlander.
1984 Awarded John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship.
1985  First solo exhibition, Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York. Included in American Images: Photography, 1945-1980, Barbican Art Gallery, London; Color Roots - William Eggleston - William Christenberry, Burden Gallery, Aperture, New York; and A Second Talent: Painters and Sculptors Who Are Also Photographers, Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut.
1989 Awarded the Alabama Prize. Included in The Photography of Invention: American Pictures of the 1980s, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
1991 Honored as Eudora Welty Professor of Southern Studies, Millsaps College, Jackson, Mississippi.
1991, '93 Visiting artist (painting), Yale University Summer School of Art and Music, Norfolk, Connecticut.
1994  Awarded Art Matters grant, New York. Included in Duchamp's Leg, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and Worlds in a Box, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London.
1996 University Press of Mississippi publishes Christenberry: Reconstruction, the Art of William Christenberry. An exhibition of the same name is organized by the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, Arizona. Receives the University of Memphis Distinguished Achievement Award in Memory of Elvis Presley.
1998 Named Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.
2001-2  Richter Verlag publishes William Christenberry: Disappearing Places; an exhibition of the same name is presented at the Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne, Germany, and at the Palais des Beaux- Arts, Brussels. Included in the Nature Conservancy's exhibition In Response to Place: Photographs from the Nature Conservancy's Last Great Places, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
2003 Artist in residence, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire. Included in Lee Friedlander/William Christenberry, Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne, Germany.
2004 Included in Picturing the South: William Christenberry, William Eggleston, Walker Evans, Alex Soth, Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York.
2005 Weil Fellow, Auburn University, Montgomery, Alabama.
2006 July 1 - Passing Time: The Art of William Christenberry opens at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

Exhibition Checklist

· House, Stewart, Alabama, 1962 
· Church, Sprott, Alabama, 1971 
· Grave, Stewart, Alabama, 1962 
· Grave with Egg Carton Cross, Hale County, Alabama, 1975 
· Child's Grave with Rosebuds, Hale County, Alabama, 1975 
· Building with False Brick Siding, Warsaw, Alabama, 1974 
· Kudzu and Road, Hale County, Alabama, 1996 
· Wall of Building ("5¢ Refreshing"), Marion, Alabama, 1964 
· Wall of Building, Marion, Alabama, 1964 
· Side of Palmist Building, Havana Junction, Alabama, 1971 
· Coleman's Café, Greensboro, Alabama, 1967, '71, '77, '78, '80, '82  
· Coleman's Café, Greensboro, Alabama, 1967, 1971, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1982
· Coleman's Café, Greensboro, Alabama, 1967-82  
· Pure Oil Sign in Landscape, near Marion, Alabama, 1977 
· Tenant House on Mills Hill (Side View), near Moundville, Alabama, 1964 
· Hubcaps, near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 1993 
· Landscape and Silo, near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 1990 
· Rear of House, near Stewart, Alabama, 1996 
· Church, near Faunsdale, Alabama, 1974 
· Havana Methodist Church, Havana, Alabama, 1976 
· Door, Havana Methodist Church, Havana, Alabama, 1976 
· Grave, Hale County, Alabama, 1987 
· Grave, Hale County, Alabama, 1987 
· Guinea Church, near Moundville, Alabama, 1964 
· Church Sign, Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, 1976 
· Kudzu with Storm Cloud, near Akron, Alabama, 1981 
· Lady Who Makes Egg Carton Flowers, Hale County, Alabama, October, 1983 
· Rear of House with Ladder, Newbern, Alabama, 1983 
· Signs in Landscape, near Marion, Alabama, 1975 
· "Do You Believe in Jesus, I Do," Stephen Syke's Place, near Aberdeen, Mississippi, 1966 
· Door of Building, near Eutaw, Alabama, 1975 
· Old House, near Akron, Alabama, 1964 
· Fallen House, near Marion, Alabama, 1975 
· Sign, near Moundville, Alabama, 1974 
· Painted Grave, Stewart, Alabama, 1989 
· Rabbit Pen, near Moundville, Alabama, 1998 
· House, near Akron, Alabama, 2000 
· Gourd Tree, near Fayette, Alabama, 1988 
· 5¢ Wall with Johnson Grass, Demopolis, Alabama, 1980  
· PalmistBuilding (Summer), Havana Junction, Alabama, 1980 
·  Palmist Building, Havana Junction, Alabama, 1981 
· Rear of Palmist Building, Havana Junction, Alabama, 1980 
· Site of Palmist Building, Havana Junction, Alabama, 1988 
· Red Building in Forest, Hale County, Alabama, 1983 
· Indian Mounds, near Moundville, Alabama, 1999 
· Church, near Marion, Alabama, 1990
· Christenberry Family Home, near Stewart, Alabama, 1994 
· Remains of Boys' Room, near Stewart, Alabama, 1994 
· Christmas Star, near Akron, Alabama, 2000 
· KudzuDevouring Building, near Greensboro, Alabama, 2004 
· Underground Club, Greensboro, Alabama, 2005  
· Morning Glory Vine, Early Morning Light, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 2004  
· Memory, 1998-2006, Archival board, beeswax, encaustic, balsa wood, black paint, tacks, pine, and plywood 
· Sign, Stephen Syke's Place, near Aberdeen, Mississippi, Found sign, acquired in 1973, Wood, paint, metal 
· Sign, near Moundville, Alabama, Found sign, acquired in 1974, Paint on formica 
· Sign, near Marion, Alabama, Found sign, acquired in 1978, Paint on metal 
· Egg Carton Flowers on Grave, Hale County, Alabama, 1977 
· Kudzu with Red Soil Bank (Winter), near Akron, Alabama, 1981 
· Taylor's Place, near Greensboro, Alabama, 1974


Related Events

William Christenberry Opening Party: September 12, 2009, 5:00-8:00 p.m.
The Museum will host an evening of art, music, and Southern food in celebration of the opening of William Christenberry: Photographs, 1961-2005. Christenberry will discuss his renowned images and be available to sign copies of his catalog. Afterwards, enjoy the sounds of The Threads and feast on shrimp and grits. Fee. Space is limited; paid reservations can be made by calling 706-724-7501 by September 4.



A not-for-profit foundation dedicated to advancing photography in all its forms, Aperture was founded in 1952 by six gifted individuals: photographers Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Barbara Morgan, and Minor White; historian Beaumont Newhall; and writer/curator Nancy Newhall. With scant resources, these visionary artists created a new periodical, Aperture, to serve photographers and photography enthusiasts worldwide. As the medium flourished, so too did Aperture Foundation, expanding to include the publication of books, limited-edition photographs, and a traveling exhibitions program that has presented over one hundred exhibitions at major museums and cultural institutions throughout the United States and abroad. Aperture Gallery address: 547 West 27th Street, 4th floor, New York, N.Y. 10001; (212) 505-5555.


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