The Photography Of John Gutmann: Culture Shock

January 19 - March 26, 2000
Contact: Joel Leivick, Curator of Photography, 650-723-0513; Bernard Barryte, Associate Director/Chief Curator, 650-725-0466; or Jill Osaka, Public Relations Manager, 650-725-4657.

STANFORD, CA DECEMBER 1999— Focusing on an outstanding group of 100 photographs selected by the artist to exemplify more than a half century of work, The Photography of John Gutmann: Culture Shock examines the achievement of this unique and influential artist and considers his career in its historic context. The exhibition surveys Gutmann's documentary work in Asia, Europe, and the United States during the 1930s and '40s and includes classic images such as Death Stalks the Fillmore (1934). Gutmann's photographs illustrate his personal adaptation of surrealism. He turned from recording the odd and the marvelous that presented itself to his gaze and began to experiment with inventing and constructing images.

Born in Germany in 1905 and trained as a painter, Gutmann took up photography in 1933 and supported himself as a photojournalist after emigrating to the United States. A student of the German expressionist painter Otto Mueller, Gutmann brought to the task of documenting his new surroundings a sensibility nurtured in the avant-garde circles of Berlin. He became fascinated by the popular culture of the United States—"all this bad taste here which, of course, I learned to love"—which he saw as evidence of "enormous vitality." "I was seeing America with an outsider's eyes—the automobiles, the speed, the freedom, the graffiti," he explained in a 1989 interview, and his powerful images, which record "the almost bizarre, exotic qualities of the country," established his reputation. Having settled in San Francisco, he helped link the West Coast to European modernism, inspiring later generations of photographers through his unique capacity to disclose the ambiguities and oddities within the commonplace.

The fully illustrated catalogue accompanying the exhibition features an introduction by Sandra S. Phillips, Curator of Photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Phillips explores two primary themes suggested by this unique selection of works from the Capitol Group collection. She compares Gutmann's vision of American culture and the work of other photojournalists in such popular magazines as Life and Look. She also discusses Gutmann's artistic development, elucidating continuities between his images of the '30s and '40s that document American vernacular culture and his personal surrealism of the 1950s.

All photographs are lent by The Capital Group Companies, Inc. or The Capital Group Foundation. The Photography of John Gutmann: Culture Shock is organized and circulated by the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University. The exhibition has been made possible, in part, by generous support from The Capital Group Companies, Inc. and The Capital Group Foundation.

Jitterbug, New Orleans, 1937, John Gutmann, Gelatin-silver printJohn Gutmann
Jitterbug, New Orleans, 1937
Gelatin-silver print
The Capital Group Companies, Inc.