This exhibition is one of a series of individual photography
exhibitions supported by the National Endowment for the
Arts, Washington, D.C., a Federal agency, and the Polaroid
Corporation. The series is co-organized by Associate Direc¬
tor and Chief Curator Jane Livingston and Assistant Curator
Copyright © The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 78-65911
Fifteen hundred copies of this catalogue were printed and
bound by the Garamond/Pridemark Press, Baltimore, Mary¬
The plates are by The Acme Printing Company, Medford,
Designed at The Hollow Press, Washington, D.C.
frontispiece: Side of Warehouse— Newber n, Alabama
DECEMBER 21,1978 - FEBRUARY 11,1979
THE CORCORAN GALLERY OF ART
WASHINGTON, D. C.
William Christenberry is an artist who happens to use the camera as a
necessary part of his wide ranging artistic activity. He was trained at the
University of Alabama in the classical manner given to fine arts students
of the 1950s: the then current values of New York painting, especially
embodied in the form of his abstract-expressionist-imbued teacher Mel¬
ville Price, were imparted to Christenberry in a manner that in turn
made him paint in the broad, “non-objective” style. But even as early as
1959, Christenberry wanted to get beyond making the gesture of painting
for its own sake—the active unadorned gesture was nearly sacrosanct
in the art instruction of the time everywhere in the United States—and
instead to find his own “subject matter.” Thus, in that year, he began
using a Brownie camera to create images which, in his word, were in¬
tended as a “reference” for his painting and drawing activity. The photos
would then be drymounted on mat board and used in much the way
nineteenth century artists used photographs, either their own or others’,
as convenient fragmentary guidelines. Christenberry’s photographs were
color images from the beginning; it made sense, he says, to work in
color since he was painting in color. The artist’s chromatic sense, both
in his painting and in the sculpture, has always been exceedingly sophis¬
ticated; Christenberry is a natural colorist.
None of the Brownie snapshots from the first three years survives; the
earliest existing photos date from 1962. In this year the artist received
initial encouragement to treat the photographs as objects valuable in
their own right. This awareness came from his friend and mentor Walker
Evans, whom Christenberry met in 1961 and with whom he was to main¬
tain a close relationship until Evans’ death in 1975. The early subject
matter for Christenberry’s photographs was confined to the graveyards
near his parents’ home in Greensboro, Alabama, and the many country
shacks in the same vicinity. A pattern was in fact established that con¬
tinues to the present time: Christenberry returns every summer to Hale
County from Washington, D.C. with his wife, Sandra, and their two
young children. There he spends three weeks photographing and adding
to his collection of old weathered metal signs and other artifacts. The
3. Grave with Heart-Shaped Wreath—Hale County, Alabama
subject matter for the photographs has broadened, year by year, as the
artist gradually includes other kinds of objects—abandoned automobiles
or barns or roadside cafes or simply broad country landscapes—into his
repertory, but he has continued to develop the original subjects, grave-
sites and old buildings, sometimes photographing the same site for as
many as seven consecutive years.
The artist emphasizes that his activity does not divide into painting,
drawing, sculpture building, sign collecting, assemblage, photography—
it is all one endeavor for him, and this fact is evident in the photographs
themselves. They cannot quite be seen within the “classical” tradition of
photography as conducted through Stieglitz, Weston, Ansel Adams,
Walker Evans and the rest. They are so artlessly composed, particularly
in the Brownie shots, that one is taken aback upon first seeing them. Yet
somehow the early works are the photographs of a sculptor. And they
are always about color.
The images presently under consideration are later and somewhat dif¬
ferent. In them we are seeing not only a dramatic increase in print size
(20 x 24 inches as opposed to the 3*/2 x 5 inches of the snapshots) but
greater complexity of subject and compositional expansiveness. The
earlier Brownie photographs tend to frame a single object, building or
tombstone, in the center of the format; the compositions are relatively
closed, near to their subject and often intimate. Size and scale work
together to create the world in miniature. The move to a large format
camera, an 8x10 Deardorff, didn’t occur until the summer of 1977, but
it was several years in coming. Perhaps the most important concrete
influence leading Christenberry to expand his camera’s purview and the
size of the prints themselves was the urging of Lee Friedlander, Caldecot
Chubb, and Christenberry’s close friend, William Eggleston. Eggleston
and Christenberry continually look at each other’s work and inevitably
this results in a mutual pressure of influence. Certain obvious similarities
exist—both photographers are focusing primarily on their native Southern
environments (though Eggleston also works extensively in other regions
and in many styles); both work in color; both are moving increasingly
7. 50— Demopolis, Alabama
" v;: '^ISM
into large-format Ektacolor prints. (Eggleston has in the past been most
commonly identified with the dye transfer process.) But the differences
are profound. Christenberry is always more straightforward and more
static, considered, quiescent in his choice of subject and in his composi¬
tional framings than is Eggleston. Despite the recently expanded fram- «
ings and format, and the increased complexity of the compositions,
Christenberry continues to make images whose chief characteristic is
clarity, both of design and of palette.
The images in the present exhibition fall into several types. First is the
familiar grave scene, whose palette, most strikingly in Grave with Heart-
Shaped Wreath— Hale County , Alabama, works from the warm, rich clay
color of the Alabama earth. Points of blue and lavender and green seem
pictorially superimposed as a draughtsman adds nuance, making a chro¬
matic field whose character is profoundly painterly. Another type is
exemplified in Green Warehouse — Newbern, Alabama , a photograph re¬
stricted to the range of greens with only earthtones as anchoring points:
not even the sky adds color here. (The use of white rather than sharply
blue sky is intentional: most of the works in this large-scale series were
shot on somewhat overcast days. The intensity of sky blue seems to be
an uncontrollable or chromatically overpowering element in the palette
of the large-format works.) A third type in this group is a variation of
a frequent approach in Christenberry’s photographs from the earliest
ones on—that of focusing on a wall surface, excluding horizon line or
peripheral imagery, to concentrate on a matrix of texture, color, shape
and line. These photographs are almost like drawings. A new element,
however, comes into play in Side of Warehouse — Newbern, Alabama:
the rusted metal units of the side of the building are similar in texture
and design to the artist’s own recent sculptures, made with sections of
metal hammered onto wood surfaces. In fact this image was the first one
to be printed in the 20 x 24 inch format, and inspired the artist to try
others in this size.
The photograph of the black farm buildings perhaps foretells a departure
for Christenberry; rarely in previous works does the artist open up the
10. Horses and Black Buildings — Newbern, Alabama
range of view to this extent, allowing a sweep back into space and in¬
cluding “figures” (in this case three horses). It is a way of composing
a photograph which may seem on the face of it more conventional,
ordinary, than the previous ones; but this type of picture suggests, within
the context of Christenberry’s entire production, a new notion of rangi¬
ness which may in turn lead to an entirely new look both in the photo¬
graphs and in the other media.
Christenberry’s characteristic ingenuousness in the photographs, their
patent qualities of simplicity and at moments naivete (we must remem¬
ber that the artist never prints his own work) are in fact the qualities
that give these works their own strength. It is a Southern insistence on
portraying immediate plain life vs. the urge to make metaphors. And the
artist is quite aware of this. He says about the photographs, “I’ve been
making those photos over the years just for myself. I really didn’t intend
for them to be shown. And maybe for that reason, they’re the most
natural things I’ve done. I’d like my work to have the same directness
and naturalness that the graves and the hand-painted signs have. But
I’m a trained artist. I’m not sure I can be that unselfconscious.” With
these new, large-format works, of course, the artist is allowing a new
complexity and even a certain conscious sophistication to enter into the
works’ esthetic. But they retain the tenaciously unurbane quality of the
earlier Brownie photographs in their thorough clarity, their extremely
controlled palette, and most of all in the underlying sense of rootedness
in their own place which is at the heart of the Southern artist’s work
and being. Their fascination is now in their being works of art which
make not a unified observation but a synthesis; they are at the same
time carefully composed, abstractly conceived images, and forcefully
presented depictions of scenes of the American rural South.
CATALOGUE OF THE EXHIBITION
The exhibition consists of fifteen Ek74 prints
executed by Dimension Color Labs, New York
City, under the supervision of the artist and Cal-
decot Chubb. Image dimensions are 17%x22
inches (44.1x55.9 centimeters), height preceding
width, with the exception of Catalogue Numbers
1 and 2, which are the reverse. Paper size is 20x24
inches. Photographs courtesy Caldecot Chubb,
New York City.
1. Provide nee Church - Perry County, Alabama,
2. Child's Grave with Styrofoam Bear - Hale
County, Alabama, 1977
3. Grave with Heart-Shaped Wreath - Hale
County, Alabama, 1977
4. Child's Grave with Lavender Chrysanthe¬
mums - Hale County, Alabama, 1977
5. Side of Warehouse - Newbern, Alabama, 1978
6. 50 - Demopolis, Alabama, 1978
7. New Grave - Havana, Alabama, 1978
8. Kudzu - Near Akron, Alabama, 1978
9. Horses and Black Buildings - Newbern, Ala¬
10. Green Warehouse - Newbern, Alabama, 1978
11. Kudzu and Road - Near Akron, Alabama, 1978
12. Wild Flowers - Near Greensboro, Alabama,
13. Cotton Gin - Havana Junction, Alabama, 1978
14. Grave with Crimson Wreath - Near Greens¬
boro, Alabama, 1978
15. High Kudzu - Near Akron, Alabama, 1978
Born Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 1936.
Received B.F.A. Degree from University of Ala¬
bama, Tuscaloosa, 1958.
Received M.A. Degree from University of Ala¬
Taught at Memphis State University, Tennessee,
Associate Professor of Art at Corcoran School of
Art, Washington, D.C., 1968-74.
Professor of Art at Corcoran School of Art, 1974
Received an individual fellowship in photography
from the National Endowment for the Arts, Wash¬
ington, D.C., 1976.
Received a commission from U.S. General Serv¬
ices Administration, Art-in-Architecture Program
to create a wall work for the Jackson, Mississippi,
Federal Building, 1978.
Lives Washington, D.C.
1961 University of Alabama Gallery of Art, Tus¬
caloosa. (Paintings and drawings.)
1963 Memphis State University Gallery of Art,
Tennessee. (Paintings and drawings.)
1967 Mary Chilton Gallery, Memphis, Tennessee.
(Paintings and drawings.)
1970 Henri Gallery, Washington, D.C. (Sculpture
1971 Henri II Gallery, Washington, D.C. (Sculp¬
ture and drawings.)
1972 University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
(Sculpture and drawings.)
1973 Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Brochure with statements by Nina Felshin
and Walker Evans. (Photographs.) Exhibi¬
tion traveled to The Baltimore Museum of
Jefferson Place Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Henri I Gallery, Washington, D.C. (Sculp¬
ture and drawings.)
The Octagon House, American Institute of
Architects, Washington, D.C. Brochure.
1974 Henri I Gallery, Washington, D.C. (Sculp¬
ture.) Henry II, Washington, D.C. (Paint¬
1976 University of Alabama Art Gallery, Tusca¬
Weatherspoon Art Gallery, University of
North Carolina at Greensboro. (Photo¬
Zabriskie Gallery, New York City. (Photo¬
graphs and sculpture.)
1977 University Art Gallery, State University of
New York at Albany. (Photographs.)
Sander Gallery, Washington, D.C. Brochure.
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
1969- Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida.
1970 “The Washington Painters.” Catalogue with
introduction by James Harithas.
1970 Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland.
“Washington: Twenty Years.” Catalogue
with essays by Diana F. Johnson, Ellen
Hope Gross, Arlene Corkery. (Sculpture.)
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
“New Sculpture: Baltimore - Washington-
Richmond.” Catalogue with introduction by
1971 Museum of Fine Art, St. Petersburg, Florida,
and the Jacksonville Art Museum, Florida.
“Transparent and Translucent Art.” Cata¬
Art Gallery, State University College at
Potsdam, New York, and University Art
Gallery, State University of New York at
Albany, New York. “Washington Art.”
Catalogue with introduction by Renato
Corcoran Gallery of Art - Dupont Center,
Washington, D.C. “Corcoran Photography
Workshop Second Invitational.”
Columbia Museum of Art, South Carolina.
“Eight Washington Artists.” Catalogue with
introduction by Gunther Stamm. (Sculp¬
1972 The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
“Second Annual Exhibition of Washington
Artists: Paintings, Sculpture, Drawings and
Graphics.” Catalogue. (Drawing.)
1973 Jefferson Place Gallery, Washington, D.C.
“Six Washington Photographers.”
1974 Rochester Institute of Technology, Roches¬
ter, New York. “Straight Color.” (Photo¬
1975 Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland. “14
American Photographers.” Catalogue with
introduction by Renato Danese. Exhibition
traveled to Newport Harbor Art Museum,
Newport Beach, California; La Jolla Mu¬
seum of Contemporary Art, California;
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minne¬
sota; The Fort Worth Art Museum, Texas.
1976 Rochester Institute of Technology, Roches¬
ter, New York. “Spectrum.” (Photographs.)
Basel Art Fair, Switzerland. “Art 7 76.”
1977 “The Contemporary South.” An exhibition
of photographs and poetry organized by the
New Orleans Museum of Art for the Inter¬
national Communications Agency (formerly
United States Information Agency). Trav¬
eled to Madrid, Tehran, Paris and Brest,
France, Oslo, Stockholm, Bucharest, Lisbon,
Hong Kong, Peking, Tokyo and five other
Japanese cities, Islamabad, Pakistan. Sev¬
eral catalogue/brochures were published by
individual I.C.A. overseas posts.
Galerie Zabriskie, Paris, France. “10 Photo-
graphes contemporains/tendances actuelles
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven,
Connecticut. “Five Years of Collecting Pho¬
Indiana University Art Museum, Blooming¬
ton. “Contemporary Color Photography—
an Invitational Exhibit.”
Photokina , Kunsthalle, Cologne, West Ger¬
many, and Arles, France. “The Second Gen¬
eration of Colour Photographers” (orga¬
nized by Camera magazine). Photokina
Morgan Gallery, Kansas City, Missouri.
“William Christenberry - William Eggleston
Longwood Gallery, Massachusetts College
of Art, Boston. “Bill Christenberry - Walker
Vision Gallery, Boston, Massachusetts.
The Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester,
New Hampshire. “By the Side of the Road.”
Neue Sammlung, Staatliches Museum fur
angewandte Kunst, Munich, West Germany.
Catalogue with text by Klaus-Jiirgen Sem-
The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston,
Massachusetts. “The Presence of Walker
Evans.” Catalogue with essays by Isabelle
Storey and Alan Trachtenberg.
Mandeville Art Gallery, University of Cali¬
fornia San Diego at La Jolla. “Micro-sculp¬
ture: Small scale tableaux and architectural
Cohen, Alan. “New Look at the Old South: The
Heroic and the Commonplace—Two Exhibits,”
The Washington Star, June 21, 1977, pp. D-l, 2, ill.
Davis, Douglas. “Color Shock,” House and Garden,
vol. 148, no. 9, September 1976, p. 114.
Davis, Douglas. “Washington,” Arts Magazine,
vol. 45, no. 4, February 1971, p. 46.
Forgey, Benjamin. “In the Galleries: Month of
Sculpture,” The Sunday Star, Washington, D.C.,
December 19, 1971, p. B-4, ill.
Forgey, Benjamin. “Photographs of Childhood,”
The Evening Star and Daily News, Washington,
D.C., April 30, 1973, p. D-4, illus.
Forgey, Benjamin. “Roadside Glories,” Aperture,
no. 81, Winter 1978, pp. 34-47 illus.
Forgey, Benjamin. “Southern Comfort,” Washing¬
ton Star-News, April 10, 1974, pp. B-l, 3, illus.
Forgey, Benjamin. “The Roots of His Art Must
Tap Southern Soil,” The Washington Star, April
8, 1976, pp. C-l, 3, illus.
Forgey, Benjamin. “Washington, D.C.: William
Christenberry at the Corcoran Gallery and Jeffer¬
son Place,” Art in America, vol. 61, no. 3, May-
June 1973, p. 112, ill.
Frank, Peter. “William Christenberry,” Art News,
vol. 76, no. 3, March 1977, p. 144.
Gold, Barbara. “Shooting shotgun shacks,” The
Sun, Baltimore, Maryland, November 25, 1973, p.
Kramer, Hilton. “Art: Feininger’s Visionary Style,”
The New York Times, December 24, 1976, p. C-16.
Lopes Cardozo, Judith. “William Christenberry,
Zabriskie Gallery: Lucas Samaras, Pace Gallery,”
Artforum, vol. 15, no. 7, March 1977, pp. 68-70,
Phillips, Ellen. “Gallery: William Christenberry,”
The Washingtonian, vol. 11, no. 5, February 1976,
pp. 79-81, illus.
Porter, Allan, ed. “The Second Generation of
Color Photographers,” Camera, vol. 56, no. 7, July
1977, p. 19, ill. p. 13.
Richard, Paul. “American Esthetic in Plain and
Spooky Photos,” The Washington Post, June 18,
1977, p. B-4, ill.
Sollins, Susan. “William Christenberry at Henry I
and Henri II,” Art in America, vol. 62, no. 4, July-
August 1974, p. 93.
Tannous, David. “Capital Art: In the Major
Leagues?” and “Those Who Stay,” Art in America,
vol. 66, no. 4, July-August 1978, pp. 70-87, 135.
Tannous, David. “Christenberry Art: Capturing
the Mood,” The Washington Post, April 16, 1975,
pp. B-l, 11, illus.
Tannous, David. “William Christenberry,” Wood¬
wind, Washington, D.C., vol. 4, no. 14, April 24,
1973, p. 1, illus.
Tannous, David. “William Christenberry at Za¬
briskie,” Art in America, vol. 65, no. 4, July-Au¬
gust 1977, pp. 97-98, ill.
Wittenberg, Clarissa. “Mirrors of the Self,” Wash¬
ington Review of the Arts, vol. 2, no. 1, Spring
Zito, Tom. “Washington Photography: Art,” The
Washington Post/Potomac, May 23, 1976, pp. 16,
26-27, ill. p. 17.
THE CORCORAN GALLERY OF ART
Mrs. Albert Abramson
Mrs. Melvin Alper
Mrs. Philip Amram
Mr. Smith Bagley
Mrs. Bernhard G. Bechhoefer, ex officio
Mr. James Biddle
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Mr. Chester Carter
Mrs. Robert Dudley, ex officio
The Honorable William H. G. Fitzgerald
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Mrs. John A. Logan
Mrs. Leonard H. Marks
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Mr. Curtin Winsor, Jr., Assistant Treasurer
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The Honorable Stanley Woodward
Mrs. David N. Yerkes
Frederick M. Bradley
Corcoran Thom, Jr.
Peter C. Marzio, Director
Jane Livingston, Associate Director
Edward J. Nygren, Curator of Collections
Frances Fralin, Assistant Curator
Linda C. Simmons, Assistant Curator of Collections
Marti Mayo, Coordinator of Exhibitions
Martha Pennigar, Curatorial Assistant
Pamela Lawson, Secretary to the Associate Director
Sheena Parkinson, Secretary to the Curator of Collections
Susan P. Williams, Registrar
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Robert Scott Wiles, Conservator
Fern Bleckner, Paper Conservation Assistant
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Barbara Moore, Chief Education Officer
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Sheila Muccio, Director for Development
Francis Harper, Administrative Officer
William O. Snead, Director of Building Projects
Carolyn Campbell, Director of Public Relations and Events
Ann Kerwin, Administrative Assistant
Lorn a Tilley, Executive Secretary
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