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Press release


The Metropolitan Museum of Art will open the Walker Evans Archive, one of the most complete single-artist archives of the 20th century, as a special research center devoted to the American photographer Walker Evans (1903-1975), on February 1, 2000. Acquired in 1994 by the Museum's Department of Photographs, the Walker Evans Archive includes Evans's black-and-white negatives, color transparencies, and motion-picture film from the late 1920s to the 1970s; the artist's original manuscripts, diaries, correspondence, and audiotape recordings of interviews and lectures; and his personal library and collections. This extraordinary trove will provide artists and scholars with a rare insight not only into the artistic achievement of Walker Evans, but also into the cultural, intellectual, and personal context of his career. The opening of the Archive coincides with the premiere of Walker Evans, the Museum's retrospective exhibition of the photographer's work, on view from February 1 through May 14, 2000.

The Walker Evans Archive has been designated a National Treasure by Save America's Treasures, a public-private partnership between the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the White House Millennium Council dedicated to raising awareness of and protecting America's irreplaceable historic and cultural legacy.

The conservation of the Walker Evans Archive has been made possible through the generous support of the William Randolph Hearst Foundation as part of the Save America's Treasures program.

Additional conservation support has been provided by The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Henry J. Nias Foundation, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

"The acquisition of the Walker Evans Archive provides an invaluable new dimension to the development of the Metropolitan's collection of photography, which was inaugurated in 1928," said Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum. "The rich and extensive resources of this vast archive will not only enhance the Museum's presentation of photography by providing an unprecedented depth of understanding of one of the most powerful and persuasive artists of the 20th century, but will also prove to be an invaluable resource for scholars and researchers of American art and culture."

The Archive's photographic materials include some 30,000 black-and-white negatives, 10,000 color transparencies, annotated proof sheets, family albums, and access to all 2,600 of Evans's SX-70 photographs, his last work with the camera. With the nearly 1,000 negatives Evans made for the New Deal's Resettlement (later Farm Security) Administration kept in the Library of Congress, the totality of Evans's pictorial development is now fully preserved and available for study. This encyclopedia of Walker Evans's work, together with the artist's carefully annotated negative sleeves, reveals how the artist shaped and interpreted his material and how he refined his concept of his subjects.

Although he is best known as a photographer, Walker Evans also used his writing and lecturing, as well as his collections of postcards and commercial signs, to convey his unique vision of the American scene. The Archive brings together all of these original materials: it is both the source and repository for Evans's thoughts and ideas. The papers and diaries contain many opinions, accounts, facts, and episodes relating in detail Evans's life experiences and the forces that shaped his art. The archive reveals important intersections between Evans's thought and that of Hart Crane, Lincoln Kirstein, Ben Shahn, James Agee, Robert Fitzgerald, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, and other important figures of the century.

The Walker Evans Archive also includes: the artist's collection of printed ephemera; his paintings, drawings, and collages; and his library of over 400 volumes, many annotated by Evans; and his collection of 10,000 picture postcards, which he began acquiring as a child. Predominantly views of American vernacular architecture, the postcards, with their humble purpose and straightforward photography, were a great source of inspiration for Evans and was among his most prized possessions.

For a time in the 1960s, Evans momentarily dispensed with the camera and liberated from the roadside the kinds of hand-made and commercial signs he had photographed since the beginning of his career. The Archive contains approximately 100 signs including ones for nightcrawlers, a post office, lobsters for sale, as well for Coca-Cola and other nationally advertised products. This was the artist's last great collection of vernacular images, a resonant complement to his postcards.

The Walker Evans Archive will be available to researchers and scholars beginning February 1, 2000. Appointments must be made in advance by calling (212) 570-3889.

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November 10, 1999

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