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Queens Museum of Art Presents Working Stiffs: Photography from the Collection

The Queens Museum of Art presents Working Stiffs: Photography from the Collection. On view through November 14, 2010.

Working stiffs, an archaic phrase from the slang of mid 20th century American life, suggests the deadly dullness and mind-numbing repetition of the life of the working class: from back-breaking, often brutal manual labor to the endless drudgery of mundane office tasks. Fifty photographs have been selected from the permanent collection of the Queens Museum of Art to articulate what it is to work, cross-culturally and geographically, throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. An extensive range of images highlight contemporary artists such as Sylvia Plachy, Pedro Meyer and Dulce Pinzon whose insightful works reveal the visages of laundry attendants, tailors, servants and even seasonal Santa Clauses with both intelligence and humor, to 19th century anonymous photographers documenting the daily life of the trades in Europe, the United States and the Far East. In the early to mid 20th century, the stark iconic documentary photography of Lewis W. Hine, Berenice Abbott, W. Eugene Smith, Reginald Marsh, Dorethea Lange, Josef Breitenbach and others portray the transformation of the industrial age and its imprint on the human condition. The blossoming of photojournalism allows us an intimate, almost voyeuristic window into what it means to earn a living through daily labor in works that range from high steel welders constructing the Empire State Building to Ringling Brothers aerialists and Moscow Circus acrobats, as well as celebrating New York City mounted policemen, soldiers and officers in wars from the Crimean to World War I, and rural American doctors. Building the city or working in fields from New York to the Mekong Delta, images of men and women toil by rolling cigars in a Pittsburgh sweatshop, wrapping tea in cloth packages in Japan or carrying cement in Delhi, conveying the universality of our daily occupations.

Berenice Abbott
Alan Aaronson
Felice Beato
Josef Breitenbach
Jack Clarity
Peter Henry Emerson
Roger Fenton
Jean-Louis Garnell
Herbert Gehr
F. B. Grunzweig
Fritz Henle
Lewis W. Hine
Dorothea Lange
George Platt Lynes
Reginald Marsh
Harold Mathewson
Pedro Meyer
Arthur S. Mole and John Thomas
Dulce Pinzon
Sylvia Plachy
Herbert Ponting
Al Pucci
Aleksandr Rodchenko
Kitty Sang
W. Eugene Smith

The permanent collection of the Queens Museum of Art is constantly evolving through the generosity of several important donors including Grace Lacy, Chris Middendorf, John Coplans, Peter C. Jones, Walter and Naomi Rosenblum and Carole and Gordon Hyatt. We are deeply grateful to Charles W. Schwartz, whose significant and thoughtful contributions over a period of thirty years help form, almost singlehandedly, a historical framework for the photography collection.

This exhibition is supported by grants from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and New York State Council on the Arts.

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