The Phillips Collection presents Frank Stewart’s Nexus: An American Photographer’s Journey, 1960s to the Present. This first museum retrospective features over 100 photographs spanning a six-decade career, it centers on his sensitive and spontaneous approach to portraying world cultures and Black life in many forms—including music, art, travel, food, and dance. His work over the years captured intimate and empathetic images of lives experienced and observed across subjects, cities, and countries.
“The Phillips Collection is delighted to present the expressive and compelling photography of Frank Stewart,” states Vradenburg Director and CEO Jonathan P. Binstock. “The exhibition is the long- overdue recognition of the depth, breadth, and extraordinary impact of Stewart’s visionary practice— his powerful examinations of our ever-changing landscape and his influence on American visual culture.”
Organized into thematic groupings, Frank Stewart’s Nexus traces both his explorations of life on the road and the trajectory of his stylistic journey. The exhibition brings together a comprehensive visual autobiography through over 100 black and white and color photographs and includes a selection of cameras Stewart has used over the years. Born in 1949, Stewart’s nomadic life and vision can be traced to his childhood, with his shifts back and forth from Memphis, Chicago, and New York. Presenting the retrospective in Washington holds special significance, as some of Stewart’s first photographs in the exhibition were taken as a teenager photographing and documenting the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
“We look forward to premiering Stewart’s art in the city that inspired him,” shares Phillips Collection Associate Curator Renee Maurer.“ Not only were his first images taken in Washington, DC, but some of his enduring portraits show his longstanding relationship with the District and his close ties with artists, including David C. Driskell and Alma W. Thomas.” Frank Stewart’s Nexus will explore Stewart’s avid experimentation, cropping with the camera, to capture numerous subjects over the course of half a century. His photographs of the many aspects and rituals of Black culture, explored through the senses of touch, sound, and taste, suggest the joys and pains of everyday life. An interest in world cultures is visible throughout his practice, particularly the impact of his many trips to Africa and Cuba over the years, including his first visit to Africa in 1974 while he was a student at The Cooper Union. At the center of his varied practice is a familiarity Stewart creates with the people and places that inhabit his works.
“With this exhibition, we have a chance to get a sense of the unlimited range and depth of a contemporary genius,” enthuses Co-curator Fred Moten. “Frank Stewart’s combination of loving care for his subjects and thoughtful consideration of his medium is singular and invaluable.”
Music—gospel, blues, and jazz—is one of his overarching influences. Stewart traveled internationally with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as their senior staff photographer from 1990-2020. Throughout his time with the orchestra, Stewart captured both public performances and candid, personal moments, creating an intimate portrait of some of the most celebrated musicians of our time. Stewart’s well- known photographs of jazz legends Miles Davis, Ahmad Jamal, and Wynton Marsalis are a highlight of the exhibition, on display with candid shots of other artists in their workplaces.
The exhibition also provides a window into less-explored aspects of Stewart’s practice, including his more abstract and painterly Drawings series. Inspired by his global travels, the Drawings capture reflections, walls, cars, and children at play that showcase Stewart’s experimentations with the medium of photography. Stewart photographed in color from the start of his career, but with the shift to digital photography, color has dominated his work for the past two decades. He also has embraced inkjet printing and has increased the sizes for many of his images. As a student, his studies included painting classes, with the celebrated Jack Whitten being of particular importance. In more recent images, Stewart captures the ever-changing landscape and environmental catastrophes, including the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans between 2005-07 and the devastating fires in California and the Pacific Northwest.
“This exhibition explores Stewart’s celebratory attitude to life, often with a touch of irony,” shares Co- curator Ruth Fine. “The theme of intimate and subtle relations between and among people is essential to Stewart’s art. His responses to the human dilemma reflect his ability to gain trust from those with whom he interacts—both friends and strangers.”
Frank Stewart : Nexus – An American Photographer’s Journey, 1960s to the Present
Until September 3rd, 2023
The Phillips Collection
1600 21st St NW
Washington, DC 20009