America in Crisis will bring together 40 leading American photographers and more than 120 works exploring social change in America from the 1960s to the present day. Curated by the Saatchi Gallery, the exhibition is curated by Sophie Wright, Gregory Harris of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and Los Angeles-based photographer and scholar Tara Pixley.
America in Crisis was a revolutionary group initiative originally designed in 1969 to assess the state of the nation. This Magnum Photos project was led by American photographer Charles Harbutt and Lee Jones, then head of Magnum’s New York office.
In 1970 Charles Harbutt said of the original project:
“Several of us felt that the 1968 elections would be somewhat special; that deeper questions for America arose than the simple election of a president. I felt the fundamental problem was that the traditional American self-image as learned in public schools, Hollywood movies, July 4th commercials and speeches – the American dream itself – was being called into question. â¦ â
The group project took a critical look at the United States at a time of great social, political, and cultural change, and examined the key events of 1968 leading up to Nixon’s inauguration. The 2022 exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery will create a dialogue between the original historical photographs of the 1969 Magnum Project and new works produced five decades later, by various contemporary practitioners, during another tumultuous time in America.
Despite the proliferation of âfake newsâ in recent years, the role of photography as a means of recording and âwitnessingâ remains more relevant today than ever. America in Crisis explores the similarities and differences between two eras in recent American history through the photographs produced during each pivotal period. This exhibit explores deep-rooted national debates around gun control and racial inequality, as well as topics of global impact such as the digital revolution and the climate crisis.
Revisiting and updating this exhibition creates a unique dialogue between the main photographers of 1968, such as Bruce Davidson, Elliott Erwitt and Mary Ellen Mark, and the works of contemporaries of 2020, such as Kris Graves, Balazs Gardi, Zora J Murff, Sheila Pree Bright and Stacy Kranitz. The exhibition highlights the themes present at the two eras, confronting the myth of American exceptionalism with the reality of current events.
Following Harbutt’s original concept, the 2022 exhibition follows the same chapter structure found in the 1969 publication. Section titles such as The sequence of violence, The Deep Roots of Poverty and The battle for equality carry a contemporary resonance. Bringing together these two eras of documentary photography also provides an opportunity to consider the changes in documentary practice and image culture that occurred in the intervening period.
The original America in Crisis project was conceived not only as an exhibition and publication, but also as an experimental film and installation. True to the interactive presentation of the original project, the 2022 exhibition will include an immersive and interactive installation that talks about contemporary consumption of images.
America in Crisis January 21 – April 3, 2022 at the Saatchi gallery
From Â£ 5, discounts available; children under 10 are free (general conditions apply). Free entry for Saatchi Gallery members
Tickets Entrances are welcome but pre-reservation is advised. Tickets can be booked in advance online at saatchigallery.com/tickets.
Mark Westall is the founder and editor-in-chief of FAD magazine Founder and co-editor of Art of Conversation and founder of the @worldoffad platform