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July Issue 2004
Columbia Museum of Art in Columbia, SC, Features Photographs by John Cohen
There is No Eye: Photographs by John Cohen opens to the public at the Columbia Museum of Art in downtown Columbia, SC, on July 23 and runs through Sept. 26, 2004.
Cohen captures legends of the Beat Generation
and chronicles the major figures of New York's avant-garde visual
and musical arts cultures of the 1950s and '60s with over 130
stunning gelatin and silver print photographs. His immersion into
that culture as an artist and musician is central to his photography,
and his photographs have become some of the most recognizable
pictures of that era. Included in the exhibition are sensitive
and moving portraits of the likes of Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac,
Woodie Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, Allan Ginsberg,
Red Grooms and Franz Kline among others. Later, Cohen's work focused
on the roots revival music scene.
Cohen made his first photographic series while assisting Herbert Matter on a film about the roots of jazz in Black gospel music. His artistic and cultural interests also led him to the mountain villages of Peru and the American South where he photographed the people and places he encountered there.
Organized by The Photographic Resource Center at Boston University, this exhibition presents the first major retrospective of photographs by John Cohen - the musician who was central to the emergence of the urban folk revival of the 1960s and who provided inspiration for the Grateful Dead song Uncle John's Band. The exhibition's name derives from Bob Dylan's liner notes to Highway 61 Revisited that restates part of a conversation the friends had. "You are right John Cohen. There is no eye there is only a series of mouths long live the mouths."
Cohen is best known as a founding member of the late 1950s music group New Lost City Ramblers. With the band, Cohen attempted to recapture the authentic string band sound of the 1920s and 1930s that so influenced Dylan and others. His band appeared several times at the Newport Folk Festival and was instrumental in documenting and reviving traditional music. It was Cohen who coined the phrase "high lonesome sound" in reference to this genre, and his film of the same name is legendary.
Cohen came to photography after studying at Yale University with painters Josef Albers and Herbert Matter. He then moved to New York where he mixed with a burgeoning art world, including many of the Abstract Expressionist artists and Beatnik poets. Cohen explains his love of photography, "Photographs were like poetry to me, triggering ideas, stimulating images in the mind. Images that were too active to sit on a wall."
Cohen's photographs are now housed in such major collections as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. He retired after 25 years of teaching visual arts at Purchase College, State University of New York, and lives in Putnam Valley, NY. In a Boston Globe interview in 2002 he said, "I've been called a musician, folklorist, visual anthropologist, ethnomusicologist, filmmaker, photographer, ethnographer, visual artist, and teacher. I see it all as one work, emanating from one central point in myself."
The accompanying wall texts for the exhibition
were written by Cohen and chronicle the projects and passions
of his life. Accompanying the exhibition is a 200-page monograph
by PowerHouse Books, there is no eye: Photographs by John Cohen
and a Smithsonian Folkways CD of 23 songs, one-third of which
are previously unreleased, including Bob Dylan's Roll on John
from a 1961 radio program.
There Is No Eye: Photographs by John Cohen was organized and is circulated by the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University, in cooperation with John P. Jacob, independent curator. Cohen is represented by Deborah Bell Photographs, New York.
Related programing held in conjunction with
this exhibit includes the Museum's Contemporaries group offering
a Bluegrass Summer Block Party, at Boyd Plaza, in front of the
Museum, on Fri., July 23, 2004, from 7-9pm. Beer, wine, popcorn
and boiled p-nuts will be available. Admission is $5 or free for
For more info check our SC Institutional Gallery listings, call the Museum at 803/799-2810 or at (www.columbiamuseum.org).
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