Into the Artist’s World: The Photographs of Fred W. McDarrah
November 11, 2018–October 6, 2019
In these portraits of artists from 1959 to 1975, the photographer Fred W. McDarrah (1926–2007) always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He once said he did not feel as talented as some people, especially the artists, writers, and musicians he met and came to know in the bars and coffeehouses, art galleries, and cafés of 1950s and 60s Greenwich Village. Documenting the scene with his camera became one way to belong, and in 1955 he signed on with the Village Voice, a newly-founded weekly covering the vibrant downtown scene. Although he would keep his “day job” at a Madison Avenue advertising firm, McDarrah worked at the Voice for the next half century, where his mailbox was simply marked “McPhoto.”
Like many of the artists who lived and worked below 14th Street, Greenwich Village was McDarrah’s home, too. Their haunts were his haunts. Abstract-Expressionist Franz Kline was his neighbor on 14th Street and visits to the studio often ended in a photo session. Here the bold gesture of Kline’s stark black-and-white canvas Corinthian II (1961) dominates the image. McDarrah was the only artist to document Carolee Schneeman’s legendary performance of Interior Scroll in August 1975 at Ashawagh Hall in Springs, close to McDarrah’s summer home. According to his family, he carried his camera, a battered 35mm Nikon, with him every time he left the house, even for a trip to the supermarket.
Accompanying McDarrah’s insightful portraits are works on paper by the artists portrayed drawn from the Parrish’s permanent collection. A lyrical 1962 ink drawing by Robert Motherwell echoes the gestural sweep of his Elegy to the Spanish Republic paintings, seen behind him in McDarrah’s photograph. Balancing atop a ladder, painter Norman Bluhm arcs sprays of paint across a large canvas—a gesture forever arrested by the photographer; Bluhm’s drawing from the same year yields a close-up study of his process.