Award-winning photographer’s first museum retrospective features over 100 photographs spanning a six-decade career
WASHINGTON, DC — The Phillips Collection presents Frank Stewart’s Nexus: An American Photographer’s Journey, 1960s to the Present. This dynamic retrospective of Stewart’s photography 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 exhibition will be on view June 10–September 3, 2023.
“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.”
The exhibition is co-organized by The Phillips Collection and Telfair Museums and curated by Ruth Fine, formerly of the National Gallery of Art in DC, and the legendary Fred Moten, poet, scholar, and professor of performance studies at NYU’s Tisch School of Fine Arts.
Generously supported by Altria Group, Presenting Sponsor
Made possible by the Linda Lichtenberg Kaplan Exhibition Fund, the Carolyn Alper Fund for Contemporary Art, The Marion F. Goldin Charitable Fund, and the Terra Foundation for American Art.
This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.
The coordinating curator for the presentation at The Phillips Collection is Renée Maurer, Associate Curator at the museum.
The exhibition is accompanied by the artist’s first complete monograph published by Rizzoli Electa, which includes contributions by Frank Stewart, Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ruth Fine, Fred Moten, Cheryl Finley, and Wynton Marsalis.
Following The Phillips Collection, the exhibition will travel to Artis-Naples The Baker Museum, Naples, Florida, and Telfair Museums, Savannah, Georgia through 2024.
ABOUT FRANK STEWART
Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Frank Stewart grew up in Memphis and Chicago. He attended the Art Institute of Chicago, where he was a student of Garry Winogrand and received a BFA in photography from The Cooper Union in New York, where he studied with Roy DeCarava. Stewart became the assistant and photographer to the artist, Romare Bearden, after the two met in 1975 while filming the documentary Two Centuries of Black American Art, a project organized by David C. Driskell. Stewart has exhibited photographs at The High Museum, Atlanta; Cooper Union Gallery, Studio Museum in Harlem, Schomburg Center for Research, the International Center of Photography, in New York; Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC. He was a member of the first team of North American journalists invited by the Center for Cuban Studies to visit Cuba in 1977. He was also invited by the Los Angeles Olympic Committee to photograph the 1984 Olympic games. He has twice been granted a photographic fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a New York Creative Artist Public Service Award. He is a member of Kamoinge, an African-American photography collective based in New York. For three decades, he photographed the renowned performers for Jazz at Lincoln Center.
FRANK STEWART SUMMER SESSIONS
The Frank Stewart Summer Sessions features a suite of programs and events centered around the exhibition, including a Phillips after 5 takeover and partnership with the DC Jazz Festival.
Curator and Artist Tour
June 15 at 6:30 pm
Exhibition co-curator Ruth Fine will lead an in-gallery tour with Frank Stewart.
Portfolio Review with Frank Stewart
June 17 at 2 pm (Philips@THEARC)
Frank Stewart will talk about the images on view at Phillips@THEARC, then provide feedback on participants’ photographs.
Meditation featuring Frank Stewart
June 21 at 12:45 pm
A free, 30-minute weekly meditation led by local yoga teacher Aparna Sadananda featuring remarks by Frank Stewart.
Library Day in partnership with District of Columbia Public Library
June 24 from 12–3 pm
The Frank Stewart-Inspired Family Day invites families to tour the exhibition, look closely at Stewart’s portrait of Alma Thomas, and make art inspired by Stewart and Thomas. Part of DCPL’s Discover Summer program.
Phillips after 5: Summer Snapshots
July 6 at 5 pm
Celebrate Frank Stewart’s Nexus: An American Photographer’s Journey, 1960s to Present with photography activities, live music from Carr-Keys Quartet, a tasting from District Made, and libations from District Made Spirits.
The Phillips Plays with Photography: Composing Cyanotypes
July 8 at 11:30 am and 2:30 pm
Families will create cyanotypes, also known as sun prints, inspired by Frank Stewart’s photographs.
Frank Stewart and Aaron Diehl
July 27 at 6:30 pm
An evening of poignant musical reflections and remarks between American jazz pianist Aaron Diehl and Frank Stewart.
Phillips after 5: All That Jazz
August 3 at 5 pm
DC Jazz Festival takes over Phillips after 5 with jazz in the galleries by the Langston Hughes II Quartet, double bass master Herman Burney, and steel pan soloist Jeremy Caesar. Savor BBQ from Smoke Stack’s House of BBQ and island fare from Jerk@Nite. Sip rum punch and New Orleans brews while enjoying art activities with friends.
The Phillips Plays with Photography: Creating Mood
August 12 at 11:30 am and 2:30 pm
Families will explore the exhibition and play with light and shadow in digital photography to tell a moody story.
Panel Discussion: Stewart, Spillers, Moten
August 17 at 6:30 pm
A conversation between professor, literary critic, and scholar Hortense Spillers and Frank Stewart, introduced by exhibition co-curator Fred Moten.
High-resolution press images are available upon request. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
IMAGE: Frank Stewart, Stomping the Blues, 1997, Gelatin silver print, 16 x 20 in., Collection of Rob Gibson, Savannah