“What Thoughts Look Like: The Fabric of John Cohen’s Life” Exhibition

L. Parker Stephenson Photographs

poster for “What Thoughts Look Like: The Fabric of John Cohen’s Life” Exhibition

This event has ended.

At age 17, given a school assignment, John Cohen wrote his question on a lined piece of paper: “What do thoughts look like?”. His teacher responded: “These are promising, John, an individual is speaking”.

L. Parker Stephenson Photographs presents a unique and revelatory exhibition on John Cohen (1932-2019). Drawn from his personal archive, now preserved in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and from his own collection, much of which is being seen here for the first time, the art presented ranges from the pre-Columbian era to 2017. Vintage prints of well-known images, new photographic discoveries, and never-before-seen nature-inspired ink and water-color drawings are displayed alongside artifacts and ephemera collected by the artist during his lifetime. Together, these works provide a cultural and historical context illustrating the connections between Cohen’s myriad fields of interest and practices. The opening reception, on Thursday, October 21st from 5-7pm, will be part of New York’s “All This is a Record of My Search: John Cohen at 90” weekend celebration, presented in conjunction with the Brooklyn Folk Festival, which will pay tribute to his films and music.

John Cohen was a photographer, documentary filmmaker, musician (founding member of the New Lost City Ramblers), teacher, artist, ethnomusicologist, and folklorist. As a filmmaker, he was a Fullbright and Guggenheim fellow in addition to being an NEA grant recipient. Brilliant, curious, warm and indefatigable, this Renaissance man was one of the most well-respected and beloved American artists of his generation. He was both witness and participant in the pivotal post-war decades of American art and music. This show is a celebration of his life, work and passions.

The earliest photograph on view is a 1954 image of the blind ragtime-church-jazz singer and musician Reverend Gary Davis taken when Cohen was just 22 years old. Others include those of Woody Guthrie, Muddy Waters, “Libba” Cotton (who will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year), and an iconic portrait of Bob Dylan made in 1962 on Cohen’s rooftop –a vintage print later used in the book Dylan by Rolling Stone Press (1984)

While the work he made in the American South resonates with the FSA’s pictorial record of the depression era, his ethereal and poetic images of Peru are reminiscent of the work of his friend Robert Frank (for whom Cohen made stills of his Beat film Pull My Daisy). Cohen first visited Peru in 1956 while pursuing his MFA degree at Yale University, studying under Josef Albers and Herbert Matter. A hand-made poster made with graphic designer and later art director Marvin Israel for Cohen’s 1958 exhibition at Yale University Art Gallery will be on display, along with other visionary work created during those formative years. Pre-Columbian textiles, a Peruvian mask, a string figure by Harry Smith, and copies of the influential 1960s American folk music magazine Sing Out with Cohen’s writings and photographs, provide texture and associations that allow deeper understanding and appreciation of his rich and multifaceted work and legacy.

This exhibition, the fourth show of John Cohen at the Gallery, offers a moving and illuminating experience, both for those who knew him and those new to his œuvre.



from October 22, 2022 to February 04, 2023

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