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March 2019

Rarely Exhibited Portraits by Harlem Renaissance Photographer James Van Der Zee at ArtsWestchester Gallery

A new exhibition opening early March at ArtsWestchester’s gallery will feature a significant collection of 33 works, including six vintage prints, by Harlem Renaissance photographer James Van Der Zee.


In the era between the two World Wars, Van Der Zee’s New York studio was a place where the rising African American middle class in Harlem could be represented as they wished to be seen. Van Der Zee’s photographs, chosen and loaned by Westchester resident Donna Mussenden Van Der Zee, the photographer’s widow, provided the inspiration for  ArtsWestchester’s new exhibit titled Modern Families. The show also features work by ten contemporary photographers who address themes of family and community from diverse points of view.


Modern Families opens March 3 and runs through May 25 in the ArtsWestchester Gallery located at 31 Mamaroneck Ave., White Plains.


“The bonds of family – both given and chosen – are some of the most powerful forces in our lives and our communities,” said Janet T. Langsam, CEO of ArtsWestchester. “This exhibition explores the diverse faces and relationships that represent ‘family’ from the perspectives of eleven regional photographers.”


The contemporary works in the exhibition include both studio-style portraiture and documentary work in which individuals and their given or chosen families interact in a variety of encounters between photographer and subject.  Chris Verene and Gillian Laub document their own extended families and friends in Galesburg, Illinois (Verene) and suburban Westchester (Laub). Iaritza Menjivar records her experience as the daughter of immigrants in an ongoing project titled “First Generation.”


Tom Atwood’s series, “Kings and Queens in Their Castles,” frames the gestures and expressions of LGBT couples and friends in richly informative home environments, while Stefan Radtke’s portraits of a wide range of Westchester families are compelling works of editorial photography.


Barry Mason’s ties to communities in Mount Vernon are evident in his photos of families at public and private gatherings, and Shayok Mukopadhyay’s portfolio, “The People of Port Chester” unfolds in one of Westchester’s most diverse cities. Ocean Morisset’s street photography includes portraits of young LGBT groups that exemplify the chosen family as a source of affinity and pride. In Sandra Wong Geroux’s photos, the domestic family and communities intersect in images of her son and the athletic teams of his schools and their competitors. John Shearer’s landmark images from his chronicle of a street gang in the South Bronx in the early 1970s investigate an extreme form of “family” bonds.


“The families we are given – blood relations – provide frameworks for the families we choose,” said Kathleen Reckling, ArtsWestchester Director of Public Programs. “Groups united by shared values, lifestyles, or emotional needs – religious associations, sports teams, or community groups, for example – may also be defined and experienced as family. Whether the ones made for us or the ones we make, the families we recognize are networks of support and interaction that contribute to our identities in the larger world. We invite you to explore all of this and more at ArtsWestchester.”


Modern Families is curated by Kathleen Reckling and Amy Kurlander. Group tours of Modern Families are available by appointment.  To book your tour of the exhibition, email akurlander@artswestchester.org.