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Ben Shahn’s New York: The Photography of Modern Times exhibition records

Identifier: IR-CUR-031

Scope and Contents

Ben Shahn’s New York: The Photography of Modern Times was an exhibition of Ben Shahn’s documentary photographs of New York street scenes in the early 1930s.

These curatorial records were collected and created in the course of planning, negotiating, and executing the exhibition. This exhibition originated at Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum, and traveled to The Phillips Collection, June 10 – August 27, 2000. The exhibition also traveled to The Grey Art Gallery, New York University, October 14 2000 – January 27, 2001, and David and Alfred Smart Museum, University of Chicago, April 19 – June 17, 2001. A substantial catalog was published by Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Art Museums in conjunction with the exhibition.

The primary creators of the exhibition records were Elsa Smithgall, Assistant Curator at The Phillips Collection, and exhibition curators Deborah Martin Kao, Laura Katzman, and Jenna Webster.

The collection consists of the research and exhibition planning files of the curators, interfiled. These records consist of research materials assembled, exhibition planning and execution documents such as legal and financial records, and installation design (including drawings by Val Lewton) and checklists (restricted).


  • 1996 - 2000
  • Usage: The material in this collection were used in preparation for the 2000 exhibition.


Conditions Governing Access

This collection includes restricted material.

Biographical / Historical

Ben Shahn (1898-1969) was a social-realist painter and photographer, known for his documentary work for the Farm Security Administration between 1935 and 1938. Duncan Phillips was a strong supporter of Shahn’s work, writing, "[Shahn is] one of our most distinguished artists... [with] a unique style and point of view." Between the years 1946 and 1950, Duncan Phillips acquired two paintings and four works on paper by Shahn. This exhibition is unique in its focus on Ben Shahn’s photographic work and represents the first time that this body of work has been exhibited at The Phillips Collection.


0.83 Linear Feet (2 full legal boxes)

Language of Materials



Ben Shahn’s New York: The Photography of Modern Times exhibition records contain materials created and/or collected by the Curatorial Department of The Phillips Collection, during the course of organizing the exhibition at The Phillips Collection. Included are exhibition planning and installation design files, as well as a limited number of research files.


The collection was organized into one series: Exhibition Planning. Folders within this series are arranged alphabetically by folder heading.

Custodial History

This collection is owned by The Phillips Collection and was accessioned from the curators’ offices.

Processing Information

In a meeting with the curator, it was decided to discard duplicative materials, general housekeeping materials (such as payment requisition forms and travel documentation forms) and to keep the bulk of installation records, including invoices from contractors and vendors. The original alphabetical arrangement was maintained. Within folders, materials are arranged chronologically by date of creation as indicated on the document and followed by any undated materials. Folder headings were maintained when applicable, but were rewritten in some cases for greater clarity and accuracy. Metal paperclips and staples were removed and replaced with plastic clips. Adhesive Post-it® notes with significant information were copied and filed, and the originals discarded. All documents were re-foldered in acid-free folders and placed in acid-free archival boxes.

Ben Shahn’s New York: The Photography of Modern Times exhibition records, 1996-2001
The Phillips Collection Library and Archives 1600 21st Street NW Washington D.C. 20009
Emily Hunter, UMD Graduate Student; Supervised by Karen Schneider, Librarian
October 2009
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Phillips Collection Archives Repository

1600 21st St. NW
Washington DC 20009 United States