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Seymour Rosen in San Jose, CA

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until May 19, 2017

Pioneering Los Angeles photographer Seymour Rosen (1935-2006) documented street scenes and popular culture from the 1960s onward and his work provides a portrait of mid-century Los Angeles in all its grandeur and grit. Rosen was one of the first people to seriously document outsider environments in California and was involved in the struggle to save the Watts Towers from destruction by the LA authorities. He founded SPACES – Saving and Preserving Arts and Cultural Environments, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the study and conservation of environments created by self-taught and non-mainstream artists and builders. This will be the only West Coast exhibition of the material which will be subsequently transferred to the Kohler Foundation in Wisconsin. 

Text reproduced from http://events.ha.sjsu.edu/art/events/seymour-rosen/

Born in Chicago, Rosen arrived as a teenager in Los Angeles with his family, and found his life’s work after his brother brought him back a camera when he returned from his military deployment in Germany. He wrote that “the ‘50s [were] a perfect time for a youngster of 17 to come to Los Angeles,” and he expressed how invigorated he was by the “new tastes and smells” as well as by “novel forms of creativity.” Rosen informally apprenticed to the noted photographer Marvin Rand, who had been photographing Sabato Rodia’s Towers in the Watts section of Los Angeles, among other subjects, and suggested that Rosen try to photograph them himself. At his first attempt, Rosen walked around and around, finally snapped three photographs, and then gave up; seduced by their beauty and undaunted by their complexity, however, he was to return again and again for fifty more years, and his photographs of the Towers have become some of the most iconic—as well as historically valuable—images ever made of these spectacular constructions. 

After returning from military service in Korea, Rosen became a photographer for the seminal Ferus Gallery, and his images of some of the most important figures in the contemporary art scene of that time continue to be referenced and reproduced. As he also pursued his ongoing documentation of the Towers, his interest expanded to other popular, creative, and vernacular arts of all kinds. He captured images of custom hot-rod cars, store-front churches, street happenings such as the “love-ins” of the sixties, parades, murals, neon signs, graffiti, gang markers and more, reveling in the boundary-busting aesthetic expressions of those who would never describe themselves as artists. He realized that the “extemporaneous individual acts of people declaring their existence” were universal, but, as so many of them were ephemeral, they were also almost universally unrecorded in a consistent manner. He set out to fill that gap, melding sometimes stark documentary work along with elegant and artful experiments with light and form. 

While Rosen was honored with two solo exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the early 1960s and one at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1978, the range of his work has not been fully explored since that time. This will be the only West Coast exhibition of this material: subsequent to the SJSU display the artist's archives will be transferred to a Midwestern museum and Foundation. This exhibition has been drawn from SPACES – Saving and Preserving Arts and Cultural Environments, the nonprofit organization that Rosen founded to document the often ephemeral acts and expressions created by residents of mid-century Los Angeles and, indeed, the world: the range of wonderful and woeful moments that make up - and perhaps change - our lives.

Natalie And James Thompson Art Gallery
Art Building #127, 1 Washington Square, San Jose, CA 95122
www.sjsu.edu/art/places/thompsongallery