Lot Content

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
Details
WALKER EVANS (1903–1975)
Roadside Stand near Birmingham, Alabama, 1936
gelatin silver print
numbered 'L-75' in pencil (verso)
image: 7 5/8 x 9 5/8 in. (19.3 x 24.4 cm.)
sheet: 8 x 10 in. (20.4 x 25.5 cm.)
Provenance
From the artist to James Agee;
by descent to Mia Agee, wife of the above;
LIGHT Gallery, New York;
Christie's, New York, April 29, 1999, lot 16;
acquired from the above sale by the present owner.
Literature
Lincoln Kirstein, Walker Evans: American Photographs, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1938, part I, pl. 35.
Walker Evans: First and Last, Harper and Row, New York, 1978, p. 100.
Judith Keller, Walker Evans: The Getty Museum Collection, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, 1995, pl. 513, p. 160.
Andrei Codrescu, Walker Evans Signs, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 1998, p. 30 (cropped variant).
Jeff Rosenheim and Douglas Eklund, Unclassified: A Walker Evans Anthology: Selection from the Walker Evans Archive, Department of Photographs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Scalo/The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1999, p. 184.
Peter Galassi, Walker Evans & Company, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2000, fig. 194, p. 167 (cropped variant).
Exhibition catalogue, Walker Evans, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2000, pl. 84 (this print).
Exhibited
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Walker Evans, February 1, 2000–May 14, 2000.

Lot Essay

Roadside Stand near Birmingham is rich with so many of those essential visual qualities that most interested Walker Evans. The ample inclusion of signage and of the written word in this image is a shining example of Evans’ unique presentation of rural American society of this period. A cropped variant of the present image was included in the landmark one-person exhibition of Walker Evans' work American Photographs, presented by The Museum of Modern Art in 1938, as well as in the highly lauded accompanying book by Lincoln Kirstein.

In many of the images Evans made during his time working for the Farm Security Administration (FSA), he often juxtaposed words and figures in this manner. Here, in Roadside Stand near Birmingham, the viewer is confronted with a surplus of letters linked together, splayed across walls, signs and advertisements–some singing their message, some shouting, some carefully phrased. A painted fish, the contact information of an 'Old Reliable' house painter, and well-priced specials of the day together greet the viewer in a chorus of handwritten fonts. Taken out of the context of the day-to-day, they transform into a delightfully framed backdrop, inescapably flat in comparison to the strapping youth confronting the lens with squinting scrutiny.

In the exhibition catalogue for the retrospective held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2000, Jeff Rosenheim suggests that this very image may have been the first taken by Evans during his trip to the American South with James Agee in 1936. Early images from this project documenting this region do indeed include heavy emphasis on roadside signage and storefronts along small-town main streets. The rest of the duo's trip, eventually centering on Hale County, Alabama, would ultimately lead to the images of the Burroughs and Tingle families and environs, subsequently included in the collaborative book by Agee and Evans Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, published first in 1939. (Portraits from that series can be found in Lots 23 and 119.)

The image in the present lot, originally from the collection of James Agee, is the only variant to ever appear at auction. This variant, with both boys in the foreground holding the melons up high, was the one selected for the American Photographs exhibition in 1938—and illustrated in the highly lauded accompanying book by Lincoln Kirstein-—which marked The Museum of Modern Art's first solo exhibition dedicated to a photographer. Furthermore, the print in this lot was selected and exhibited by the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the retrospective of the artist's work in 2000.

More from An American Journey: The Diann G. and Thomas A. Mann Collection of Photographic Masterworks

View All
View All