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    Curated: Danny Lyon, Message to the Future


    Danny Lyon, “Tesca, Cartagena, Colombia,” 1966 (printed 2008).

    The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are thrilled to present Danny Lyon: Message to the Future, at the de Young. The exhibition, which enjoyed a critically acclaimed debut at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, is the first comprehensive retrospective of the career of American photographer Danny Lyon (born 1942) to be presented in 25 years. The exhibition was conceived and organized by Julian Cox, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s chief curator and founding curator of photography.

    For the last five decades , Lyon has documented individuals considered to be on the margins of society. A leading figure in the American street Photography movement of the 1960s, his work is distinguished by a personal intimacy with his subjects, and a determination to provide a charged alternative to the bland vision of American life often depicted in the mass media.

    “I am trying to make a record … but I discover my facts through forms and beauty. In the most beautiful pictures the truth is easiest seen, which to me seems like out and out magic.” —Danny Lyon, in a letter to his parents, 1964.

    The exhibition assembles 175 photographs alongside films and ephemera, including many objects that have seldom or never before been on public view. The films in particular are a revelation, and this is the first exhibition to celebrate Lyon’s achievement in this medium. The exhibition draws deeply from Lyon’s personal archives and includes important loans from major public and private collections in the United States.


    Danny Lyon, “Self-portrait, Chicago,” 1965/1995

    “We are honored to present this in-depth examination of Lyon’s work,” states Max Hollein, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “Our museums have a rich history of fostering the region’s engagement with this enticing medium. Lyon’s films and photographs are the epitome of vigor and invention. They deserve to be seen and celebrated by the widest possible audience.”

    “Danny Lyon is one of the great artists working today,” adds Cox. “For more than a decade, I have held a deep admiration for his work and wished for it to be better known and understood. Lyon’s dedication to his art and his conviction to produce work underpinned by strong ethical and ideological motivations is truly what sets him apart. I hope our audience will be inspired and moved by what they see and find connections with many of theissues—social justice, civil rights, and immigration—that are central to the artist’s concerns and so relevant to our lives today.”

    Danny Lyon: Message to the Future showcases the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s commitment to the medium of photography, and to art that sheds light on the pressing social and economic issues of today. The exhibition will be on view at the de Young through April 30, 2017. Following its San Francisco presentation, it will travel to the Fotomuseum Winterthur in Basel, Switzerland (May 20–August 27, 2017), and then to the C/O Berlin Foundation in Berlin (September 15–December 10, 2017).


    Danny Lyon, “Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville,” 1966

    Examples of Lyon’s writings and related information about his work in photography and film can be found on his website:

    For more information about the exhibit at the de Young: