Interview with FEP Curator, William Ewing, discussing new show ARNOLD NEWMAN: MASTERCLASS (Anren, Chengdu) | PHOTOFAIRS

Interview with FEP Curator, William Ewing, discussing new show ARNOLD NEWMAN: MASTERCLASS (Anren, Chengdu)

From 25 November 2018 until 24 February 2019, Arnold Newman: Masterclass photography exhibition is on display at Mirroring Anren Thoughts & Culture Art Centre, Anren ancient town, Chengdu.

Co-organised by the World Photography Organisation and Anren Overseas Chinese Town, Junkan Cultural, and curated by William Ewing, Curator at the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography (FEP), this exhibition marks the debut show of Newman’s works in China, in a world-class photography exhibition that has travelled around the globe.

The exhibition, named “A Pilgrimage”, features 100 photographs of 20th century celebrities and cultural icons, taken across Newman's career. His 100 renowned sitters come from across the sciences, politics and business and include Martha Graham, Phillip Johnson, Grandma Moses, Salvador Dali, Arthur Miller, and Pablo Picasso.

Arnold Newman is regarded as one of the finest portrait photographers of the twentieth century and is especially known for his iconic portraits of important 20th-century figures.  A bold modernist, his art was recognised by regular publication in the most influential magazines of the day, major solo exhibitions and appearances in many of the world’s most prestigious photography collections.

We spoke to William Ewing, curator, about why this exhibition is so important: 

This exhibition has toured the world. Why is it important that it is exhibited at Anren ancient town, Chengdu, China?

I think you can look at Arnold Newman as an ambassador. He brings vision of Western creative culture from the 20th century, and a big part of the 20th century. He worked for almost 70 years - that's a huge time span. He photographed individuals from so many creative domains, like painting, sculpture, photography, music, writing, including poets, authors, actresses, scientists, even business developers. Nowadays we use this word “celebrity”, and this is actually an old fashion concept where people actually had to make an important or profound contribution to society to become famous. His celebrity sitters were people who really invented and pioneered. Everybody knows who Pablo Picasso is in the world and everybody agrees that what he contributed was something important. So this, for Anren, is a window onto perhaps a culture quite far away, but it will be a good opportunity for audiences to learn more about 20th-century Western society and this part of history. The exhibition will also be entertainment, because you don't need to know who the person is in the photograph to find them interesting. They are interesting to look at before you know who they are.


100 works are included in this show, including major 20th century celebrities and artists including Marilyn Monroe, Salvador Dali and more. Why did you choose these works, and what messages do you hope visitors reflect on when they visit?

I chose these works from 8,000 possibilities (when I think that he took 8,000 portraits, I find it really astonishing). I wanted to chose 100 portrait works that were typical, and that showed the full range of his creative potential. I did chose these images because they were famous sitters, and strong images. I chose pictures that I thought were really powerful.

Have you been involved in any other projects in Asia?

Yes, I was involved in a big project three years ago with a co-curator, Holly Roussell. We curated a show called CHINA 8 consisting of eight exhibitions on video, photography, painting, sculpture, design. We decided to look at photography then -  we visited many photography studios, we looked at works that were produced right then, at that point in time. We called it China Photography Now. I also curated an exhibition in Pingyao a few years ago, and I've been to China five or six times.


China as a country is changing so much and at great speed - how do you see each of your visits?

I feel very much like a visitor. It is too profound a culture to really make strong statements or conclusions within short visits. But I think people around the world are becoming much closer to China now. Global culture is developing, and it is developing very fast. It doesn't mean that the local traditions and cultures will disappear - I don't believe that - but we are also creating a universal culture, and this show in Anren is the proof of it. Influence can happen really fast, you might have one person that has seen the show, who becomes very excited about photography and then develops his or her own projects, and we might not even know about it for ten years, but ten years later you might ask this person “what was influential in your life?” and they might answer “well it was an exhibition that I saw in Anren”, or Pingyao, or Shanghai or Beijing or some other city. It doesn't take much to excite a young person, and change the way they look at the world.