Sarasota, FL.—This July, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art will present a major museum exhibition of photographer Builder Levy’s series of work created in Appalachia. The exhibition will feature 50 black and white photographs taken by Levy over a 40-year-period, showcasing the artist’s in-depth exploration into the heart of America’s coal mining country from 1968 – 2009.
Levy, a New York-based photographer, is celebrated for his work that combines fine art and social documentary photography and his commitment to exploring the diversity of quintessential America. “Appalachia USA” is a story of the people in this region, their collective struggles for better working conditions and improved standards of living, and their efforts to protect their natural environment against powerful economic interests.
Organized by Christopher Jones, Assistant Curator of Exhibitions at The Ringling, the exhibition will be on view July 10 – Sept. 13, 2015. “Appalachia USA” highlights the rich heritage of the region and charts the dramatic changes that occurred over Levy’s four decades of artistic and social engagement. Levy began his career as a photographer capturing the civil rights movement in the early 1960s. His interest in depicting the history of social change led him to Appalachia, where African American and white coal miners often toiled side by side in underground mines. Levy’s work focuses on these laborers and their families, the brutal work of mining, and the struggle for better conditions and wages.
“Levy’s photographs bring to life a group of people who have often been marginalized and stereotyped in the media,” said Jones. “This exhibition displays the artist’s dedication to documenting the region and community, and demonstrates his continued return to the area over the course of four decades to capture the changing story of Appalachia and its people on film.”
In the new millennium, Levy revisited Appalachia once again to gain a new perspective and to complete his work. These trips included reconnecting with some of the subjects of his earlier pictures and witnessing how decades of mining had impacted the region. Beginning in 2002, Levy took ten flights over southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky to witness the grand scale of the mining operations, which left behind the poisonous byproducts of massive mechanized coal extraction. The exhibition at The Ringling features images from each period of Levy’s project, presenting a full view of the region over four decades.
“Levy’s work is an important part of The Ringling’s commitment to showcasing the work of living artists,” Steven High, Executive Director of The Ringling said. “The Art of Our Time initiative has been a major focus of the museum for the last several years, and this exhibition is a powerful reminder of the ability of contemporary art to tell our collective stories and educate others about the times we live in. We are grateful for the opportunity to present this important work to our audiences.”
The exhibition is part of The Ringling’s 2014-15 Art of Our Time initiative and it is supported in part by a grant from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation.
Levy was born in Tampa, Fla. in 1942, but grew up in Brooklyn. Levy’s photographs have appeared in more than 200 exhibitions including 51 one-person shows. His photographs are in the collection of many institutions including the Museum of Fine Arts of Houston, the High Museum of Art, and the Museum of the City of New York. He was awarded fellowships by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Alicia Patterson Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and Puffin Foundation. He is the author of three books Appalachia USA: Photographs, 1968-2009; Images of Appalachian Coalfields; and Builder Levy: Photographer.
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