Danny Lyon: Message to the Future

June 17–Sept 25, 2016

Danny Lyon: Message to the Future is the first comprehensive retrospective of the career of Danny Lyon (b. 1942) to be presented in twenty-five years. The exhibition is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and will premiere at the Whitney in June 2016 before traveling to San Francisco.

The exhibition assembles approximately 175 photographs and related films and ephemera to highlight Lyon’s concern with social and political issues and the welfare of individuals considered by many to be on the margins of society. The presentation includes many objects that have seldom or never been exhibited before and offers a rare look at works from Lyon’s archives alongside important loans from major public and private collections in the United States. This is also the first exhibition to assess the artist’s achievements as a filmmaker.

A leading figure in the American street photography movement of the 1960s, Lyon has distinguished himself by the personal intimacy he establishes with his subjects and the inventiveness of his practice. With his ability to find beauty in the starkest reality, Lyon has through his work provided a charged alternative to the bland vision of American life often depicted in the mass media.

Danny Lyon: Message to the Future is organized by Julian Cox, Chief Curator and Founding Curator of Photography, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) and Chief Curator at the de Young Museum. The installation at the Whitney Museum is overseen by Elisabeth Sussman, Curator and Sondra Gilman Curator of Photography.

Danny Lyon: Message to the Future is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in collaboration with the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. 

Generous support is provided by the Henry Peterson Foundation and an anonymous donor.


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Audio guides

Listen to commentary from scholars Elisabeth Sussman, Todd Gitlin, Julian Cox, and artist Danny Lyon on selected works in the exhibition Danny Lyon: Message to the Future.

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Exhibition Catalogue

Danny Lyon: Message to the Future is the first in-depth examination of this leading figure in American photography and film, and the first publication to present his influential bodies of work in all media in their full context. Lead essayists Julian Cox and Elisabeth Sussman provide an account of Lyon's five-decade career. Alexander Nemerov writes about Lyon's work in Knoxville, Tennessee; Ed Halter assesses the artist's films; Danica Willard Sachs evaluates his photomontages; and Julian Cox interviews Alan Rinzler about his role in publishing Lyon's earliest works. With extensive back matter and illustrations, this publication will be the most comprehensive account of this influential artist's work.

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Explore works from this exhibition
in the Whitney's collection

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In the News

"Danny Lyon's Drama of Solitude"
The Nation

"Danny Lyon's Camera Seeks Truth in Marginalized Lives"
New York Times

"The Whitney Launches Major Retrospective of Danny Lyon—in Pictures"
The Guardian

"A Photographer on the Margins"
The Wall Street Journal

"Come for the Photos, Stay for the Films: Danny Lyon at the Whitney"

"A Rare Look at the Work of Danny Lyon, a Leading Figure in the American Street Photography Movement of the 1960s"

"Message to the Future brings together vintage prints and never–before-seen films from the artist’s collection."
American Photo

"Why Danny Lyon’s Iconic Civil Rights Era Photographs are More Relevant Than Ever"

"The Freedom to Be Danny Lyon"
New York Times Lens Blog

"Danny Lyon's Immersive Art"
Blouin Art Info

"Comprised of 175 photographs, films, and related objects, this show dives deeply into the social and political focuses of one of the leading American street photographers in the 1960s."

"Danny Lyon—Soul of a Radical"
British Journal of Photography

"Danny Lyon Slows Life Down in Potent Images and Films"
The Village Voice

"What I Couldn’t Say Myself"
The New York Review of Books

"Year in Culture 2016: The Ten Best Art Shows of 2016"
New York Magazine

"Outsiders Fill Compelling Danny Lyon Show"
Boston Globe

"A documentary photographer with a social conscience, at the Whitney."
New Yorker

"However grim or sprawling the content, the moral center of Mr. Lyon’s pictures is invariably strong and unbending."
The Wall Street Journal

"Danny Lyon has documented the harsh realities of American life for the past fifty years."
L'oeil de la Photographie