The photographic exhibition at the Getty Museum, Gordon Parks: The Flávio Story, will break your heart, make you think and hope, and even smile a little. In the early 1960s, Gordon Parks was already a well-known photographer. So, it was no surprise that he was chosen by LIFE magazine to go to Brazil to report about the extreme poverty in Rio de Janeiro. It was pure serendipity that Parks connected with a 12-year-old boy there, Flávio da Silva, and his family, living in the unimaginable poverty of a Brazilian favela.
This encounter dramatically changed the life of the boy and made a strong impact on Gordon Parks, as well. And, when the photographs of the malnourished boy suffering from asthma were published in LIFE magazine in 1961, it created an unprecedented sympathetic response from the American public.
Readers sent the magazine more than $26,000 in donations for the da Silva family, which is the equivalent of about one-quarter of a million dollars today. Parks returned to Brazil and witnessed a big change in the life of the boy. The donations collected by LIFE provided a modest home for the da Silva family.
More importantly, Parks was able to bring Flávio to the United States, to Denver, to treat his illnesses. Their relationship turned into a friendship that continued over the next four decades, until Parks’ death in 2006. This exhibition, installed to a particularly dramatic effect, tells this story, worthy of a Hollywood movie.
Brazilians were so shocked and upset by what they considered a one-sided, negative representation of Brazilian life that they staged a political and cultural coup, sending a Brazilian photographer to New York City to document the poverty and anguish in the US. These photos are highlighted in the Getty’s exhibition. Believe it or not, some Brazilians accused Gordon Parks of staging his photographs. In response to that accusation, American press claimed that Brazilian magazine O Cruzeiro manipulated their images of New York’s poverty, as well. Hmm… It turns out the “fake news” debate is not a new phenomenon at all…
The Terry Allen exhibition at LA Louver gallery is another example of multifaceted storytelling. I don’t know about you, but until I saw this exhibition, I only knew of Terry Allen as a musician. But, it turns out that he is also a well-known playwright and an exceptional visual artist. This exhibition covers his creative career from the 60s to present, and includes nearly 100 drawings, plus sculptures, video installations, and audio from his various albums.
I was taken by the humor and edginess of his earlier, cartoon inspired drawings. But, looking at his recent works made 50 years later, I saw a level of sophistication and maturity that can only come from a life of learning. This exhibition made me wonder why Gods and Muses, on rare occasions, give so much talent to one person… be sure to see this exhibition more than once to learn about his art, his music, and his writing.