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Bruce Silverstein Gallery is pleased to present Barbara Morgan Invisible Urges. Though widely recognized for her photographic images of the American modern dance movement from the 1930s and 1940s, Barbara Morgan began her career as a painter, and continued to produce works on paper throughout her life. This exhibition, featuring prints, drawings, watercolors and photographs from the Barbara Morgan Archive, expands the artist’s reputation beyond dance and photography, and broadens the understanding of her contributions as an early champion of modernism.

At a young age, Morgan’s parents encouraged her to express herself through painting and poetry. Several “early root experiences” shaped her as an artist:

“At age five, my whimsical-philosophical father, holding a green leaf in his hand, said: ‘This leaf is not moving, but millions of atoms are dancing inside it, and atoms are dancing in everything in the world.’ Then a bird flew into a tree. As we watched, my father said, ‘Let’s see if we can tell when the bird wants to fly.’ We saw the bird’s head jerking, side-to-side, then, crouching, he suddenly flew off into the sky. My father explained, ‘Not only atoms dance inside everything, but ideas to do things are inside birds, and animals, and people!’ Since then I have always searched for the ‘invisible urges.’”

Barbara Morgan attended UCLA from 1919-1923. Studying fine art and the history of art had a profound affect on Morgan—pushing her to try new media, to explore the concept of visual metaphors, and to fluctuate between realism and abstraction. By 1925, she was teaching landscape painting, abstract design, and woodcut printing at UCLA, and exhibiting works at The Los Angeles Museum (1923, 1929) and The Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego (1926, 1927).


In 1925, Barbara married Willard Morgan, an important writer as well as photographer, who in 1943 became the first director of the department of photography and newly established photography center at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. On road trips with Willard, Barbara gradually preferred taking a camera rather than her drawing materials for documentation. After moving to New York in 1930, Morgan fully embraced photography because she felt her paintings could not properly capture the city. Throughout her career, Morgan moved through the artistic mediums she had embraced early on with fluidity. As a lifelong theme, movement continued to ribbon its way throughout Barbara’s work.

Morgan’s work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the George Eastman House, and the Smithsonian Institute.  Morgan was awarded a major grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and she was among the original founders of Aperture.

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