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Gene Spatz

Curated by Joey Yates

The Art of a Paparazzo!
September 6 - November 3, 2013
First Floor, Steve Wilson Gallery
A special evening featuring hors d’oeuvres, drinks and entertainment. An exhibition overview will be presented by Associate Curator Joey Yates at 7pm. Family members of Gene Spatz will be present and available for discussion. Louisville band, Squeezebot will provide eccentric instrumental entertainment. This event is Free for Museum Members and an in-kind $10 donation is appreciated for non-member guests and Photo Biennial attendees. Reservations are encouraged and can be made at

Gene Spatz was an American photographer revered as one of the pioneers of the paparazzi for his documentation of the New York world of celebrity during the 1970s and 80s. The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft is pleased to present his first solo exhibition. Gene Spatz: The Art of a Paparazzo! opens Friday, September 6th and will be on view until Sunday, November 3rd.


Before celebrities began limiting their availability to the paparazzi, Spatz’ keen observation and expert composition skills earned him entry to an endless calendar of celebrity black tie parties, often covering two to three events a day, producing work sought after by the mainstream and entertainment media that didn’t enjoy such easy access. His photos could be found in the National Enquirer, the Globe, Newsweek, Esquire, Movie World, Modern Screen, People, In the Know, and a number of published works on Jerry Lee Lewis, Marshall Chapman and Elvis Presley. Spatz’ images serve as a pictorial anthology for celebrity culture in the 1970s, capturing actors, writers, filmmakers, artists, musicians, politicians and the thrill and decadence of the disco era.


Spatz began working at the apex of New York celebrity culture when Andy Warhol’s 1968 assertion that “everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” was still a relatively prescient notion. This was a time before the information age, the Internet, the rise of the reality TV star and the 24-hour news cycle. The paparazzi were a bit less maligned and there was a respect for photographers who had a talent for composition combined with a unique ability for glamorizing the mundane. It was precisely this fascination with extraordinary people doing ordinary activities that created the public demand for these photos.


Spatz’ photos coincide with the cinematic period of the “American New Wave” occurring roughly from the late 1960′s to the early 80′s. At the center of this movement was a transition from an era of films like Bonnie and Clyde, Nashville, and Chinatown to the era of the blockbuster exemplified by films like Star Wars and Jaws. As Spatz turned his lens towards the gala filled schedules of the New York City elite, he and his camera met face to face the stars of film, theater, television, sport, rock and roll, and disco. He attended important rallies, conventions, and speeches where he documented presidents, first wives, dignitaries, and foreign leaders.


General consensus, then and now, is often a disapproval of the paparazzi despite an enjoyment and fascination with the work. The paparazzi combined the tradition of street photography and the popularity of WPA artists, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Garry Winogrand of the former and Dorthea Lange and Walker Evans of the latter, with the growing obsession in America with celebrity culture. The work of the paparazzi began to emerge as a form of global pop art. Gene Spatz’ pursuit of his art is well described in the words of his contemporary, Warhol, who often carried a Polaroid for snapshots of his famous friends, saying, “My idea of a good picture is one that’s in focus and of a famous person doing something unfamous.”


The quality and access to the kind of images that Spatz was able to create is in many ways the subject of a closed book in American history. With the obsolescence of camera film and the persona non grata status of the paparazzi that we know today, the craft of the expert social photographer has been altered to fit new technology and new definitions of what constitutes a celebrity in the 21st century. Newspaper reporters are often instructed to use their phones for documentation implying that there is little difference between the everyday Smartphone user and the art of a professional photojournalist.


Eventually, competition increased in achieving the perfect celebrity photograph and Spatz decided hanging out in garbage cans to get the right shot wasn’t worth it. In 1981, he turned his camera to portraits of friends, the streets of New York City and his family located in Louisville, Kentucky.


Eugene Spatz was born on June 6, 1943 to Jack and Paula Spatz in Brooklyn, New York and spent the majority of his childhood in Malverne, Long Island. He graduated from the University of Toledo with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and began a teaching career in high school biology. In 1965, he moved to the heart of New York City’s West Village where he lived for the next 37 years. It’s not certain when he took up photography, but by 1973 he was deeply entrenched in the paparazzi scene in New York City spending his days and nights photographing celebrities.


Spatz died on November 4, 2004 leaving behind an archive of photos, numbering in the thousands, which were brought to Louisville by his sister Amy Lowen, a resident for over 30 years. This exhibition was made possible with the cooperation of Gene Spatz’ family, specifically his sisters Amy Lowen and Cathy Widom, along with his niece Hannah Lowen. The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft is grateful to The Spatz Family for allowing the Museum to be the first to exhibit a portion of Gene Spatz’ extensive archive and for sharing his work with the general public.


This exhibit is in conjunction with the 2013 Louisville Photo Biennial and among the 40 city-wide exhibitions featuring the rich and diverse medium of photography during the month of October.


This exhibition is generously supported by Amy Lowen, and Cathy Spatz Widom


KMAC is supported by Brown-Forman, Fund for the Arts, and the Kentucky Arts Council.

Selected Pieces

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