BEST MUSEUM EXHIBITION (1998)
The words "renaissance man" have been affixed to Gordon Parks like a second skin. That's what happens when you've been a photojournalist, film director, composer, novelist, poet, and essayist over the course of more than eight full decades of living. As much as can be expected of a gallery exhibition, Half Past Autumn (continuing through May 17) does justice to the man's profound body of work. The bulk of the installation involves Parks's vividly human photojournalism and more recent impressionistic pictures. In hue as well as cry, they collectively portray the stark differences and subtle similarities among rich and poor, black and white. Everyone will have favorites from the dozens of framed portraits that fill the museum's west and north galleries (and half of the south gallery), but we're especially partial to the shot of the African American teen reading Enjoying English in a bedroom where the slats and plaster are evident within the many holes in the crumbling walls. In an attempt to include at least some of the other aspects of Parks's intrepid muse, the museum offers an orientation to the exhibit, complete with video. It also supplies headphones on which to hear Parks's score for the ballet Martin, and includes excerpts from his poetry at various points throughout the installation. Given that Parks spent part of the 1930s in the Twin Cities, and that the museum has just finished an ambitious expansion of its facility, the conception of this show seems all the more superb.