Leon Levinstein’s New York City Photographs at the Met

Leon Levinstein photograph of a man jumping in front and a man running in the background

After most of the big summer museum exhibitions have closed, and before the crowd-pleasers of fall start making their appearance (Edward Hopper at the Whitney! The Abstract Expressionists–Rothko, de Kooning, Pollock, etc.–at the MoMA! Picasso and Matisse at the Guggenheim!), now is the perfect time to catch up on the smaller shows that we may have missed… the perfect time, in other words, for shows like Leon Levinstein: Hipsters, Hustlers, and Handball Players, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Leon Levinstein photographs on display at the MET of a heavy set woman on the beach with a paper bag on her head

The 40 black-and-white photographs now on exhibition here–all being shown for the first time ever at the Met–display Leon Levinstein at his best: candid, close-up and often unflattering portraits of long-gone losers and scam artists, working stiffs and desperate young lovers, all shot on the streets (and the beaches, as in Woman Wearing Paper Bag Hat, above) of the Lower East Side, Times Square, Coney Island… anywhere in this town that people gathered to make a score. It all could have be rude and exploitative, but Leon Levinstein clearly has a fondness for (and identifies with?) his subjects.

Leon Levinstein at the MET close-up photo of a woman in a trench coat and a man next to her looking at the ground

We loved the sheer historical thrill of Leon Levinstein’s work. New York City has always been defined by change (and commerce), so to have such sharply-eyed record of that era is valuable all on its own. But even more impressive, perhaps, is Leon Levinstein’s compositions–many of which, such as Handball Players, at top, remind us of the great Henri Cartier-Bresson–and his genius at freezing his subjects at just the exact right moment. Most of our favorite photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Hipsters, Hustlers and Handball Players show, such as Young Woman in a Dress and Overcoat, above, and Man in Boots Walking and Adjusting His Collar, below, capture these people in motion… hustling, so to speak, from one place, one scheme, one broken dream, to the next.

Leon Levinstein photograph of a man in the NYC streets walking fast and flipping his collar up

Hipsters, Hustlers, and Handball Players: Leon Levinstein’s New York Photographs, 1950?1980, at the Met Details

Leon Levinstein’s photographs will be on display at the Met from now through October 17. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is located on Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, and is open Tuesday through Thursday, and Sunday, from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday until 9:00 p.m. Admission is always suggested at the Met, which makes it eminently affordable to pop in and see a small show like this, and then be on your way. For more information about the Levinstein exhibition and the museum as a whole, please visit the Met’s website.

Leon Levinstein photos of NYC two men leaning against a building one in American flag print shirt and pants the other in a geometric print top with black pants

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