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The Boston Globe

Theater & art

photography review

Looking at America’s past in black and white

ANDOVER — Every work of art is also a work of history. Created at a specific moment in time, it can’t help but reflect that moment. That’s true even of art removed from any external reality. Among the many virtues of the Museum of Modern Art’s recent “Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925” was how vividly it evoked those years. These were works shaped by their time even as they helped shape how that time subsequently came to be seen.

Conversely, sometimes artifact or document attains the status of art. Consider Ernest C. Withers’s photograph of striking Memphis sanitation workers, in 1968. A mural-size blowup of it is the first thing that confronts a visitor to “For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights.” Confronts is the right word. Nearly 10 feet by 18 feet, it’s at the top of the staircase on the second floor of the Addison Gallery of American Art. A print, 16 inches by 20 inches, is in the show proper.

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