Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Photographic Treasures from the Collection of Alfred Stieglitz @Met

JTF (just the facts): A group show consisting of 47 photographic works from 35 different photographers, generally framed in black and matted, and hung spotlit against dark blue walls in a series of three small connecting rooms on the second floor of the museum. The prints were made between 1890 and 1912, using a variety of processes, including gum bichromate, carbon, platinum, and photogravure. (Installation shots at right.)

The following photographers have been included in the exhibit, with the number of images on view and their dates in parentheses:

James Craig Annan (2, 1890-1893)
Anne Brigman (2, 1905-1908)
Alvin Langdon Coburn (5, 1902-1908)
F. Holland Day (6 plus 1 group of 7, 1896-1899)
Baron Adolf De Meyer (3, 1906-1912)
Frank Eugene (2, 1898-1907)
Frederick Evans (1, 1909)
Gertrude Käsebier (4, 1899-1910)
Joseph Keiley (1, 1898)
Heinrich Kühn (2, 1908-1909)
George Seely (2, 1904-1906)
Edward Steichen (8, 1901-1906)
Pierre Troubetzkoy (1, 1904)
Clarence White (6, 1898-1906)
Clarence White/Alfred Stieglitz (2, 1907)

This exhibit is a companion show for the larger Stieglitz and His Artists: Matisse to O'Keeffe exhibit, on view through January 2nd (here). The photographs included in this broader show are mostly portraits of Stieglitz or other artists with work on view. Details on the photographers and photographs included follow below (not including the large photographic images laminated to the walls):

Alvin Langdon Coburn (2, 1903-1907)
Frank Eugene (1, 1907)
Heinrich Kühn (1, 1904)
Edward Steichen (7, 1901-1915)
Alfred Stieglitz (13, 1893-1933)
Paul Strand (1, 1929)

Comments/Context: It's probably hard to underestimate the influence of Alfred Stieglitz on fine art photography of the early 1900s. As both an artist and gallery owner, he made choices and supported aesthetic ideas that set the standard for the medium, almost single handedly pushing tastes toward (and then away from) what is now known as Pictorialism. The show is strong reflection of what Stieglitz valued, showed, bought, saved, and ultimately donated; both before and after his death, he made important gifts of key photographic prints to the Met, forming the foundation of the museum's outstanding photography collection.

The works on display here were drawn entirely from Stieglitz' personal collection, and together they provide a one-stop master class in Pictorialism, covering the major technical processes/innovations and including gems from virtually all of the important figures of the period. There are portraits and nudes, allegories and religious subjects, classical maidens and dreamlike children, all executed with a meticulous, tactile craftsmanship and a reverence for expressive emotion. De Meyer's The Shadows on the Wall - Chrysanthemums from 1906 turns simple blossoms in a vase into a soft-focus silhouette, clearly influenced by the asymmetry of Japanese wood block prints and reminiscent of amorphous jellyfish in a shadowy sea. Clarence White's Morning - The Bathroom from 1906 shows a woman in a bathtub, wearing a flowy, transparent gown and bathed in the delicate, tranquil light streaming in through the window. And Edward Steichen's Cyclamen - Mrs. Philip Lydig from 1905 pairs an evocative society portrait (with a steely-eyed stare) with wispy strands of almost abstract flowers that jut out across the picture plane.

Given that this kind of work quickly went out of favor with the arrival of straight photography, the exhibit has a kind of time capsule feeling, where we marvel at unearthed items that now seem woefully dated. But while it might be easy to be dismissive of these photographs, there is a consistency of expert skill on view here that is hard to overlook. We may have moved on from the overly evocative, painterly impressionism that these turn of the century photographers found exciting, but even a century later, the mastery of their craft as evidenced by these images is no less impressive.

Collector's POV: Given this is a museum show, there are obviously no posted prices for the works on display.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Reviews: NY Times (here), NY Photo Review (here), Bullett Media (here)
Photographic Treasures from the Collection of Alfred Stieglitz
Through February 26th

Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10028

1 comment:

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