May 8, 2010

Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand 
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
November 10, 2010 - April 10, 2011

Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Paul Strand, three masters of photography, will be featured at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, from November 10, 2010, through April 10, 2011, in the exhibition Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand.

The diverse and groundbreaking work of these artists will be revealed through a presentation of more than 100 photographs, drawn entirely from the Museum's collection. On view will be several of the Metropolitan's greatest photographic treasures from the 1900s to 1920s, including Stieglitz's famous portraits of Georgia O'Keeffe, Steichen's large colored photographs of the Flatiron building, and Strand's pioneering abstractions.

ALFRED STIEGLITZ (1864–1946) was a photographer of supreme accomplishment as well as a passionate advocate for photography and modern art through his gallery "291" and his sumptuous journal Camera Work. Stieglitz also laid the foundation for the Museum's collection of photographs. In 1928, he donated 22 of his own works to the Metropolitan; these were the first photographs to enter the Museum's collection as works of art. In later decades he gave the Museum more than 600 photographs by his contemporaries, including Edward Steichen and Paul Strand.

Among Stieglitz's works to be featured in this exhibition are portraits, views of New York City from the beginning and end of his career, and the 1920s cloud studies he titled Equivalents, through which he meant to demonstrate how "to hold a moment, how to record something so completely, that all who see [the picture of it] will relive an equivalent of what has been expressed."

The exhibition will also include numerous photographs from Stieglitz's extraordinary composite portrait of Georgia O'Keeffe (1887–1986), part of a group of works selected for the Museum's collection by O'Keeffe herself. Stieglitz made more than 300 images of O'Keeffe between 1917 and 1937—some of them candid shots, some focusing on her face, hands, or feet alone, and many of them showing her nude. Through these photographs Stieglitz revealed O'Keeffe's strengths and vulnerabilities, and almost single-handedly defined her public persona for generations to come.

Stieglitz's protégé and gallery collaborator, EDWARD STEICHEN (1879–1973), was the most talented exemplar of the Photo-Secession, the group founded by Stieglitz in 1902, seceding, in his words, "from the accepted idea of what constitutes a photograph," but also from the camera clubs and other institutions dominated by a more retrograde establishment. In works such as The Pond—Moonrise (1904), made using a painstaking technique of multiple printing, Steichen rivaled the scale, color, and individuality of painting.

Steichen's three large variant prints of The Flatiron (1904) are prime examples of the conscious effort of Photo-Secession photographers to assert the artistic potential of their medium. Steichen achieved coloristic effects reminiscent of Whistler's Nocturne paintings by brushing layers of pigment suspended in light-sensitive gum solution onto a platinum photograph. Although he used only one negative to create all three photographs, the variable coloring enabled him to create three significantly different images that convey the chromatic progression of twilight. The Metropolitan's three prints, all donated by Stieglitz in 1933, are the only known exhibition prints of Steichen's iconic image.

In 1908 Steichen photographed the plaster of Rodin's sculpture of Honoré de Balzac in the open air, by the light of the moon, making several exposures as long as an hour each. In Balzac, The Silhouette—4 A.M., the moonlight has transformed the plaster into a monumental phantom rising above the brooding nocturnal landscape. Steichen recalled that when he presented his finished prints to Rodin, the elated sculptor exclaimed, "You will make the world understand my Balzac through your pictures."

Stieglitz's and Steichen's younger contemporary, PAUL STRAND (1890-1976), pioneered a shift from the soft-focus aesthetic and painterly prints of the Photo-Secession to the straight approach and graphic power of an emerging modernism. Strand was introduced to Stieglitz by his teacher, Lewis Hine, the social reformer and photographer, and quickly became part of the coterie of artists that gathered at "291," where he was exposed to the latest trends in European art through groundbreaking exhibitions of works by Cézanne, Picasso, Matisse, and Brancusi.

Strand incorporated the new language of geometric abstraction into his interest in photographing street life and machine culture. His photographs from 1915-1917 treated three principal themes: movement in the city, abstractions, and street portraits. The final double issue of Stieglitz's Camera Work (1917) was devoted to this young photographer's work, marking a pivotal moment in the course of photography.

In From the El (1915), Strand juxtaposed the ironwork and shadows of the elevated train with the tiny form of a lone pedestrian. In 1916, he experimented with radical camera angles and photographing at close range. Strand's Abstraction, Twin Lakes, Connecticut is among the first photographic abstractions to be made intentionally. When Stieglitz published a variant of this image in Camera Work, he praised Strand's results as "the direct expression of today."

In the same year, Strand made a series of candid street portraits with a hand-held camera fitted with a special lens that allowed him to point the camera in one direction while taking the photograph at a 90-degree angle. Blind, his seminal image of a street beggar, was published in Camera Work and immediately became an icon of the new American photography, which integrated the objectivity of social documentation with the boldly simplified forms of Modernism. As is true for most of the large platinum prints by Strand in the exhibition, the Metropolitan's Blind, a gift of Stieglitz, is the only exhibition print of this image from the period.

Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand is organized by Malcolm Daniel, Curator in Charge of the Metropolitan Museum's Department of Photographs.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication, Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand: Masterworks from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The 160-page volume, by Malcolm Daniel, will feature 125 illustrations, including reproductions of many of the crown jewels from the Museum's collection of photographs. It is published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in association with Yale University Press ($35).

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

Related Posts in this blog

The Metropolitan Museum's Department of Photographs [Wanafoto, October 2010]

"Our Future Is In The Air": Photographs from the 1910s, also on view at the Met from November 9, 2010 through April 10, 2011 [Wanafoto, October 2010]

Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstraction at the Whitney Museum of American Art – This exhibition featured famous photographs of Georgia O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz.[Wanafoto, December 2009]

This post has been updated in October 2010.

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