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Three Masters of 20th-Century Photography Featured in Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand at Metropolitan Museum

November 10, 2010 – April 10, 2011

Three giants of 20th-century American photography—Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Paul Strand—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 115 photographs, drawn entirely from the Museum's collection. On view will be many 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.

The exhibition is made possible in part by Joseph M. Cohen.

Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946) was a photographer of supreme accomplishment and a forceful and influential 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 sought to arouse in the viewer the emotional equivalent of his own state of mind at the time he made the photograph, and to show that the content of a photograph was different from its subject.

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 330 images of O'Keeffe between 1917 and 1937—of her face, torso, hands, or feet alone, clothed and nude, intimate and heroic, introspective and assertive. 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 loosely-knit group of artists 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 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."

Among the unique early-20th-century works by Stieglitz and Steichen in the Museum's collection are Autochromes, an early process of color photography that became commercially available in 1907. Because of the delicate and light-sensitive nature of these glass transparencies, five original Autochromes by Stieglitz and Steichen will be displayed for one week only, January 25-30, 2011. During the other weeks of the exhibition, facsimiles of these Autochromes will be on view.

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 as a high-schooler by his camera club advisor, Lewis Hine, the social reformer and photographer. He quickly became a regular visitor to "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. Stieglitz, whose interest in photography had waned as he grew more interested in avant-garde art, saw in Strand's work a new approach to photography. He showed Strand's groundbreaking photographs at 291 and devoted the entire final double issue of Camera Work (1917) 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. Among the astonishingly modern photographs he made that summer is Abstraction, Twin Lakes, Connecticut, one of 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 peddler, was published in Camera Work and immediately became an icon of the new American photography, which integrated the humanistic concerns 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, assisted by Russell Lord, Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow in the Department of Photographs.

The exhibition is accompanied by a 180-page publication of the same name, by Malcolm Daniel, which features 135 illustrations, including full-color 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 and is available in the Museum's bookshops ($35, hardcover).

The exhibition will also include a didactic section prepared under the direction of Nora Kennedy, the Museum's Sherman Fairchild Conservator of Photographs. The display will detail some of the processes used by Stieglitz, Steichen, and Strand and will address conservation issues associated with their work.

An array of educational programs will be presented in conjunction with the exhibition, including a February 9 lecture by Malcolm Daniel on the interwoven stories of these three photographers (tickets required) and a "Sunday at the Met" program on January 30 with lectures by Joel Smith, Curator of Photography, Princeton University Art Museum, and Sarah Greenough, Senior Curator of Photographs, National Gallery of Art. Additional programs include: gallery talks with Malcolm Daniel and Russell Lord; a special teen program for ages 15–18 on January 21; and a program for visually impaired adults on March 4. The Museum will also present screenings of documentaries about each of the artists, as well as three films by Strand—Manhatta (1921), The Wave (1936), and Native Land (1942). For further information about educational programs, visit the Museum's website at www.metmuseum.org/events.

Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand is complemented by the Museum's concurrent presentation of "Our Future Is In The Air": Photographs from the 1910s, an eclectic centennial exhibition that looks at the birth of the modern era through 53 photographs by 30 artists.

An audio tour of Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand, part of the Museum's Audio Guide program, will be available for rental at the Museum ($7, $6 for Members, $5 for children under 12). The audio program features commentary on each of the three artists by Malcolm Daniel, as well as a discussion of photographic techniques of the period by Nora Kennedy. The program also includes an introduction to "Our Future Is In The Air" by exhibition curator Douglas Eklund.

The Audio Guide is sponsored by Bloomberg.

Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand will also be featured on the Museum's website at www.metmuseum.org.

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October 27, 2010

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