High Spots at MFA

An exhibition of photographs by Ansel Adams which fully recreates his milestone show at Alfred Slieglitz's gallery, "An American Place" in 1936 opened at The Museum of Fine Arts on February 18 and will remain on view through April 3. Entitled Ansel Adams: An American Place, 1936, the exhibition is being circulated by the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona and was curated by Andrea Gray. Ansel Adams' assistant from 1974 to 1980. The exhibition features 45 photographs, 29 of which are the original prints used in 1936 at "An American Place.” The remaining 16 are either vintage 1930s prints or duplicates printed by Adams in 1981 for this exhibition.

According to Curator Gray, Adams himself often referred to his show at Stieglitz's famous gallery as the finest he had ever had. Considering the photographer's numerous shows at some of the leading museums and galleries in the country, Gray's curiosity was aroused. She searched hack to find exactly which prints had been shown and where they were located today. She notes, "I found a copy of the checklist for the show and was surprised to recognize very few of the titles. When asked about the images. Adams said he had not printed most of them for years." Gray's research revealed that the most prominent buyer at the 1936 show had been David McAlpin, whose collection is now divided among the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Art Museum, Princeton University. It is primarily from Princeton and the Museum of Modern An that the photographs in the exhibition are on loan.

The 45 photographs are typical of the work Adams produced during the early 1930s under the influence of the Group f/64. Still lifes and close-up studies of man-made or natural subjects are sharply focused, with emphasis on texture and detail. Only three of the prints could be called landscapes and these barely suggest the grandeur and sense of vast space which characterize Adams' well-known work today.

Instead, these images are contact prints or very slight enlargements of common objects and scenes, exceptional for their technical perfection, clarity and strong sense of light. Andrea Gray calls them "quite simply among the most beautiful photographs I have ever seen." The 1936 exhibition actually marked a turning point in Adams' career; after 1936 he increasingly concentrated on the American scene and heroic landscapes.

A 132-page catalog accompanies the exhibition and is available for $I5. It includes 45 full plates and 25 text illustrations, the original exhibition checklist reproduced in facsimile and an essay by Gray. The exhibition and catalog are funded by a grant from the Bank America Foundation.

Houston's Museum of Fine Arts has received 75 Edward Steichen photographs from the bequest of Edward Steichen under the direction of his widow, Joanna T. Steichen and the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House. The Houston museum was named along with 12 other major American museums to share in the Steichen Bequest put under the administration of George Eastman House in 1979.

Institutions were selected on the basis of their commitment to photography as expressed by their acquisition policies, research and archive facilities, exhibitions, publications, collection needs, access to them by the public, and their geographic location.

In 1979, International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House received the Bequest from Mrs. Joanna T. Steichen, with the stipulation that in addition to Eastman House, other institutions were to receive groups of Steichen's prints reflecting all areas of his work represented in the bequest. Mrs. Steichen noted she chose to give the collection to Fastman House and entrust them with its dispersal because Eastman House is "entirely a photographic museum,"

With one exception, the 75 works selected for the Houston museum were made between 1920 and 1936 for Conde Nast, the magazine publisher for whom Steichen worked as chief photographer for many years, and for the J. Walter Thompson Advertising Agency. Steichen's photographs for Conde Nast were published in Vogue and Vanity Fair between 1923-1938 and include sophisticated portraits of well-known personalities such as Greta Garbo, Winston Churchill, Sherwood Anderson, Vladimir Horowitz, H. L. Mencken and Constantin Brancusi.

In addition to portraits — the predominant genre in the group-- the collection also includes six illustrations made for advertisements for Eastman Kodak, five scenes from Broadway plays, two color photographs of Mexico, and one abstraction entitled "Triumph of the Egg, 1920." The earliest photograph in the group is a 1910 portrait of fellow photographer Alfred Slieglitz.

Edward Steichen (1879-1973) had a long and prolific career. He was one of the founders of the Photo-Secession in 1902 and was also instrumental in the establishment and operation of "291" gallery started by Stieglitz, and in the design of Camera Work magazine. Later in his career, beginning in 1947, he was named director of the photography department of the Museum of Modern Art where he organized the famous "The Family of Man" exhibition.

The entire Steichen bequest totals 6,789 works of which 5,341 remain with Eastman House. The rest are being distributed in groups of 20 - 100 prints. Other institutions named in the bequest are: The Art institute of Chicago; Center for Creative Photography of the University of Arizona; the Fogg Museum of Harvard University; Minneapolis Institute of Art; New Orleans Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Allen Memorial Art Museum. Oberlin; the Gernsheim Collection at the University of Texas; Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida; the National Portrait Gallery; the St. Louis Art Museum and the University of New Mexico Art Museum. Two other American and several international institutions will also receive material, but agreements have not been finalized.

An exhibition of the Steichen photographs bequeathed to the Houston museum is planned to run during August and September.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, has acquired a complete set of Eliot Porter's photographs entitled Intimate Landscapes. The 55-piece color portfolio was shown at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1979-1980 in that institution's first one-man exhibition of color photography. Porter's photographs of the land include scenes from Maine to Utah, Iceland to the Galapagos and were made between the years 1950 and 1977. According to Anne W. Tucker, Curator ofPhotography at the Houston museum. "There are only five undivided sets of Porter's Intimate Landscapes. The Metropolitan Museum and the Denver Art Museum each has one; Porter himself has one and the fifth is in a private collection." The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's set was a gift from Matthew Wolf.

Eliot Porter was born in Winnetka, Illinois in 1901. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Medical School in 1929. While teaching bacteriology and biological chemistry at Harvard, Porter resumed a childhood interest in photography and used his newly-purchased Leica to photograph nature and other subjects. In 1936, his brother, the painter Fairfield Porter, introduced him to Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia 0’Keeffe. Two years later Stieglitz gave Porter a one-man show at "An American Place," featuring photographs of landscapes, village scenes and birds.

According to Weston J. Naef, Associate Curator of Prints and Photographs, Metropolitan Museum of Art, "A major outcome of Porter's show at 'An American Place' was that in 1940, at the age of 38, he changed professions, giving up teaching and placing his engineering and M D degrees on the shelf. Now in a gesture of audacious self-determination, he began working almost exclusively with color." Porter was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1941 to photograph birds in the U.S. and a second one in 1949 to continue that project. In 1951 he had a one-man show at George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y. featuring works selected by Beaumont Newhall.

In Intimate Landscapes Porter gave form to subjects that would otherwise have gone unrecognized, even by a companion who might have followed along with him on his shooting trips. His strongest compositions have the look of carefully planned randomness in which the surface is a tapestry of uniformly significant elements arrayed from one edge of the picture to the other. The central theme of his photographs is the very act of contemplation and the mood sustained by the precise control of color relationships.

In the preface to the publication in book form of Intimate Landscapes Porter explained that "the details of geological formations exhibit the most extraordinary combination of shapes and colors scarcely suspected on casual observation. The banding of glacial striations and the haphazard occurrences of fractures can be discovered in harmonious arrangements that seem to defy the chance working of natural forces. Bui it is the colors of these inanimate subjects that are their most engaging characteristics."

The Museum will exhibit all 55 color prints in late 1983.