When we think of big donations to art museums, we often think of large canvases or dusty vases gifted by aging millionaires. However, photography is a burgeoning art form of its own, as many recent donations and gallery updates can attest.
Painting Meets Smoke Rings
Earlier this year, thanks to generous donations from the likes of Silicon Valley businessman Thom Weisel and Italian clothing designer Max Mara, the de Young Museum in San Francisco hosted the exhibit “Frank Stella: A Retrospective.” Stella, known for his influential experiments with color and pictorial space, is also an avid user of technology in his work. His Black Series paintings might be what first made him famous in the art world, but his fascination with cigar smoking and the shape of smoke rings led to an innovative series of untitled smoke ring photographs in the late 1980s. These photos, along with his earlier paintings and more recent work with 3-D printing and other digital tools were all on display at the de Young from last November through February of this year.
The Politics of Seeing
In nearby Oakland, some of the most famous photographs of modern times are still available for view in an exhibit called “Dorothea Lange: The Politics of Seeing.” Lange, known for her iconic images from the Great Depression, captured the particular time and spirit of the American people in 25,000 negatives and 6,000 prints, which were donated to the Oakland Museum of California after her death. They’re particularly poignant to see today, when many of the social issues of the 1930s and 40s continue to plague American society. The key to the exhibit is its encouragement of viewers to interact directly with it. As Lange herself said, “The good photograph is not the object. The consequences of the photograph are the object.”
Victoria and Albert Make Room
London’s Victoria and Albert Museum recently released the first designs for its new photography center, which will open in fall of 2018. The new space will become home to the museum’s photograph collection, including equipment and archival materials from as early as the 1820s. The gallery will be named for the California-based photographer Bern Schwartz, who was a successful portrait photographer during the 1970s. His subjects included Prince Charles, Henry Moore, and the former Victoria and Albert Museum director Roy Strong. In addition to the already-planned gallery, the museum is hoping to raise an additional £7m to include an educational facility with a library, studio, and darkroom.
The Hollywood Hobbyist
Bruce Berman, CEO of Village Roadshow Pictures, is probably best known as the producer of films like “The Matrix” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.” But he’s also an avid photograph collector who recently donated huge portions of his collection to the Joslyn Art Museum and the J. Paul Getty Museum, respectively. These are just the latest two museums to receive donations from him; previous recipients include the de Young Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Berman’s collection focuses on 20th century American and Mexican scenes as snapped by photographers like Russell Lee, John Vachon, Mike Smith, David Husom, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, and Graciela Iturbide. “As an avid photographer in my teenage years, my appreciation for photographs has evolved into collecting snapshots of urban life,” said Berman. “It gives me great pride to share these wonderful works.”
With donors and exhibits such as these, museum visitors all over the world are able to experience photography just as much as more traditional paintings and cultural artifacts.