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Milwaukee Art Museum Acquires Major Photographs from the Gilman Paper Company and the Metropolitan Museum of Art


Posted on February 20th, 2006

Milwaukee, WI, February 20, 2006— The Milwaukee Art Museum has acquired four major photographs from the Gilman Paper Company Collection and one from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. With these acquisitions the Milwaukee Art Museum’s collection of photographs has risen to the top of the national field for museums of its size.

Each of the works – Alvin Langdon Coburn’s Vortograph No. 8 (1917), Alfred Stieglitz’s John Marin (1922), Walker Evans’s Tenant Farmer Wife (Allie Mae Burroughs) (1936), Evans’s Couple at Coney Island (1928) and Werner Mantz’s Pressa at Night (1928) – is a masterpiece of photographic art made at a key moment in the medium’s history. The works were purchased at Sotheby’s recent auction, “Important Photographs from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Including Works from the Gilman Paper Company Collection,” a landmark event that featured many unique, historic photographs from one of the world’s top photography collections.

“We are grateful for the generosity of significant donations from Herzfeld and the Argosy Foundations, Friends of Art and the many individuals whose gifts to the Museum made these acquisitions possible,” said Milwaukee Art Museum Director and CEO David Gordon. “These are extraordinary examples of twentieth-century American and German photography and will greatly enhance our photography holdings.”

The Gilman Paper Company Collection played a central role in establishing photography’s historical canon and set the standard for connoisseurship in the field. The Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired the collection in April 2005 in a partial purchase/partial gift arrangement that allowed them to auction off works that were redundant in their existing collection in order to finance the purchase. The Milwaukee Art Museum recently hired Lisa Hostetler as their photography curator. Hostetler just departed from The Metropolitan Museum of Art where she was responsible for the curatorial administration of the Gilman Collection. She became intimately familiar with the collection during her years there and inventoried it prior to its acquisition by The Metropolitan Museum of Art. In assessing the Milwaukee Art Museum’s photography collection upon her arrival, she discovered several areas where specific photographs from the Gilman collection would have a big impact and targeted them at the auction.

Acquisitions

Vortograph No. 8 by Coburn is one of a group of his works made in 1917 and considered to be the first abstract photographs. To produce these unique prints, the photographer constructed a light “machine” of three mirrors and used it to record the movement of light and shadow on photographic paper. Stieglitz’s portrait of the painter John Marin is a compelling, intimate, and finely crafted palladium or platinum-palladium print depicting one of the photographer’s (and his wife Georgia O’Keeffe’s) closest friends. Evans’s Tenant Farmer Wife (Allie Mae Burroughs) is an iconic portrait of a woman whose vulnerable yet determined gaze speaks volumes not only about life in rural Hale County, Alabama during the Depression but also about her strength of character in difficult circumstances. Evans made Couple at Coney Island eight years before his portrait of Allie Mae Burroughs, shortly after he returned from Paris to New York, where his camera explored the formal geometries of urban life. In this image of a couple looking out at the central tower of Luna Park at Coney Island, however, the photographer’s keen eye for telling details of gesture and composition emerged, foreshadowing the signature style that he would perfect in the 1930s. Rounding out the group of works is Werner Mantz’s Pressa at Night, a breathtakingly beautiful image of an exhibition pavilion built to house the offices of Cologne’s photographically illustrated newspaper during a major exhibition of Modern art and architecture. Photographed at night, the severe geometry of the building’s façade is softened by electric lights that seem to illuminate the image from within.

All five photographs are available for viewing after April 1, 2006 in the Richard and Ethel Herzfeld Foundation Print, Drawing and Photography Study Center.

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