Early in its history, art professionals believed photography had no place in an art museum. The practice mostly was thought of as a mechanical process—considered too close to reality to be a fine art.
The way photography is viewed has changed considerably since that time—thanks mainly to a group of international photographers who came together in the 1890s to change the perception of their practice, through an effort called the Pictorialist movement.
The exhibit, co-curated by Andrea Rager, the Jesse Hauk Shera Assistant Professor in the Department of Art History and Art, and Barbara Tannenbaum, Curator of Photography at the Cleveland Museum of Art, recently was named one of The Huffington Post’s top 28 art shows to see this fall around the country.
Three years in the making, the exhibit builds on existing strengths in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s collection and the collaboration between University Circle institutions.
Rager and Tannenbaum developed a strong working relationship after beginning at their respective institutions in 2011. They co-taught a class for graduate students in the fall of 2012, which is where the idea for an exhibit on Pictorialism was born.
Tannenbaum realized the museum had a large collection of photographs that fell within the Pictorialist movement and had never been shown together.
“It’s really an interesting time to be working on Pictorialism,” Rager said. “From a technical point of view, historians and conservators are finding more and more about the processes [photographers in the movement] used.”
With more technology to analyze photographs, researchers have been able to determine what chemicals were being used to print the images.
Featuring the pivotal works of such photographers as Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand and Edward Steichen, among many others, the exhibit showcases different approaches artists took to the movement.
For example, Stieglitz aimed to combine the eye and the hand of the artist, often wandering the streets waiting for the perfect moment to appear. His works were considered to have a gritty, urban nature to them.
A hallmark of Steichen’s work is the way he visually manipulated images, often combining two negatives into one. He used various processes to give his photos different effects.
One of the highlights of the exhibition, Rager said, is the focus on Ohio artists who were prominent in the movement, including Margaret Bourke-White, Jane Reece and Clarence H. White.
The museum has a particularly extensive collection of White’s work, which was donated by Julia McCune Flory, one of his models. Because White often gave McCune Flory work prints, the exhibit includes photos that show varying stages of the production process.
Beyond that, the collection also includes photographs with different mounts and papers, showing the artistic quality of each print.
Rager and Tannenbaum will host events in the coming months to showcase the exhibit, beginning tomorrow at 6 p.m. with a free curator-led tour in the art museum. Together, they will explain the inspirations and motivations of the photographers. Rager and Tannenbaum will meet attendees at the information desk in the museum’s atrium. No advance registration is required.
Rager also is planning a lecture Wednesday, Dec. 9, at 7 p.m. at the museum.