Museum Watch: "Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand" Called "Stunning"

Posted by David Ozanich — 19 Nov 2010

DP233024.jpgAlfred Stieglitz by Paul Strand (1929)

Lots of Paul Strand news this week! The Times freaks out for the new show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It brings together photographs of Alfred Stieglitz and his two most prominent protégés, Paul Strand and Edward Steichen - both of whom showed at his influential gallery 291 and in his photo journal Camera Work. They are each collected in three distinct rooms.

The museum's stunning "Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand," mostly drawn from the collection, gives us just the big three -- the impresario and his two greatest photographer discoveries. (Georgia O'Keeffe, arguably his best find in any medium, appears as a portrait subject.) They were a contentious group, if you could call them a group at all. Steichen made his mark in the early years of 291, while Strand appeared toward the end of the gallery's run.

DP232912.jpgGeorgia O'Keefe by Alfred Stieglitz (1918)

What's most interesting about this review is how informative it is in its explanation of photographic history, not just at the Met but also amongst the three luminaries. For instance, I didn't know that Stielgliz donated 22 of his own works to the venerable institution in 1928 and that those were the first photographs to ever be entered into the Met's collection. Most of the images on view in this show are culled from that donation and his subsequent gift of 400 photographs by Strand and Steichen along with Clarence White and Gertrude Käsebier in 1933.

... [T]he show has an impressive story arc about photography's coming of age. The exhibition segues from Steichen's hazy, nostalgic Pictorialism to Strand's crisp, forward-looking still lifes and cityscapes, with justly famous examples from each category.

Stieglitz's own transition to a more clean-lined, geometric style is well documented in the first and largest gallery, with a rich selection of New York City views from early and late phases of his career. Other highlights include his piecemeal portraits of O'Keeffe and his cloud studies, or "Equivalents."

DP232904.jpg Late Afternoon - Venice by Edward Steichen (1907)

Interestingly, Karen Rosenberg, the reviewer, points out that the views of Steichen and Strand are largely revealed through Stieglitz's eye since he was the original collector of the work. And for a bit of a tabloid twist, there were all sorts of romantic triangles within the group:

Strand's humanism -- nurtured early on by his teacher Lewis Hine at the Ethical Culture School, and later apparent in his famous street shot of a blind woman -- led him in a different direction. World War I was a factor. So was his falling out with Stieglitz, who had a flirtation with Strand's wife, Rebecca (and photographed her nude at Lake George).

In 1929 Strand made a portrait of Stieglitz, who was having his own romantic issues. (O'Keeffe was in New Mexico, getting close -- or so he feared -- to a friend's husband.) It's a complicated picture, full of frustrations.

The central dynamic of "Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand" is just as complicated. One might see this show as a tale of two protégés moving on, Steichen and Strand outgrowing Stieglitz. But the story is told by Stieglitz, or at least inflected by his largesse.

The show "Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand" is on view until April 10th, 2011 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. For those not in the area, you can view a phenomenal selection of the works on view here.

DP232922.jpg The Steerage by Paul Strand (1907, printed 1913)

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