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Focus On: Florence Henri and Bathing Beauties


Two new, highly contrasting exhibitions explore the depth of the museum's outstanding photography collection. This summer, the work of avant-garde experimentalist Florence Henri launches the Museum's new Focus On series showcasing photographs from the Museum's permanent collection. Approximately forty of Henri's works from the late 1920s and 1930s will be on display from July 24 through November 14, 2004. In stark contrast, Bathing Beauties is a selection of 12 themed photographs that range in date from 1887 to 1998. Among the photographers included are Anne Brigman, Lucien Clergue, David Levinthal, Joel Meyerowitz, Alfred Stieglitz, and Jock Sturges. Locations are as diverse as France, Germany, up-state New York, and Florida. Bathing Beauties will be on view at the Norton July 28 through the autumn.

Virginia Heckert, William and Sarah Ross Soter Curator of Photography, comments, "Florence Henri was a tremendously creative figure who channeled her musical and artistic talents into photography to create memorable images that are fundamental to the history of photographic modernism. Her brief, but pivotal affiliation with the Bauhaus and her subsequent move to Paris put her in touch with important artists of the day who helped to shape her unique vision, which reveled in experimentation and abstraction."

Born in New York City in 1893, Henri grew up in Europe, where she studied music with great intensity before turning to painting. Education and travel took her to England, Italy, France and Germany. While enrolled at the Bauhaus in Dessau for one semester during the summer of 1927, she learned to appreciate photography as a forum for experimentation. Her fascination with the medium led her to experiment with abstract shapes and complex spatial relationships, often using mirrors and reflections to achieve her results.

Upon moving to Paris in 1928, Henri set up a studio for portrait, fashion and advertising photography. She began to introduce surrealist elements into her compositions, creating a dense layering of space by combining reflected surfaces with the techniques of montage and collage.

Earning praise for its freshness and innovation, her work was included in seminal exhibitions and publications of the late 1920s and early 1930s and thus contributed to the international language of photographic experimentation known as the "new vision" in Europe. Drawn from the Norton's holdings of 40 photographs, including 13 that entered the collection in 1998 as the gift of Baroness Jeane von Oppenheim, the exhibition demonstrates Henri's mastery of portraiture and still life, incorporating the techniques of the close-up, montage, and reflections.

As a counterpoint to Focus On: Florence Henri, the photographs on view in Bathing Beauties include examples of Pictorialism, commercial photography, and work by contemporary artists who utilize photography to realize their projects most effectively. The exhibition brings together images that differ widely in date and motivation. Museum visitors will enjoy comparing photographic styles, as well as changing fashions as they relate to swimwear and vacation destinations in locations as diverse as France, Germany, up-state New York, and Florida.

The Norton Museum of Art has long been committed to photography, and the collection is now attracting international attention. In 1998, the Baroness Jeane von Oppenheim donated 670 photographs to the Museum, including works by Henri Cartier-Bresson, August Sander, Albert Renger-Patzsch, and Bernd and Hilla Becher, making the Norton's photography collection one of the preeminent collections in the South. The Museum's collection of photographs represents nearly all of the medium's major developments and innovations, including the Pictorialism of Heinrich Kühn, Baron Adolph de Meyer and Clarence H. White, the social realism of Walker Evans and Lewis Hine, the abstract modernism of Man Ray and Ralston Crawford, and the bold contemporary imagery of William Eggleston, Ralph Gibson, Candida Höfer, David Levinthal, Vik Muniz, and Catherine Chalmers.


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