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In Focus: 75 Years of Collecting American Photography

April 29 - July 31, 2006


(above: Francesca Woodman (1958-1981), House #4,1976, gelatin silver print mounted on board, 4 15/16 x 5 1/16 inches (12.54 cm x 12.86 cm). museum purchase Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts. © The Estate of Francesca Woodman, New York)


In 1934, three years after opening its doors, the Addison Gallery purchased several works by famed photographer Margaret Bourke-White, becoming one of the first museums in the country to seriously collect photography.  Today its collection includes more than 6000 images and represents one of the major repositories of American photography in the country.  As part of its 75th anniversary celebration, the Addison is presenting In Focus: 75 Years of Collecting American Photography, an exhibition of more than 200 photographs that celebrates the unique character of this remarkable collection. 

From Western landscape photographs by Carleton Watkins and Ansel Adams to the documentary work of Diane Arbus, abstract images by Man Ray, and the conceptual pieces of Sol LeWitt, the Addison's collection represents a broad overview of American photography. Equally impressive is the museum's in-depth holdings by key individual artists, such as the entire set of Eadweard's Muybridge's The Attitudes of Animals in Motion (1881) and Animal Locomotion (1887), as well as Robert Frank's pivotal series, The Americans (1955).


(above: Lee Friedlander (born 1934), Mt. Rushmore, neg. 1969, print 1976, gelatin silver print, 7 3/8 x 11 1/16 inches (18.73 cm x 28.1 cm). gift of anonymous donor. © Lee Friedlander)

Including distinctive masterworks and suites of photographs from the 19th to 21st centuries, In Focus emphasizes the ways in which individual images and groups of images speak to each other formally, historically, and thematically.  Avoiding chronology in favor of thematic groupings (such as The American West; Industrial Landscape; Suburbia; The Street; and The Figure) that create provocative dialogues, the exhibition reflects the richness of the collection's composition and acknowledges the complexity of photographic history -- the medium's wide range of uses, the multiplicity of voices, and the ways ideas and approaches cut across time to be revisited, expanded upon, and contested.


(above: Anna Gaskell (born 1969), Untitled 71 (resemblance), 2001, chromogenic print, 61 3/8 x 75 5/8 inches (155.89 cm x 192.09 cm). museum purchase Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts)

For example, 19th century photographs included in "The American West" examine photography's rapid growth in popularity as a scientific and artistic tool during the 1860's and 1870's.  During this time photographs by artists such as Timothy O'Sullivan served as evidence of scientific exploration, while those by Carleton Watkins were used as tools to promote tourism and resettlement.  In the 20th century, Ansel Adams continued to interpret Western landscape as an awe-inspiring wilderness, while contemporary artists such as Lewis Baltz, Robert Adams, and Mark Klett document the results of the aggressive domestication of the region.   

In Focus: 75 Years of Collecting American Photographyis on display April 29 ­ July 31, 2006.


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