Minneapois Institute of Arts
New Pictures at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Photographer’s File Provides Item for the Permanent Collection: What a Messy Room!

Posted Sep 13, 2011

Bill Owens, American born 1938
Christina’s Room, 1971
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Bill Owens and Robert Harshorn Shimshak 99.226.1


In 1972 photographer Bill Owens published his first and most important book, Suburbia, which documented the exploding growth of tract housing developments in California. Concentrating on the residents, Owens pictured them proudly situated in their new interiors, with their new possessions, interacting with their new neighbors.

The MIA never sought out an example from this notable series, but ended up acquiring one by pure serendipity. In 1999, Robert Harshorn Shimshak, Owens’s representative, visited the museum and met with me to discuss the photographer’s work. As we were looking casually through the MIA’s file on Owens, Shimshak excitedly pointed out that we had two vintage prints of one of the pictures from the Suburbia series, which had apparently been sent in the 1970s to Fred Parker, an independent curator who gave us his files after he resumed working as an artist. Before there was much of an art market for photographic prints, photographers such as Owens often sent original prints out for publicity or mere reference purposes.

Our two prints of Christina’s Room were vintage but not signed, and Shimshak offered to have Owens sign one of them for our collection, in exchange for letting them keep the second one. We agreed to do this, and subsequently formally accessioned the Owens photograph, as an easy way of adding it to the collection at no cost.

Most of the pictures in the Suburbia book are accompanied by a sentence or two of text, contributed by the subject or, in the case of Christina’s Room, one of her parents. It reads, “I wanted Christina to learn some responsibility for cleaning her room, but it didn’t work.” Note that Christina was not even a teenager yet, so imagine what her room looked like five years later.
Christian A. Peterson, associate curator of photographs

Edward Steichen Bequest Benefits MIA Collection

Posted Aug 11, 2011

Edward Steichen, American (born Luxembourg), 1879 – 1973
Eugene O’Neill, 1932
Gelatin silver print
Bequest of Edward Steichen by direction of Joanna T. Steichen and George Eastman House 82.28.52

In 1982, the MIA received one hundred photographs by the great American photographer Edward Steichen (1879-1973), through a bequest from his widow, Joanna T. Steichen. Edward Steichen was a very prolific photographer, working over his long life in many genres, such as pictorial and war photography. The one hundred vintage prints that came to the museum were primarily from the 1920s and 1930s, when Steichen worked for the Condé Nast publications Vogue and Vanity Fair. They include striking studio portraits of such leading entertainers as Charlie Chaplin, Isadora Duncan, W. C. Fields, Greta Garbo, Paul Robeson, and Mae West.

Ms. Steichen initially made a large bequest to the George Eastman House (Rochester, New York), instructing it to distribute batches of her late husband’s work to other museums that were committed to photography. The MIA was among a mere thirteen institutions chosen. Previous to this gift, the only Steichen pictures owned by the MIA were photogravures from Camera Work, a high-quality quarterly published by Alfred Stieglitz from 1903 to 1917. Thus, this bequest greatly increased both the number and type of Steichen’s work in our collection

Christian A. Peterson, associate curator of photographs

Museum Ethics Help Build the Collection

Posted Aug 4, 2011

Vance Gellert, American born 1944
The Ring, 1994
Dye bleach color print
The Ethelyn Bros Photography Purchase Fund 2001.124

Ten years ago, I was at a fund-raiser for pArts Gallery, then the local non-profit space for photography. Part of the event was a live auction of photographs donated by local and national artists. Vance Gellert, the director of pArts and a photographer in his own right, naturally, provided one of his own prints—an image from a series on his son he called “CarlVision.”

Vance participated in the auction that spring night by holding up the offered photographs and egging on bidders. Unfortunately, when his own picture, “The Ring,” came up, he had trouble getting anyone to bid. Though I admired the photograph, I had gone to the auction determined not to get carried away and spend any money. Nonetheless, I couldn’t bear seeing Vance’s own picture not sell, so I held up my hand and got it for just a few hundred dollars (much less than it was worth, despite the crowd’s disinterest).

But the picture was in my modest collection only over the weekend. Museum ethics require that any object a curator wants to purchase personally must first be offered to the museum, at the original price. This requirement prevents curators from trading on the expertise they have gained on the job for personal gain. Ted Hartwell, then the head of my department, agreed that Vance’s picture was a strong one and a bargain for the museum. So, the MIA reimbursed my purchase price and “The Ring” became part of its permanent collection.

Ultimately, everyone was happy; I didn’t end up spending money, Vance got his work into the museum collection (for the first time), and the MIA added to its holdings. This photograph is currently on display in the exhibition “Facing the Lens: Portraits of Photographers.”

Christian A. Peterson, associate curator of photographs


Inside Stories on the Permanent Collection

Posted Jun 30, 2011

Museum Acquires First Photographs in 1946

We usually say that the MIA’s first photographic acquisition was a complete set of Alfred Stieglitz’s magazine Camera Work, in 1964. But, in fact, the museum acquired two photographs almost twenty years earlier.

In 1946, Mrs. George Douglas gave the museum about 250 pieces by printmaker Joseph Pennell (1860-1926), plus a small group of works by other artists and two photographs of Pennell. Tellingly, the inventory prioritized items by medium; prints first, drawings next, then one watercolor, and, lastly, the photographs. The latter were apparently considered mere reference material, as the names of the photographers were not originally recorded, even though they appeared on the mounts. Nonetheless, these photographs were formally accessioned by the museum, inadvertently making them the first to enter its permanent collection. While the museum did not establish a curatorial department of photographs until the mid-1970s, it had actually begun “collecting” them thirty years earlier.

The portraits are by Herman Schervee and Richard T. Dooner, both professionally photographers working around the turn of the twentieth century. Schervee, of Worcester, Massachusetts, produced a classic, contemplative headshot of the artist. Dooner, of Philadelphia, showed more of his subject, including expressive hands and Pennell facing the camera. Elizabeth Robins Pennell, the artist’s wife, wrote on the mount of the Dooner portrait, “A good portrait and a characteristic pose.”

Christian A. Peterson, associate curator of photographs

Left: Richard T. Dooner, American, 1878 – 1954
Joseph Penell, c. 1925
Gelatin Silver Print
Gift of Mrs. George P. Douglas 46.14.290
Right: Herman Schervee, American (b. Norway), 1867 – 1923
Joseph Penell, c. 1920′s
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Mrs. George P. Douglas 46.14.291


Robert Frank Looks for Fleabag Hotel in Minneapolis

Posted Jun 6, 2011

In 1955 and 1956, the renowned street photographer Robert Frank traveled around the United States making pictures that eventually comprised his influential book The Americans (published a few years later). He is known to have visited Chicago, Iowa, and Nebraska, but apparently never ventured further north to our state at this time.

Over thirty years later, however, Frank did visit Minneapolis, on the occasion of his exhibition “Robert Frank: New York to Nova Scotia.” The MIA presented this traveling show in 1987 and also screened all of his films. Frank came to Minneapolis primarily to introduce the presentation of his film “Cocksucker Blues,” which documented the 1972 North American tour of the Rolling Stones. The Stones ultimately were uncomfortable with some offstage footage of sex and drug use that Frank included in the final cut, and they were able to legally require him to be present for any screenings, thus heavily limiting how often it is shown. Frank dedicated the Minneapolis screening to his assistant on the film, Danny Seymour, who had lived in Minneapolis before moving to New York and teaming up with Frank.

The MIA booked Frank into a decent downtown hotel, which apparently was too nice for him; he lived in New York’s rough Bowery neighborhood. Frank noticed a more downscale hotel and tried to switch to it, but the place was a residential hotel, not open to short stays. The Continental Hotel still sits on the corner of La Salle Ave. and S. Twelfth St., directly behind the YWCA. Usually when I go to the Y, I remember this story and chuckle to think that this hotel is probably the only one to ever turn away Robert Frank.

This is the first image in Frank’s book The Americans, and the MIA’s print is unusually large for him, measuring about thirteen by nineteen inches.

Christian A. Peterson, associate curator of photographs

Robert Frank, American (born Switzerland), born 1924
Parade-Hoboken, New Jersey, c.1955 printed c. 1968
Gelatin silver print
The Robert C. Winton Fund, 84.104
© Robert Frank, from “The Americans”


Daughters of Pictorialists Give Photographs

Posted May 23, 2011
A. Aubrey Bodine, American, 1906 – 1970
Tyson Street, Baltimore, c.1950
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Jennifer B. Bodine 96.153.4

Descendants of photographers always have been good sources of pictures for museums, as they often have much material that has been stashed away for years. In the 1990s, the daughters of three prominent American pictorial photographers independently approached the MIA with vintage prints by their fathers, knowing that our collection was already strong in this area. These photographers had worked largely during the 1930s and 1940s, when they handcrafted their prints and sent them around the country to photographic salons organized by local camera clubs.

In 1996, Jennifer B. Bodine, the daughter of A. Aubrey Bodine, gave the MIA five of her father’s pictures, including the one shown here. Bodine made his living as the chief photographer for the Sunday Baltimore Sun, making dramatic images of the city and its environs. Pictorialists appreciated some of these journalistic pictures for their strong compositions and accessible subject matter. Tyson Street, for instance, features nighttime lighting effects and rich, blue tones. Note that Bodine signed the print in the lower right in gold ink, clearly marking this as one of his artistic photographs.

A year later, Beaulah Bailey gave the museum eight photographs by her father, Hillary G. Bailey. These show Bailey’s strength photographing figures, still lifes, and portraits. In 1938, he wrote a book on the latter subject, titled The Story of a Face.

In 1998, Stella Anderson Beckstead, donated eleven photographs by Gustav Anderson. The Swedish-born Anderson was an avid outdoorsman and winter skier, and was widely heralded among pictorialists for his photographs of snow scenes. These are the only photographs in the MIA’s collection by Anderson, and, like the other groups discussed above, feature direct lineage to the artist, always the preferred provenance.

If your aunt, granddaddy, or some other forebearer was an accomplished creative photographer, feel free to contact the MIA Department of Photography & New Media; we are always willing to look at work and consider donations to the permanent collection.

Christian A. Peterson, associate curator of photographs

Avedon Photograph Shot Near MIA

Posted May 16, 2011


Richard Avedon
Generals of the Daughters of the American Revolution, 1963

This “Inside Story” will take you outside of the Institute.

In 1970, Richard Avedon, the renowned fashion and portrait photographer, had one of his earliest museum exhibitions right here at the MIA. He spent time in Minneapolis helping layout the show, and decided that one print—his 1963 image of the Generals of the Daughters of the American Revolution—was the wrong size, so another one was printed. Avedon then gave the first print to the Black Forest, a nearby German restaurant, as he had befriended its owner while eating and drinking there.

The inscribed picture was hung in the restaurant’s bar, but about fifteen years later a customer pulled out a gun and plugged the thing. Luckily, no one was harmed, but the two bullet holes remain to this day. And, since you could smoke in the bar until fairly recently, those holes are now rimmed in a distinctive nicotine brown.

Have you ever come to the MIA at a time when we’re not open and still felt the need to see original photographs? Well, just stroll a few blocks southwest, to the corner of Nicollet Avenue and 26th Street, and you’ll get your fix. But, please leave your gun at home.

Christian A. Peterson, associate curator of photographs

Inside Stories on the Permanent Collection

Posted May 2, 2011

Eadweard Muybrdige Portfolio Donated Before Museum Exists

Eadweard Muybridge, American (born England) 1830 – 1904
Animal Locomotion Plate 519, 1887
Gift of Samuel C. Gale, William H. Hinkle, Albert Loring, Charles M. Loring, Charles J. Martin, and Charles Alfred Pillsbury 81.76.66

In 1887, Eadweard (correct spelling, but weird) Muybridge published his important series, Animal Locomotion, comprising nearly 800 plates showing both animals and humans in stop action. These images, among the first of their kind, were most useful to scientists who studied motion and artists who used them to draw and paint from.

Around 1900, fifteen years before the museum was founded, a group of six prominent Minneapolitans purchased a set of about one hundred and donated them to the Minneapolis School of Art, now the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Among these civic-minded men were Charles M. Loring, the father of the Minneapolis park system and Charles Alfred Pillsbury, founder of a prominent flour milling company that still bears his name. Presumably, the material was well used by both students and faculty of the school for many years, but by the 1970s it had fallen into disuse. Consequently, Ted Hartwell, the new curator of photographs at the Institute, shepherded them over to the museum for safekeeping. They were formally accepted into the museum’s permanent collection in 1981, nearly a century after their creation, and now form one of our strengths in nineteenth-century photography.

Our group of eighty-three plates includes images of men, women, and children (both clothed and unclothed), and animals such as horses, buffalo, lions, tigers, and birds. The one pictured here features Muybridge himself going through two activities, and is on view through August 28, in the exhibition “Facing the Lens: Portraits of Photographers.”

Christian A. Peterson, associate curator of photographs

Inside Stories on the Permanent Collection

Posted Apr 21, 2011

Bourke-White Photograph Sails into MIA Collection Undetected

Margaret Bourke-White, American, 1904-1971
Vanitie, International Yacht Races, Newport, Rhode Island, 1934
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the Kodak Camera Club, 92.18.3

In 1992, a retired photographer gave the museum three photographs, including one of a yacht with billowing sails that had the inscription “From C. P. Curtis” on the back of its mount. After the picture was accepted by the museum, I removed the mat and plastic wrapping that were not original, hoping to find information on Curtis. To my surprise and  delight, I found that the photograph was signed by Margaret Bourke-White, the great photojournalist who provided a different image for the first cover of Life magazine, in 1936. Reproductions elsewhere confirmed that the image was by her, and we changed our records to reflect that fact. Curtis must have been the individual who gave the photograph to our donor, thus it was, indeed, “From C. P. Curtis,” but definitely not by Curtis.

This was the first photograph the MIA acquired by Bourke-White, albeit in a rather unorthodox fashion. The five other pictures by her that subsequently entered the permanent collection, did so with us knowing who they were by.

Christian A. Peterson, association curator of photographs