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

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


Facing the Lens in ARTNews

Posted Feb 6, 2011

Judith Golden
American, born 1934
Untitled, from the group portfolio Silver See , 1977
Gelatin silver print, hand colored
National Endowment Arts Photography Purchase Grant 77.39.6
Judith Golden © 1977

In case you missed it, this month’s ARTNews has a great review of Facing the Lens!

Henri Cartier-Bresson took thousands of pictures during his long career, but he was notoriously camera shy. Edward Steichen had painterly aspirations and made early self-portraits as a Baudelairean dandy wielding a palette and brush. Robert Mapplethorpe liked to take photos of his own mesmerizing gaze. Those are a few of the revelations to emerge from “Facing the Lens: Portraits of Photographers,” at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

“Originally we thought of doing portraits of artists in general,” says Christian Peterson, associate curator of photography and the organizer of the show, which runs through August 28. “Then I realized that a lot of the works are of photographers, either self-portraits or photos made by other photographers.”

Spanning the years from 1887 to 2003 – much of the history of the medium – “Facing the Lens” includes about 75 works, drawn largely from the museum’s collection. A portrait of Edward Weston by Ansel Adams shows the former looking like a tree toad or a humanoid outgrowth at the base of a giant eucalyptus tree. “Weston was a fairly short man, and to put him in front of a big tree makes him look particularly small,” says Peterson, though the curator believes no malice was intended. Cartier-Bresson, captured against a brick wall by Arnold Newman, looks poised to flee the decisive moment at any second. And Eadweard Muybridge, famed for his series of motion studies, did one of his own naked self throwing the discuss, walking, and going up and down steps. “This photo is part of a group that shows multiple images of a subject,” says Peterson, “which makes the point that, of course, we all know a single portrait of any individual can in no way sum up his or her entirety.”

One of the most spontaneous images is by a local Minneapolis legend, Raymond J. Muxter, who “was a really gonzo crazy street photographer,” says the curator. “When he ran into well-known people in New York City, he would hold the camera out at arm’s length and take a self-portrait” with them. Muxter’s photo of himself and William Burroughs shows them at the Spring Street Bar in an uneasy embrace, eyes shut tight.

Sometimes the style of the subject’s work asserts itself even when other photographers are behind the camera. Alec Soth’s 2000 study of a rumpled William Eggleston hunched over a keyboard looks a lot like . . . a William Eggleston. -Ann Landi, “Shooting the Messenger,” ARTNews, February, 2011, 27

“Facing the Lens: Portraits of Photographers” is on view now through August 28th, 2011. Free exhibition!