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


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