The Portland Museum of Art has received a collection of over 600 photographs, including works by world-renowned 20th-century photographers, which the museum believes will transform it into a destination for the art form.
Photographer, philanthropist and collector Judy Glickman Lauder’s donation includes photographs by Berenice Abbott, Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Margaret Bourke-White and Gordon Parks.
“This collection puts us on another level,” said Mark Bessire, museum director. “We’ve always done (photography), but that just leverages the work we do and lets us take off. This (collection) could have gone anywhere, but it’s coming here.
Glickman Lauder, who could not be reached for an interview, has homes in Cape Elizabeth and Great Diamond Island and a longtime affiliation with Maine Media Workshops in Rockport. She sits on the museum’s board of trustees and is a well-known photographer in her own right, with works hanging in prominent museums around the world, including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angels.
She offers the PMA the collection, which includes some of her own works, as a “promised gift,” meaning a pledged donation at a specified future date, although the museum already has the collection on site. The museum declined to say how much it is worth.
Libby Bischof, a history professor at the University of Southern Maine who specializes in the history of photography and co-author of a book on Maine photography, was thrilled to learn of the donation last week.
“Six hundred artists’ photographs of this caliber will be extremely important not only to the museum but to the state,” said Bischof, who sat in the USM’s Glickman Family Library, named for a previous gift of over of a million dollars from Glickman. Lauder and her late husband, Albert Glickman. (Several years after Glickman’s death, she married Leonard Lauder, also a philanthropist and art collector.)
That Glickman Lauder and others, like Maine art patrons Paula and Peter Lunder, have chosen “to situate their extensive personal collections of deeply significant and impactful works in a state that matters so much to them and to American art signals to other patrons, collectors and practitioners that Maine is a place where their work can also live,” Bischof said. “It really seeds this work and Maine’s continued importance in American photography. “
The museum views the collection, along with a possible expanded campus through its purchase of the former Children’s Museum & Theater of Maine, as key to its future growth.
“Glickman Lauder’s donation allows the museum to think broadly about the next chapter in the PMA story, particularly how we can create open experiences with art, grow and diversify our collection, and open up new spaces. community-centered dynamics that welcome our myriad communities,” museum spokesperson Graeme Kennedy wrote in an email.
THE EYE OF THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Museum visitors will have the chance to view a selection of photographs in October, when the museum is set to mount a major exhibition, “Presence: Photographs from the Judy Glickman Lauder Collection.” He already showed some of these works about a dozen years ago, Bessire said, but since then the collection has “probably doubled in size, and it’s still growing.”
The exhibition will be curated by Anjuli Lebowitz, the museum’s newest Judy Glickman Lauder Associate Curator of Photography.
Glickman Lauder began collecting photographs in the 1970s, Lebowitz said, at a time when the photo market was booming as collectors struggled to create a respected discipline.
“Matching photos to certain artistic currents was a major theme at the time as they tried to justify photography as art. Because of its mechanical nature, with photography there was always a huge blockage as to whether or not it could be art,” Lebowitz explained. “For a long time, the verdict was that photography was not art.”
One of the things that Lebowitz finds so compelling about this collection is that Glickman Lauder was not involved in this debate. Many collectors at the time were only looking for the “best” images, Lebowitz said.
“Judy is also researching ‘What are the best pictures?’ but she also looks for images that move her. She’s not trying to fill in the gaps – “I need a photo of this artist and a photo of this movement” – that’s not the concern. Still, she has some amazing images that are part of the canon, but she included them because they move her, because she connects to them, and I think that’s a really unique approach to forming a great collection like this,” Lebowitz said.
Bessire underlined this point.
“One of the most exciting things for us is that she’s a photographer herself,” he said of Glickman Lauder. “It’s interesting to see what someone behind the lens collects. A photographer brings to collect a different look and another way of looking at photography. His gaze goes to the images. She is very democratic in her choices. Just because someone isn’t well known doesn’t mean it isn’t a great picture.
The collection includes works “by critical contributors to the history of the medium” whose names are less known to the general public, such as Graciela Iturbide, Lotte Jacobi, Alma Lavenson and Ben Shahn, the museum said in a press release.
Maine Media Workshops + College President Mark Mansfield described these and other photographers in the collection as “the canon of photographic history”.
THE PERIMETER OF THE COLLECTION
Bessire said the collection focuses on images taken by pioneering women photographers, images from American civil rights struggles, photographs from the world of fashion and celebrities, and photographs that depict the legacy of the Holocaust. and war. (Glickman Lauder is known for her own book, “Beyond the Shadows,” featuring photographs she took over three decades of concentration camps, camp survivors, and Danes who risked their lives to save Jews. Danish during World War II.)
In a statement announcing the donation, the museum included several photos that “truly demonstrate the strength of the collection,” Lebowitz said. One shows a double exposure of Glickman Lauder’s mother, Louise Ellis, who was photographed by her father, Irving Bennett Ellis, a physician and famous photographer himself. Lebowitz described it as an “incredible composite portrait showing different psychological states of Louise Ellis”.
Another is “American Gothic,” a photograph by famed African-American photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks. It depicts Ella Watson, a housekeeper at the Farm Security Administration’s federal office where Parks worked at the time, in a pose inspired by Grant Wood’s painting of the same name. Instead of a pitchfork, Watson is depicted with a mop and broom; instead of a farm in the background, there is an American flag.
“Judy has a very strong social justice streak, and this photo is so famous and so amazing and by one of the most important photographers of the 20and century, but I also love that it’s a collaboration with the subject, Ella Watson,” Lebowitz said. It is one of a series of nearly 100 prints that Parks made with Watson. “And it shows so succinctly that we as a country can do better. It shows both love of country and legitimate criticism,” she said.
A third, by fashion photographer Richard Avedon, is pictured at Maxim’s in Paris and shows actress Audrey Hepburn and comedian Art Buchwald.
“I think it really captures the spirit of the collector, because (Glickman Lauder) is also quite rambunctious and fun,” Lebowitz said. “The presence of joy and wonder is really why the collection is so special, and why I’m so glad she’s here and I’ve come to Portland to work with her.”
Lebowitz has worked in big city museums like the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. A collection like Glickman Lauder’s has a much bigger impact on a small institution, she said.
“Even 600 photos can be swallowed up when you’re talking about a bigger place that has 50,000 photos. Here it can have pride of place,” she said. “He really is the star of the show. “
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