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Exhibition at the Met looks at photos from the past century

The exhibition entrance, including the Cindy Sherman work "Untitled #490," 1976.

A new exhibition of photographs at the Met Museum spans the past century through many of the medium’s great artists, in photos gifted to the museum from a private collection.

The show, called “Photography’s Last Century: The Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection,” opens on March 10. It includes over 60 photographs, which have been given to the museum by Museum Trustee Tenenbaum and her husband Lee as a promised gift so that they will return to their private collection after this exhibition, but eventually be given permanently to the museum.  

The collection includes masterpieces by artists such as Man Ray and Florence Henri, along with rare prints and lesser known works, noted curator Jeff L. Rosenheim. “It’s free, intimate, smart,” said Rosenheim of the collection, adding about Tenenbaum, “and built by a true connoisseur.”

“Windows,” 1929, Florence Henri.

“This collection significantly enhances the Met’s collection of key works by women,” said Met Museum Director Max Hollein, who added that Tenenbaum and Lee were supporters of the Met’s photography department going back decades to its origins.

Along with Florence Henri, other women photographers featured in the collection include Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman, Dorothea Lange, Dora Maar, and Rachel Whiteread.

“Identical twins, Roselle N.J.,” 1966, Diane Arbus.
“Out of Rear Window Tenement Dwelling of Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Solomon, 133 Avenue D, New York City,” 1936, Dorothea Lange.
“Woman and Child in Window, Barcelona,” 1932-34, Dora Maar.

The exhibition’s large title at the entrance has a work by Cindy Sherman in the middle of it, a series of self-portraits called Untitled #490, from 1976. Sherman made the series while in art school at age 22, the exhibition notes, and the series includes sexually suggestive expressions, an homage to the film “Mrs. Robinson” and part of Sherman’s efforts to challenge society’s expected roles and norms for women.

Photos span from the early 20th century to present-day, and include portraits and scenes of everyday life, in New York City, around America, and worldwide. Other artists include Richard Avedon, Robert Frank, Edward Weston, Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol and Walker Evans.

“Charleston, South Carolina,” 1955, Robert Frank.
“Self-Portrait,” 1963-64, Andy Warhol.
“Trip to Florida with Jack Kerouac,” April 1958, Robert Frank.

“Photographs are mirrors and windows not only onto the world but also into deeply personal experience,” Tenenbaum said before the show opened. “Tom and I are proud to support the Museum’s Department of Photographs and thrilled to be able to share our collection with the public.”

“These are works that are just stunning,” said Rosenheim. “A connoisseur’s love of the object and that is very important in these times that are so immaterial.”

While there are still plenty of photos taken these days, Rosenheim noted, they often appear digitally and on social media. A lurking question in the show’s title, he said, was whether we have seen the last century of photography, and if it will go extinct or perhaps be reborn similar to vinyl records for music.

“Photography in 2020 is as ubiquitous as the last Instagram post or tweet, but regrettably as immaterial,” he said.

The exhibition will be at the Met Museum until June 28, and more information is at metmuseum.org.  

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