MoMA Acquires 162 Works Spanning 150 Years of Photography from the Collection of Robert B. Menschel

Abbott-300x383.jpgNEW YORK, May 2016—The Museum of Modern Art announces that longtime trustee Robert B. Menschel has made a promised gift of 162 images to the Museum from his celebrated collection of photographs, ranging from early to contemporary works. Made by 69 different photographers, this assemblage covers more than 150 years of photography—from an 1843 view of Paris by William Henry Fox Talbot, the English father of photography, to a 2002 Carrie Mae Weems staged portrait. They also complement nearly 350 photographs that have entered MoMA's collection through Mr. Menschel's support over the last 40 years. To honor Menschel's invaluable contributions to the Museum, this fall MoMA will present an exhibition, The Shape of Things, drawing entirely from the more than 500 photographic works acquired through his support, and an accompanying publication.

"There are a handful of individuals whose wisdom, generosity, and faith in humanity leave an indelible mark, and Bob is one of them," said MoMA Director Glenn D. Lowry. "He is the consummate trustee, interested in and knowledgeable about virtually every aspect of the institution; he is also a great leader, a passionate collector of photography, and an extremely generous supporter of exhibitions, publications, and much more."

Quentin Bajac, The Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of Photography, added, "This outstanding group of images exemplifies his multifaceted interests as a collector. Now, these works join the hundreds of others that, thanks to his support, the Museum has been able to acquire since Bob joined the Photography Committee in 1977."

The newly acquired photographs are focused primarily around the modern period, from late Pictorialism to the 1960s, with a particularly strong presence of three American photographers, who are each represented with 19 or more prints: Alvin Langdon Coburn, Harry Callahan, and Aaron Siskind. Coburn is represented by a series of 22 photogravures of London, made between 1904 and 1910; there are 19 prints by Callahan, including images made in Italy and Peru in 1968 and 1974, which strengthen an important area in in the Museum's holdings of his work; and there are 21 works by Siskind, many of which were part of his photographic dialogue with painterly abstraction, and especially with Abstract Expressionism.

Menschel’s gift also includes a number of iconic works from the history of photography: Gustave Le Gray’s seascape Brig on the Water (1856), a composite image made from two different negatives; Alfred Stieglitz’s early image of New York, The Terminal (1893); Herbert List’s Picnic by the Baltic (1930), a tribute to Georges Seurat’s paintings; Imogen Cunningham’s nude geometric composition Triangles (1928); a Hans Bellmer staged image from his famous Surrealist series Games of the Doll; and the often-published Gay Deceiver by Weegee, in a large exhibition print. The gift also includes small gems by less-well-known photographers that indicate the restless curiosity of the collector, from Charles Jones’s early-20th-century “portraits” of plants to a strange post-Surrealist photomontage from the 1950s by Val Telberg. Also included are outstanding contemporary works by Robert Adams, Bernd and Hilla Becher, John Coplans, Jan Groover, and William Wegman, among others.


This fall, MoMA will publish The Shape of Things by Quentin Bajac, with an essay by Sarah Hermanson Meister. The publication explores 60 remarkable photographs from the Museum’s collection, all acquired with the support of Robert B. Menschel and meticulously selected for the book by Bajac. Ranging from the contemporary artist Andreas Gursky to William Henry Fox Talbot, one of the medium’s founding figures, these selections collectively tell the story of photography from its beginnings, but their arrangement in reverse chronological order upends and newly illuminates that story. Each image is the subject of a brief, elegant text. The book and the accompanying exhibition borrow their title from a work by Carrie Mae Weems, which is one of the many great photographs that Menschel has contributed to the collection.


To honor Menschel’s invaluable contributions to the Museum, the works in the Photography Department’s forthcoming collection exhibition, The Shape of Things, will be drawn entirely from the 504 works acquired through his support. On view from October 29, 2016, through May 7, 2017, this multifaceted group of images will tell the story of photography from its beginnings, focusing on the strengths of the collection. The Shape of Things is organized by Quentin Bajac, The Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of Photography, with Katerina Stathopoulou, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, MoMA.

About Robert B. Menschel

Robert B. Menschel started collecting photographs in the 1970s, acquiring over the years hundreds of prints ranging from early to contemporary photography. He joined the Committee on Photography in 1977, immersing himself not only in photography, its history, and its present, but also in MoMA’s culture. In 1989, he was elected to the Board of Trustees, becoming its President in 2002 and Chairman of the Board in 2005, when he helped oversee the completion of the Museum's Taniguchi building. In 2007, he was elected Chairman Emeritus and a Life Trustee of the Museum. From 1998 to 2002 he was Chair of the Committee on Photography.

Image: Berenice Abbott. George Washington Bridge, Riverside Drive and West 179th Street, Manhattan. January 17, 1936. Gelatin silver print, 9 9/16 x 7 5/8" (24.3 x 19.3 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel. © 2016 Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics

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