UBS donates major American landscape photographs to National Gallery of Art
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UBS donates major American landscape photographs to National Gallery of Art
Arthur Rothstein, Dust Storm, Cimarron County, Oklahoma, 1936. Gelatin silver print, image: 21.7 x 21.5 cm (8 9/16 x 8 7/16 in.) sheet: 25.3 x 25 cm (9 15/16 x 9 13/16 in.) National Gallery of Art, Washington. Gift of the UBS Art Collection.

WASHINGTON, DC.- The National Gallery of Art has received 166 19th- and 20th-century photographs from the UBS Art Collection—the largest gift from UBS to a museum to date. The group of photographs was assembled in the 1990s by John Szarkowski, a photographer, curator, and former director of the department of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The gift adds important photographs made by a diverse group of artists who worked throughout the United States and in Latin America. It will allow the National Gallery to tell fuller, more varied, and inclusive stories about how Americans have conceived of, used, and celebrated the richness and variety of the land from the 1860s to the 1990s.

“This wonderful, wide-ranging gift from UBS adds key works to the National Gallery’s photography holdings by a wide range of artists, many of whom were not previously represented in our collection,” said Sarah Greenough, senior curator and head of the department of photographs at the National Gallery of Art.

The gift from the UBS Art Collection includes several photographs by western American photographers—F. Jay Haynes, John K. Hillers, Darius Kinsey, Frederick Monsen, and Isaiah West Taber—who recorded the impact of railroads, mining, and logging on the land in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Other pictures made in the late 19th century, such as those by Henry Hamilton Bennett of the scenic Wisconsin Dells, show how photography was used to transform nature into a tourist commodity. Early 20th-century works by Laura Adams Armer, Jean Bernard, John G. Bullock, Nancy Ford Cones, Martha Hale Harvey, Gertrude Käsebier, William B. Post, Robert S. Redfield, and Edward Steichen evocatively reveal how pictorialist artists presented the landscape in a very different manner from their predecessors. Depicting nature’s quiet corners and intimate vistas, they domesticated and aestheticized the land, transforming it from a symbol of power and awe into one of manicured beauty and peaceful harmony.

A collection of social documentary work from the 1930s and 1940s includes key examples by celebrated Farm Security Administration photographers, such as Dorothea Lange, Gordon Parks, Arthur Rothstein, and Marion Post Wolcott. Many of their pictures poignantly demonstrate how the depleted land could no longer support the inhabitants who depended on it. Two of the most iconic photographs include Lange’s Power farming displaces tenants from the land in the western dry cotton area, Childress County, Texas (1935) and Rothstein’s Dust Storm, Cimarron County, Oklahoma (1936).

Works by photographers such as Robert Adams, Edward Burtynsky, Stephen Callis, Robert Dawson, Terry Evans, Emmet Gowin, Mark Klett, and David Maisel cast a critical eye on the impact of humans on the landscape. Often making aerial photographs, they depict vast stretches of land that have been utterly transformed by human habitation.

The gift also includes work by Latin American photographers such as Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Valdir Cruz, Agustín Estrada, Flor Garduño, Graciela Iturbide, and Sebastião Salgado. Active in Mexico, Brazil, and Guatemala from the 1940s through the 1990s, the photographers made pictures commemorating the earth’s bounties—fruits, vegetables, birds, and fish that help sustain and enrich human life—as well as the people who lived and worked on the land.

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