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The Phillips Collection announces exceptional gifts of photography to permanent collection
Louis Faurer, Times Square, N.Y. (Home of the Brave), 1950, printed 1981. Gelatin silver print, 11 x 14 in. Gift of Steve LaMantia, 2013. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC.

WASHINGTON, DC.- The Phillips Collection’s Director Dorothy Kosinski announced today the acquisition of several hundred gifts of photography to the museum’s permanent collection, accepted from a small group of collectors. Nearly 300 of the photographs were given to the museum in 2014, increasing the collection by more than 25 percent. Many of these new acquisitions, including superb color prints and black-and-white photographs from masters such as Berenice Abbott, Esther Bubley, Louis Faurer, and Joel Meyerowitz, will be displayed at the museum for the first time on June 6 with the opening of the special exhibition American Moments: Photographs from The Phillips Collection.

Such gifts reinforce the Phillips’s commitment to collecting important works by modern and contemporary artists who exhibit a mastery of personal expression, a standard set by museum founder Duncan Phillips. “Although Duncan Phillips never made photography a primary focus of his collecting, he recognized its importance to his museum and to our understanding of modernism,” says Associate Curator for Research Susan Behrends Frank.

“Nearly 25 years ago, The Phillips Collection made a commitment to collect more examples of photography by modern and contemporary artists,” says Kosinski. “Today, we see the fruits of that commitment in our photography holdings, which have doubled in the last five years thanks in large part to personal connections and long-term, cultivated relationships with generous donors.”

The Phillips’s photography collection began expanding rapidly in 2006, when the Phillips received 152 works by American photographer Brett Weston—a transformative gift of the Brett Weston Archive from the Christian K. Keesee Collection that launched what has now become nearly a decade of thoughtful yet expansive development. Today, the Phillips’s photography collection is the museum’s fastest growing area of acquisition. The museum’s photography holdings now total more than 1,000 works, 94 percent of which have been gifts to the Phillips.

In 2013, Joel Meyerowitz, a seminal pioneer of color photography, visited the Phillips and spoke with a small consortium of collectors about his work. This interaction culminated in gifts of 163 Meyerowitz photographs from a number of collectors, including a large group of Meyerowitz’s portraits from the early 1980s and examples from his well-known Bay/Sky series, which explores the dialogue between water, sky, atmosphere, and land. These chromogenic prints are the first by the artist to enter the permanent collection and constitute the largest in-depth group of his photographs in any of the Washington museums. Three examples from the Bay/Sky series will be exhibited in American Moments.

Over the last three years the Phillips has further increased its holdings in American photography through several additional gifts that have added depth and new artists to the permanent collection. For example, 26 works by Louis Faurer were added in 2013 and 2014—the first works for the Phillips by this renowned street photographer who reveled in the energy and nightlife of 1940s Times Square. Since 2013, the Phillips has been given 52 photographs by Bruce Davidson, one of the most important visual storytellers and street photographers of the last 40 years; these photographs are the Phillips’s first examples of Davidson’s work and the largest holding of his photography in the DC area. The work of Alfred Eisenstaedt—one of the founders of photojournalism known for documenting aspects of the changing American countryside—also has been added to the museum’s collection with holdings by this major figure now numbering 28. Since 2012, the Phillips’s collection of works by renowned 20th-century portrait photographer Arnold Newman has grown to 16. In addition, the museum added 89 Esther Bubley photographs to the collection last year alone, just two years after acquiring its first black-and-white prints by the artist. The Phillips now has 116 Bubley photographs, the second largest group in the Washington area after the Library of Congress. These works showcase Bubley’s extraordinary storytelling and her eye for capturing poignant images of everyday life.

In addition, the museum’s unique position near Embassy Row has allowed for international collaborations that have contributed new works to the museum’s permanent collection. In 2014, for example, the Phillips was given five photographs by contemporary Italian photographers—gifts from the artists and private individuals that were generously facilitated by the Embassy of Italy in Washington, D.C. Works by four of these photographers—Luigi Ghirri, Francesco Nonino, Renato d’Agostin, and Bianca Sforni—were included in the Phillips’s spring 2013 installation Next Stop: Italy that was organized by the embassy. This diverse group of photographs includes poetic color landscapes, enigmatic black-and-white images, and cinematic dreamscapes. Two of these photographs—the Sforni and the Ghirri—are currently on view at the museum.

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