Modern Photographs from the Thomas Walther Collection, 1909–1949

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Willi Ruge (German, 1882–1961). Seconds before Landing, from the series I Photograph Myself during a Parachute Jump. 1931. Gelatin silver print, 8 1/16 × 5 9/16″ (20.4 × 14.1 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

Modern Photographs from the Thomas Walther Collection, 1909–1949

December 13, 2014–April 26, 2015
The Edward Steichen Photography Galleries, third floor

The creative possibilities explored through photography were never richer or more varied than in the years between the First and Second World Wars, when photographers approached figuration, abstraction, and architecture with unmatched imaginative fervor. This vital moment is dramatically captured in the more than 300 photographs that constitute the Thomas Walther Collection at The Museum of Modern Art. This remarkable group of objects is presented together for the first time to coincide with the culmination of the Thomas Walther Collection Project—a four-year collaboration between the Museum’s curatorial and conservation staff, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which has transformed our understanding of the medium’s material history from this era. Made on the street and in the studio, intended for avant-garde exhibitions or the printed page, these objects provide unique insight into the radical intentions of their creators.

The Museum acquired more than 300 photographs from Thomas Walther’s private collection in 2001. Featuring iconic works by such towering figures as Berenice Abbott, Karl Blossfeldt, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Claude Cahun, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Florence Henri, André Kertész, Germaine Krull, El Lissitzky, Lucia Moholy, László Moholy-Nagy, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Maurice Tabard Umbo, and Edward Weston, along with lesser-known treasures by more than 100 other practitioners, this exhibition presents the exhilarating story of this key moment in photography’s history, allowing both experts and those less familiar with the medium to understand these photographs in new ways.

The forthcoming website OBJECT: PHOTO The Thomas Walther Collection will present the culmination of the ambitious, groundbreaking four-year research collaboration between MoMA’s departments of Photography and Conservation focused on the development of photographic modernism in Europe and the United States. The MoMA team is also working with the participation of over 30 leading international photography scholars and conservators for an eponymous publication that will be the most extensive effort to integrate conservation and curatorial research efforts on photography to date and a forerunner of photography research currently underway at other museums. This collaborative project is led by Maria Morris Hambourg, Founding Curator, Department of Photographs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Jim Coddington, Chief Conservator, The Museum of Modern Art. In their respective departments, the project is overseen by Mitra Abbaspour, Associate Curator, Department of Photography, and Lee Ann Daffner, Andrew W. Mellon Conservator of Photographs. Additionally, a symposium is being planned; details and date are forthcoming.

Organized by Quentin Bajac, the Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of Photography, and Sarah Hermanson Meister, Curator, with Angeliki Kounava, 12-Month Intern, Department of Photography.

The Thomas Walther Collection Project is made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Major support is provided by The Museum of Modern Art's Research and Scholarly Publications endowment established through the generosity of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Edward John Noble Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Perry R. Bass, and the National Endowment for the Humanities' Challenge Grant Program; with additional funding from The John Szarkowski Publications Fund.

Image: Willi Ruge (German, 1882–1961). Seconds before Landing, from the series I Photograph Myself during a Parachute Jump. 1931. Gelatin silver print, 8 1/16 × 5 9/16″ (20.4 × 14.1 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther