A site-specific installation combining photography and architecture, Road to Victory refers to a wartime exhibition of the same name organized for the Museum by Edward Steichen, then a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy and, from 1947 to 1962, the director of the Museum’s Department of Photography.
Steichen’s selection of photographs for his 1942 Road to Victory exhibition illustrated a unified and patriotic America. Designed by the Bauhaus artist Herbert Bayer, the installation took the shape of a road bordered by enlarged photopanels and was described in the accompanying catalogue as “a procession of photographs of the nation at war.” The photographs were also accompanied by text written by the poet Carl Sandburg.
In his installation, Adams has created objects that resemble museum vitrines. Reflected on mirrored surfaces below these vitrines are World War I aerial reconnaissance photographs, taken under Steichen’s supervision while commanding the Photographic Division of the American Air Service. As in Steichen’s exhibition, the installation architecture dictates the meaning of the photographs. In the former, giant photographic murals pulled the viewer along the ramp—the “road” of the title—which presented dramatic scenes culminating with one of American marching troops. In the current installation, the vitrines pave the way toward documentary photographs of the 1942 exhibition.
By referring to the Steichen exhibition, Adams intends to show that museum exhibitions affirm prevailing cultural and social standards in their selection and their display methodology. Although alluding to Steichen’s display techniques, Adams’s vitrines are empty. Stripped of their normal function, they metaphorically destabilize the museum’s position as the archive of established culture.
The fragmentary scenes of aerial surveillance, images the artist believes are not normally found in a museum, “resemble abstract patterns that distance and aestheticize the war-torn frenzy they depict,” as Ms. Rosenstock writes in the brochure accompanying the exhibition. In juxtaposing these depersonalized reconnaissance photographs with the vibrant and triumphant images in the 1942 exhibition, Adams intends to emphasize how the emotional force of that exhibition’s installation also deflected attention from the suffering that war entails.
Organized by Laura Rosenstock, Assistant Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture.