We reinstall the permanent collection in the first five rooms of The Edward Steichen Photography galleries at least once a year, in order to continuously have on view a selection of outstanding works from the Museum’s collection. Each new display is organized differently, but all of them aim to suggest the vitality and richness of photography’s creative traditions. It is a testament to the collection’s richness and depth that we are able to completely change out the photographs in these galleries on a regular basis, and yet always have some of the greatest works in the history of the medium on view.
Our newest installation, which opened May 13, is arranged chronologically, suggesting a history of photography with a particular emphasis on recent acquisitions—nearly one-quarter of these works were acquired within the past five years and are on view here for the first time. With each new acquisition of work into its collection, the Museum has an opportunity to clarify, and complicate, the history of modern art it presents. Here, recently acquired works broaden the account. Carleton Watkins’ Late George Cling Peaches (1889), for example, displays a strikingly modern distillation of space, decades before such disturbances became commonplace. We also experience the latent mythology in Lewis Hine’s Workers on the Empire State Building (c. 1930), the abstract experimentation of Weegee’s Movie Theater Distortion (c. 1950), the campy showmanship of Geoff Winningham‘s Tag Team Action (1971), and the scrutiny of the New York art world in Tina Barney’s Mr. and Mrs. Castelli, W Magazine (1998). Searching for connections between a wide array of photographs is an important part of a curator’s job, and performing this search with some of the greatest pictures in the collection makes this job one of the best in the world.