Sunday, March 1, 2009

The New Department of Photography, 1940

Beaumont Newhall was hired in 1935 as the Museum of Modern Art's (NYC) librarian. Alfred Barr, at the helm of MoMA, was less interested in Newhall's book knowledge than he was in Newhall's knowledge of photography. Barr and MoMA wanted to start exhibiting the medium and in 1937 Newhall mounted the museum's first show of photography, "Photography 1839-1937." The catalog for the 800-work exhibition, with some revisions, became A Short Critical History of Photography which further evolved into The History of Photography, from 1839 to the Present Day, which more or less defined our view of the history of photography and what was art and what was not--until John Szarkowski remade the world for us.

In 1940, with funds and input from David McAlpin, the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art was born--the first photography department at a major museum. A Rockefeller, a promoter of photography and an early champion of Ansel Adams, McAlpin convinced Adams to head east and help put the department together. McAlpin became chairman, Adams vice-chairman and Newhall was named curator (though he had to continue his duties as librarian.)

The department eventually became the most influential institution for the medium, but it's inaugural exhibition was only slated for a two-week run in a small gallery and it had to continually fight for survival until Steichen was hired to head it in 1947.

What follows is a look at The Bulletin of The Museum of Modern Art, VIII(2), 1940/1941 December/January, in which the "The New Department of Photography" is discussed and the department's first show is surveyed.

16 pages, 7.25 x 9.25 inches, stapled.

At a later point, I'll mount the 1942 "Road to Victory" bulletin. The show was curated by Edward Steichen and represented the point at which the museum decided that maybe photography wasn't art after all.

1 comment:

Don said...

I removed a line of text which turned out to be inaccurate as well as misleading. Newhall did not curate the 1938 Evans show at MoMA, contrary to some reports.

The way I wrote that line I also implied that the Cartier-Bresson show (which Newhall did curate) was prior to the war rather than in 1947, which of course we all know.

Sorry, but I hate to be inaccurate and I appreciate being corrected. So, any mistakes, point them out.

Thanks SA.