Photographs at Play: Bill Hunt on the Morgan’s Photography Exhibition

Celebrated photography collector and author–and Swann friend–Bill Hunt has written a wonderful review of the Morgan Library’s A Collective Invention: Photographs at Play show–the first mounted by their newly appointed Curator of Photographs, Joel Smith–which remains up through May 18. 

Back in September of 2012, Swann hosted Smith for a standing-room-only talk about Edward S. Curtis’s The North American Indian, the role of bibliophile J.P. Morgan, and the confluence of documentary and artistic expression.

Also in 2012, we partnered with the Aperture Foundation on an event around Bill Hunt’s book The Unseen Eyeclick here to see the video.
Here is Hunt’s review of the Morgan show: 

A Collective Invention: Photographs at Play at the Morgan Library & Museum is full in so many ways. It is playful, thoughtful, and chockfull of discoveries. Ken Johnson’s enthusiastic reaction to it in The New York Times only begins to do it full justice.   

Joel Smith, the new Morgan’s newly appointed Richard L. Menschel Curator of photographs has made an auspicious debut with a survey show encompassing high and low: from classic well considered portraiture (Julia Margaret Cameron) to less familiar mid-century Europeans like José-María Sert to American contemporaries like Marco Breuer and Sara VanDerBeck.  The show plays out like the surrealist game of “exquisite corpse”, each image or object links uniquely to its neighboring image or work.  It is mad fun with connections ranging from subject matter to compositional elements. Trees give way to maps which yield to …, like that, unfolding like a dream.

Smith is looking beyond the usual exclusive groupings and considering the whole of photography.  It is an eclectic and memorable collection. 

One treasure here is the list of collectors who have made loans to the exhibition. It would appear that Mr. Smith has done a lot of field work. Loans have come from artists like Vik Muniz with two photographic studies for sculptural works that transcend their documentary beginnings. Similarly TIm Davis’ collection of signs, all variations on “No Photography” is unexpected and delightful. It is wacky and complete with more variations on a theme you can imagine, a great homage to Walker Evans and his affection for road signs.  The list of collectors ranges from the younger like John McMahon to the formidable but not well-known Elaine Goldman and Alan Paris, to vernacular specialists, like snapshot king Peter J. Cohen and “Pop Photographica’s Daile Kaplan (her objects like an ivory lighthouse sewing kit with daguerreotype and Cabinet card in a bottle are the highlights of the show), to sharp eyed dealer/collectors, like Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro and Jill Quasa (contributing a great Louis Stettner), to other artist/collectors like Christine Burgin and William Wegman to the well-established David Raymond and the afore mentioned Menschels, Richard and Ronay.

This is a masterful show, and it bodes wonderfully for the Morgan as a platform for photographs in New York. Go now because you will want to go again.