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The Shape of Things, Robert B. Menschel, Photography - The Museum of Modern Art, New York, United-States
Image credit Jan Groover. Untitled. 1983. Gelatin silver print, 10 3/16 × 13 1/2″ (25.9 × 34.3 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel. © 2016 Jan Groover
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PublishedJanuary 6, 2017 at 11:02am
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The Shape of Things

Robert B. Menschel
The Museum of Modern Art, Photography, New York, United-States
Sunday January 1, 2017 - Sunday May 7, 2017
Ends in 67 days 12h

The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel presents an engaging survey of The Museum of Modern Art’s multifaceted collection of photography. Borrowing its title from the eponymous work by Carrie Mae Weems, the exhibition is drawn entirely from works acquired over the past 40 years with the support of Robert B. Menschel, telling the story of photography from its beginnings.

Jan Groover. Untitled. 1983. Gelatin silver print, 10 3/16 × 13 1/2″ (25.9 × 34.3 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel. © 2016 Jan Groover
Bernd Becher (German, 1931–2007), Hilla Becher (German, 1934–2015). Cooling Towers. 1973. Gelatin silver prints, each 15 3/4 × 11 13/16″ (40 × 30 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel. © 2016 Estate Bernd and Hilla Becher
Charles Harry Jones (British, 1866–1959). Onions. c. 1900. Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print, 5 7/8 × 8 1/4″ (15 × 21 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel
Harry Callahan (American, 1912–1999). Eleanor and Barbara, Chicago. 1953. Gelatin silver print, 7 11/16 × 9 11/16″ (19.5 × 24.6 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Robert and Joyce Menschel. © 2016 The Estate of Harry Callahan
John Coplans (British, 1920–2003). Self-Portrait (Back with Arms Above). 1984. Gelatin silver print, 19 13/16 × 15″ (50.4 × 38.1 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel. © 2016 The John Coplans Trust
Val Telberg (American, born Russia. 1910–1995). Exhibition of the Witch. c. 1948. Gelatin silver print, 10 15/16 × 13 3/4″ (27.8 × 35 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel. © 2016 Estate of Val Telberg
William Wegman (American, born 1943). On Mrs. Wegman’s Couch after Courbet from the portfolio Man Ray. 1982. Dye transfer print, 3 15/16 × 3 15/16″ (10 × 10 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel. © 2016 William Wegman
Roger Fenton (British, 1819–1869). Greek Hero. c. 1857. Salted-paper print from a wet-collodion glass negative, 13 7/16 × 10 3/16″ (34.2 × 25.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Robert and Joyce Menschel Fund
Berenice Abbott (American, 1898–1991). George Washington Bridge, Riverside Drive and West 179th Street, Manhattan. January 17, 1936. Gelatin silver print, 9 9/16 × 7 5/8″ (24.3 × 19.3 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel. © 2016 Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics
John Gossage (American, born 1946). Monumentenbricke. 1982. Gelatin silver print, 12 3/16 × 9 11/16″ (30.9 × 24.6 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel. © 2016 John Gossage
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Covering more than 150 years of photography—from an 1843 view of Paris by William Henry Fox Talbot, the English father of photography, to An-My Lê's depictions of US military exercises in preparation for war in Iraq and Afghanistan—the exhibition underscores an equal attention to the past and the present, and a strong belief that they complement each other; and that each generation reinvents photography. Since Menschel joined the Committee on Photography at MoMA in 1977, over 500 works have entered the collection through his support, including 162 photographs he recently donated from his personal collection.

Borrowing its title from the eponymous work by Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953), the exhibition presents the history of the medium in three parts, emphasizing the strengths of Menschel’s collection and mirroring his equal interest in historical, modern, and contemporary photography. Each section focuses on a moment in photography’s history and the conceptions of the medium that were dominant then: informational and documentary in the 19th and early 20th centuries, more formal and subjective in the immediate postwar era, and questioning and selfreferential from the 1970s onward. The installation occasionally diverges from a strict chronological progression, fueled by the conviction that works from different periods, rather than being antagonistic, correspond with and enrich each other.

Contemporary

From the 1970s onward, photographers began working in what A. D. Coleman defined as “The Directorial Mode,” wherein the photographer consciously creates events for the sole purpose of making images. John Coplans (British, 1920–2003) took his own body, naked and with the head invisible, as the subject of his work—both carrying on and contradicting the tradition of the selfportrait centered on the face—as seen in Self-Portrait (Back with Arms Above) (1984).

Joan Fontcuberta’s (Spanish, b. 1955) series Herbarium appears at first glance to be a collection of botanical studies, depicting plants with new and distinctive contours and rigorously scientific names. However, as revealed by his fictional character Dr. Hortensio Verdeprado (“green pasture” in Spanish), the “plants” are actually carefully composed by the photographer using scrap picked up in industrial areas around Barcelona. Made of bits of paper and plastic, small animal bones, and other detritus, these forms are not only non-vegetal—there is almost nothing natural about them at all. Fontcuberta is interested in the way data assumes meaning through its presentation and in the acceptance of the photographic image as evidence of truth. Other artists in this section include Jan Groover, David Levinthal, An-My Lê, Michael Spano, JoAnn Verburg, and William Wegman.

About Robert B. Menschel

Robert B. Menschel started collecting photographs in the 1970s, acquiring over the years hundreds of prints ranging from early to contemporary photography. He joined The Museum of Modern Art’s Committee on Photography in 1977, immersing himself not only in photography, its history, and its present, but also in the Museum’s culture. In 1989, he was elected to the Board of Trustees, becoming its President in 2002 and Chairman of the Board in 2005. In 2007, he was elected Chairman Emeritus and a Life Trustee of the Museum. From 1998 to 2002 he was Chair of the Committee on Photography.

Organized by Quentin Bajac, The Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator, with Katerina Stathopoulou, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography.

The exhibition is supported by the Annual Exhibition Fund.

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