Since before Marcel Duchamp photographed Rose Sélavy, his female alter ego, artists have used photography to explore issues of identity, sex, and gender. In recent decades, gender has been an increasingly prominent theme within contemporary art and, specifically, within photography. The Gender Show (on view through October 13) offers an extraordinary opportunity to see fifty contemporary artworks in the context of over 150 photographs from our world-class collection.
The exhibition includes, on loan from artists and private collectors, a formidable set of photographs by prominent contemporary artists Janine Antoni (born 1964), Rineke Dijkstra (1959), Marilyn Minter (1948), Catherine Opie (1961), and Gillian Wearing (1963). Works by each of these artists have been exhibited extensively at leading museums, but this is the first time that any of their works has been shown at Eastman House. The exhibition also includes ten photographs on loan from our trustee Elaine Goldman; gender issues are one of the themes in her wonderful collection. Also featured are videos by artists Jen DeNike (1971), Kalup Linzy (1977), and Martha Rosler (1943).
In our Annex Gallery, we present sixteen photographs, on loan from artist Debbie Grossman (1977), from her recent My Pie Town series, in which she used Photoshop to manipulate a set of images of Pie Town, New Mexico, originally taken by Russell Lee for the Farm Security Administration in 1940.
The Gender Show, part of our ongoing program of major exhibitions from our permanent collection, is a survey of how photographs since the mid-nineteenth century have presented gender, with a special emphasis on the performances that the act of photographing or being photographed can encourage or capture. On view from our collection are photographs by many of the biggest names in the history of the medium—including Julia Margaret Cameron, August Sander, Edward Steichen, Nickolas Muray, Brassaï, Robert Frank, Andy Warhol, Barbara Norfleet, Mary Ellen Mark, and Cindy Sherman—as well as rarely seen cabinet cards depicting early vaudeville and music-hall stars.
In 1979, art scholar and critic Douglas Crimp (now the Fanny Knapp Allen Professor of Art History at the University of Rochester) included photographer Cindy Sherman among the emerging artists covered in his article “Pictures” in the influential art journal October. This article was a landmark in the contemporary art world’s embrace of photography as an artistic medium. In the ensuing years, young artists increasingly adopted photography as part of their artistic practice.
Unfortunately, there has been an abiding separation between “contemporary photographers” and “contemporary artists” whose artistic practice is primarily or in part in the medium of photography. This artificial segregation has had a long-term adverse impact on exhibition programs and collection building at every one of the American museums with a leading photography collection, including George Eastman House. Our exhibition places works by contemporary artists in a broader context, illuminating art historical, aesthetic, and social issues and celebrating the diversity of inquiries into gender.
The first exhibition organized under my direction, The Gender Show represents a commitment by George Eastman House to exhibit and collect photographs by those in the contemporary art world. Photography is one of the most important media in contemporary art. Our world-class collection of photographs must include great examples of work by contemporary artists.
The core exhibition of works from our permanent collection is curated by Senior Curator Alison Nordström and Assistant Curator Jessica Johnston. Additionally, Jessica chose the photographs kindly lent by Elaine Goldman. I had the pleasure of selecting the other contemporary artworks from outside of our collection. We hope that you enjoy the results of our collaboration.
Bruce Barnes, Ph.D.
Ron and Donna Fielding Director
July/August 2013 Bulletin