Sunday, September 30, 2018

Past, Present & Future: Photography at NOMA

 When the massive Looking Again: Photography at the New Orleans Museum of Art book came out last spring, many local art buffs were stunned by the scale and depth of a collection that had only been seen in little snips and snatches over the years. The book not only revealed that NOMA's photography shows had only barely touched the tip of the iceberg, but that NOMA had actually been an art photography pioneer for over a century. This Past, Present Future show revisits some of this forgotten history while providing a preview of the collection's future mingled with some colorful side trips along the way. Back in 1918, NOMA – then called the Delgado Museum of Art after its Jamaica-born founder, Isaac Delgado – staged an art photography show featuring work by the leading luminaries of the day. This exhibition includes a partial recreation of it with works by Alfred Stieglitz, Gertrude Kasebier, Laura Gilpin and Edward Steichen – including his legendary study of sculptor Auguste Rodin silhouetted next to his two most famous works, Le Penseur and his Monument to Victor Hugo.

This was heady stuff for a small local museum, and viewing these works today enables us to revisit the origins of photography's vintage avant garde worldview. Another series, The Present, features recently acquired works including Robert Mapplethorpe's portrait of his local mentor, George Dureau, and Joel Levinson's dramatic 1979 photo-montage, Fractions (pictured), which uses spliced TV images to predict the confusing, super-saturated digital media environment in which we find ourselves ensnared today. The Future includes some remarkable promised works from major local photography collectors including Tina Freeman and Dr. Russell Albright, among others whose generosity ensures that NOMA's photography collection will remain among the finest in the nation.

These works are complemented by a small separate expo featuring images by legendary Nola cameraman Dell Hall, whose Emmy-Award winning efforts remind us why local TV news teams, which often covered national and international events, were for decades considered among America's most dynamic and pioneering. ~Bookhardt / Past, Present, Future: Building Photography at the New Orleans Museum of Art; Best Seat in the House: Photographs by Dell Hall, Through Jan. 6, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.