Almost everything that comes into University Galleries goes back out again. After being on view for a matter of weeks, the art goes back to the artists or to another gallery for another exhibition.
But now and again a certain piece stays, through either donation or acquisition, and is added to the University Galleries’ Permanent Collection. The collection is a resource for students and faculty and, for the curators of the Galleries, a marvelous resource for sharing art with the entire community.
Currently on view, it’s “Lens Based: Recent Acquisitions to the Permanent Collection.” The show is currently up through Aug. 8.
The works in the exhibition were acquired between 2012 and 2019. University Galleries Director and Chief Curator Kendra Paitz explained that sometimes the artists who show their work at the Galleries will make a donation of a piece to the collection. Other donations come collectors who wish to leave art works to the Galleries as part of a legacy.
The current exhibition includes works by contemporary and historic photographers.
“We have seen a significant increase in donations in photography in the last several years,” Paitz revealed. “We have some really fantastic works by some historic photographers.”
Works by renowned German photographer August Sander are a part of the collection, as well as works of Ilse Bing, another German photographer of the inter-war years who revolutionized photography with her shots taken with a hand-held camera.
“I was walking through a collection show at the Whitney Museum in New York and stumbled across three of her photographs. That was really exciting. She was among the first to use the electronic flash and the 35-millimeter camera. We have several of her works in this exhibition.”
“Plein Air Painter” depicts a woman artist out in the landscape. She sits with her back to the camera and paints a craggy tree. Bing’s work is from 1952.
“This is a piece that was donated,” Paitz said. “We see her from the back, so it’s not something that was focused on this woman’s beauty. This is focused on her work, her skill. This is a vintage silver gelatin print.”
Next to Bing’s photograph is a work from August Sander, who also captured an artist at work for his photo. It’s from 1929.
“Here we have the artist Heinrich Horle painting the boxing champion Hein Domgorgen. Here, again, we see the artist at work. So, two different interpretations of the view that we have of the artist.”
Both Bing and Sander worked with film. Their work hangs alongside modern-day artists whose photos are digital. Paitz pointed to a large work that was donated by artist Carrie Schneider. It’s from an exhibition that Paitz herself curated at the Galleries in 2012. The photo is entitled “Burning House (October, afternoon).
“Carrie just recently very graciously donated this piece to our Permanent Collection,” Paitz said. “It’s from her 'Burning House' series. Carrie made this series over the course of a few years by traveling to rural Wisconsin, to this area where her grandfather had been a part of the civilian conservation corps. The trees in the background, he helped to plant.”
The photo shows a burning house on a small lake island. Schneider made numerous solo trips by rowboat to transfer building materials to the island, where she constructed the 6x6x8 foot house. It was the tiniest of tiny houses and doable for the artist, Paitz explained.
“She could build and transport this herself. It was really important that, as a woman, she could build it, she could move it, she could do all these steps herself.”
And then Schneider would set the house ablaze.
“She would set up two tripods,” said Paitz. “And record a still image and a moving image. There's also an accompanying film.”
Between the gelatin silver prints, chromogenic prints, archival pigment prints and more, there’s plenty for everyday cell phone photographers to learn from the variety of works on view, said Paitz. Conceptual strategies, composition, color, contrast all come into play when framing a photo.
“We see different ways of constructing an image, different ways of depicting a person. There’s a lot of photos in this show that are figurative. Think about what’s put into the photo, what’s left out, and where is the cropping. And how much of this story do you tell through the items that are pictured and how much do you tell through a caption?”
When you're ready to post, advised Paitz, consider crafting those Instagram hashtags carefully. A hashtag isn’t just a hashtag. It’s a title for your photographs.
“Lens Based: Recent Acquisitions to the Permanent Collection” is on view at University Galleries through Aug. 8.
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