If You Happen To Be In Williamstown


Thanks to Louis Menand, whose post THE MAJESTY OF EARLY PHOTOGRAPHY brought to our attention this exhibit (his comment on the museum itself, shared at the end of this post, is worthy of a read to the end):

…Right next to “Photography and Discovery” is another small exhibit, also of works the Clark owns, of early-nineteenth-century British paintings, many by Turner and Constable. I looked in to try out Galassi’s thesis, and you really can see the continuity between what those painters were doing, exploring the effects of sunlight on everyday subjects, and what the photographers would start doing a few years later…

The museum’s description makes us think of the parallels between photography and travel in terms of opening up horizons to an ever-widening audience:

When photographs were first widely produced and distributed during the second half of the nineteenth century, they offered viewers new ways to discover unknown people, places, and things. This exhibition explores how photographers considered these subjects during the medium’s first seventy-five years. During this exciting period, images were captured for many different reasons—from documentation to curiosity—and they came in many forms, including deluxe book illustrations, portable portrait cards, and frame-worthy landscapes.
Given the increased desire for images of all types during this era of discovery, photographic processes and techniques changed frequently and rapidly to meet demands. In the mid-nineteenth century, exposure times could be more than a minute long, and the need for immobility often dictated subject matter. Technology rapidly progressed, however, and by 1900 an image could be instantly fastened to a negative at the click of a button. The images in the exhibition allow us to look back over 100 years and discover a time when the world was far less interconnected than in today’s fast-paced environment.

Photography and Discovery is the first extensive presentation to feature the Clark’s collection of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century photography. Built over the past eighteen years, the collection of primarily European, American, and British photographs now numbers more than 1,000 objects and echoes the strengths of the institute’s holdings in painting, sculpture, decorative arts, prints, and drawings. Included as well are works on loan from the Troob Family Foundation and selections from the Clark’s David A. Hanson Collection of the History of Photomechanical Reproduction.

This exhibition is supported by a grant from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

Back to Menand, closing on the topic of the museum itself:

…This was my first visit to the Clark since the new addition, designed by the architect Tadao Ando, went up, and I have to say (I know I am not the first), What were they thinking? The Clark sits at the foot of Stone Hill, one of the sweetest spots in New England, a landscape that is picturesque in all seasons. The new building—basically an enormous lobby with a confusing entrance, a standard-issue gift shop, and, on the ground floor, with no views whatsoever, a coffeehouse-style café—features high granite walls that aggressively block the view from many vantages. Once free to the public, the museum is now twenty dollars per grownup. It’s the same collection, though, and still the cream.

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