Stieglitz Show: Overexposure; Photo Exhibit May Be One Too many.(ARTS)(ON VIEW)
Byline: Joanna Shaw-Eagle, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The National Gallery of Art has mounted during the last half-century six major exhibitions of the work of the pioneer American photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Additionally, a thematic series titled "Alfred Stieglitz: New Perspectives" has appeared on the gallery's Web site for the past two years.
The gallery now presents the exhibit "Alfred Stieglitz: Known and Unknown," consisting of 102 images from its collection. The show celebrates the publication of "Alfred Stieglitz: The Key Set (The Alfred Stieglitz Collection of Photographs)," a 1,012-page, two-volume study of the photographer's always innovative work. Although highly informative, the catalog probably is the most unwieldy any museum has put out in a long time. It costs $150.
The National Gallery was the single most important institution to stamp what are now iconic Stieglitz photos on the American consciousness. The show's "The Steerage" of 1907 was one of the photographer's first forays into pictorial formalism. Stieglitz (1864 to 1946) diagonally bisected the image to make the spatially compressed, below-deck quarters intensely claustrophobic.
Most will recognize Stieglitz's "Self-Portrait" (probably 1911), with the bushy white mustache, rimless glasses and generous mop of hair. The many photos of his wife, the painter Georgia O'Keeffe, are now so familiar they're somewhat hackneyed.
Then there are the abstractions of clouds he called "equivalents" and his powerful views of New York City.
Can a museum show too much of a good thing? In this case, yes. Exhibit curator Sarah Greenough, gallery curator of photographs, even curtailed the size of the current exhibition because she closed the large, comprehensive "Modern Art and America: Alfred Stieglitz and His New York Galleries" little more than a year ago. It was a rich, important exhibition that explored Stieglitz's crucial role in the development of modern art in the United States as photographer, publisher and gallery director.
True, the curator has a multitude of riches. When Stieglitz died, Miss O'Keeffe spent three years selecting the best of her husband's photographs for what she called "the key set" of 1,642 images. They include his series on her - one of his most famous - photographed between 1917 and 1937. After an unsuccessful offer to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, she gave the key set to the National Gallery. It is the single largest collection of photos by the celebrated photographer.
This small show includes 47 images not exhibited before. As with many of the previous Stieglitz exhibits, "Known and Unknown" shows the photographer searching for an artistic language, finding visual and technical tools and reusing them for many years.
Stieglitz's first moves to early radicalism in his art were, as Miss Greenough writes in the catalog, "the leap from pictorialism to modernism in the early 1910s."
Born in Hoboken, N.J., in 1864 to a wealthy, cultured family, Stieglitz first studied in Germany where he learned basic photographic techniques. …