The World through a Master's Lens: Sarah Greenough Hopes a New Exhibit Will Introduce the Public to the Extraordinarily Wide Influence That Alfred Stieglitz Had on American Art and Photography. (Picture Profile)

By Goode, Stephen | Insight on the News, July 15, 2002 | Go to article overview

The World through a Master's Lens: Sarah Greenough Hopes a New Exhibit Will Introduce the Public to the Extraordinarily Wide Influence That Alfred Stieglitz Had on American Art and Photography. (Picture Profile)


Goode, Stephen, Insight on the News


Personal Bio

Alfred Stieglitz: Self-portrait, likely taken in 1911.

Sarah Greenough: Curator of photographs, National Gallery of Art, Washington. Curator of current Stieglitz exhibition at the National Gallery and author of Alfred Stieglitz: The Key Set.

Born: May 25, 1951; Boston.

Family: Husband, Nicolai Cikovsky, former senior curator of American and British painting at the National Gallery; daughter, Sophie.

Education: University of Pennsylvania, B.A.; University of New Mexico, M.A. and Ph.D. "When I went to New Mexico, it was the only place you could study the history of photography within art history. Now you can do it anywhere."

Career: Served as guest curator of shows at the National Gallery of Art and worked on an earlier exhibition of Stieglitz, as well as on shows of such other great photographers as Walker Evans and on an exhibition covering 150 years of photography. In 2001 she was curator of the National Gallery's splendid Modern Art and America: Alfred Stieglitz and His New York Galleries.

National Gallery of Art curator Sarah Greenough put together the gallery's splendid, just-published, two-volume catalogue Alfred Stieglitz: The Key Set, which presents 1,642 of the master photographer's photographs. She's also the curator of a fine new exhibit of 102 of Stieglitz's photos, Alfred Stieglitz: Known and Unknown, which is on display at the National Gallery in Washington until Sept. 2.

Stieglitz, who was born in Hoboken, N.J., in 1864 and died in 1946 in New York, was one of America's great photographers. He also was enormously influential in the development of American art in general.

Stieglitz cultivated friendships with such artists as the sculptor Auguste Rodin and brought the works of contemporary Europeans such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse to this country for the first time for viewing at galleries he established, one of the most important of which was 291, named for its Fifth Avenue address. He numbered among his circle of friends through the decades American painters' as various as John Sloan, John Marin, Arthur Dove and Marsden Hartley, many of whom he helped find financial support to continue creating their art during lean times.

Greenough long has been familiar with Stieglitz's work. She did her doctoral dissertation at the University of New Mexico on his many photographs of clouds. In 1978 she came to the National Gallery on a predoctoral fellowship to work on the master's photographs that Stieglitz's wife, painter Georgia O'Keeffe, left the gallery.

The National Gallery collection, which O'Keeffe added to in 1980, is a large one. It encompasses photos Stieglitz took in the 1880s while in Europe, his portraits of friends and associates, his many portraits of O'Keeffe and his well-known pictures of the New York skyline, right up through the last pictures he took, many of which were scenes at Lake George, where he had a summer home.

Insight: Alfred Stieglitz was a seminal figure in American cultural history in the first half of the 20th century. How different would American art have been had he not played the part he did?

Sarah Greenough: He really brought about a radical transformation in American art and in American photography. It's impossible to imagine where art in 20th century America would be without Stieglitz's efforts.

I don't think there has been anyone who has had such an extraordinary impact as Stieglitz did, who touched so many diverse people. And not just artists. He touched critics, theoreticians, writers, poets--a huge variety of people.

It's interesting that nowadays people seem to know O'Keeffe much more than they do Stieglitz, whereas during their lifetimes Stieglitz was by far the more celebrated figure.

Insight: Was he a generous man with his expertise and his ideas?

SG: He was extremely generous with his ideas. …

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