Thursday, May 13, 2010

Steichen instigates April’s crush on Gary

Thanks to Edward Steichen, curator April Watson has a crush on Gary Cooper. Gary, often characterized as a bit cold and aloof, revealed a twinkle in his eye and a casual smirk that captured April’s heart; Steichen’s doing. With 156 images, 157 counting the stunning towering image of Joan Crawford who greets you at the exhibition’s entrance, you’re sure to develop a few crushes of your own within this elegant treasure chest at the Bloch. Thanks to April, I have a crush on Marion Morehouse.

April and her co-conspirator, designer Amanda Zeitler, create an incredible theater atmosphere fitting for Steichen’s theatrical images many of them featuring theatrical faces. The wide sweeping angles of the grand U-shaped area, punctuated with angled dividing walls accentuated with a subtle pallet of colors…browns, greys, hushed greens, arrayed with elegant light, subdued natural and aimed, glass cases of period Vogue magazines, a comfortable sitting area with Bauhaus-style leather chairs and a delicious collection of Corbusier-designed leather and chrome seats, while a silent film shows Steichen doing his magic in the studio, all of this upon architect Steven Holl’s magical canvas of space and atmosphere. Steichen must be grinning ear to ear.

This exhibition embraces the senses, taking you on a journey to another time that informs this present time of ours. Sure, Edward Steichen’s images have grace, motion, contrast, all in black and white. But when curators orchestrate, place, align, connect, group, and gently inform, great art becomes incalculably sublime.

I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to sink into one of Corbu’s inviting black leather nests and browse one of the many photography coffee table books. Watching the film showing Steichen in his studio, assisted by lighting technicians, a fan operator (helps to create that motion on the fabric), fashion designers and a host of others, I sensed seeing a play within a play within an architected theater. Here is the collaboration of a photographer, his photographs being a theatrical bit of frozen delicacy, shown through the eyes of gifted accomplished curators, designers, painters, builders, graphic artists, lighting technicians, digital wizards, and a silent inviting architect.

How can these old two-dimensional artifacts, photographs without color, feel so new, multi-dimensional and full of life’s color?

But the essential ingredient to any theater, to exhibitions, the residence, the habitat of art is the audience. That’s us; you and me. As audience, we make this come alive. As viewer, perhaps like me you’ll be thinking of Modonna’s “Vogue” as you walk around. Check it out, strike a pose and expect to develop a crush…

April M. Watson
Associate Curator, Photography
April M. Watson holds a master’s degree in Art History from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, and is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Kansas. She was awarded an NEA Curatorial Internship at the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, where she worked on a retrospective of the artist William Christenberry. Watson has contributed writing and scholarship on photography and its history to numerous exhibitions and catalogues for the University of New Mexico Art Museum, the Center for Creative Photography, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. She has also taught courses in the history of photography at the University of Missouri - Kansas City, and in modern and contemporary art at the Kansas City Art Institute and the University of Kansas. Recently she contributed to the award-winning monograph The Art of Frederick Sommer: Photography, Drawing, Collage (2005).

Amanda Zeitler joined the Nelson-Atkins as an exhibition designer in 2008. Amanda received her M.F.A. in Museum Exhibition Planning and Design from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia after completing her B.F.A in design and art history at the Kansas City Art Institute. While at the Museum she has designed the new Egyptian galleries and updates to the ancient collection galleries, and the exhibitions Edward Steichen—In High Fashion: The Condé Nast Years 1923–1927 and Inventing the Shuttlecocks.

Edward Steichen - In High Fashion: The Condé Nast Years 1923-1937
May 15, 2010—July 25, 2010
The Neson Atkins Museum of Art
Bloch Building, Gallery L13
This exhibition will be ticketed
Exhibition link:

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