A new photography exhibition at the LSU Museum of Art is helping propel the museum’s permanent collection into the 21st century.
“Exploring Photography: Works from the Permanent Collection” celebrates the diversity of photographic techniques and the possibilities photography brings to the public’s experience of the museum. LSU Museum of Art executive director Daniel Stetson said the exhibit also celebrates the growth of the photography collection, which has doubled since spring 2016.
Stetson said a significant donation from The Museum Project, a consortium of artists led by Robert von Sternberg and Darryl Curran, resulted in donations from 13 artists, ranging from two or four pieces to as many as 10 per person. The gift added considerable range to the collection’s large groupings of black and white and mid-1900s photographs, increasing the number of female artists, production techniques and color in the museum’s holdings, he said.
“Exploring Photography” displays over 70 works from the full collection, including works from the 13 new photographers, as well as two new works by noted photographer Diane Arbus, another recent donation.
Assistant photography professor Kristine Thompson said the scale of the exhibition is exciting because it takes the viewer through a journey of photography’s growth and advancement. Black and white prints hang beside digital abstractions, and you can turn a corner and come face to face with everything from work by a University alumnus to a Diane Arbus, she said.
Photography has always been a democratic medium, and today most people experience photography through dispensable digital media, Thompson said. Students and community members gain a deeper appreciation for photography when they take time to engage with photographs in a tangible form and consider the dramatic strides the medium has taken since its debut in the 1800s, she said.
“I think maybe we take for granted how much experimentation there has been over the history of the medium,” Thompson said.
The exhibition also serves as a catalyst for discussion about how photography enhances other media and deepens the viewer’s understanding of different time perods, Stetson said. Photography’s documentary aspects allow people to travel through the eyes of the photographer and gain a deeper appreciation for the human experience.
Stetson decided to create a dialogue around these ideas by placing a double portrait of an African-American couple in post-Katrina New Orleans by photographer Thomas Neff in the more traditional painting gallery. He said the intermingling of the modern portrait with painted portraits from as early as the 16th century reflects on the continuation of life and how different artistic styles can build on one another.
Stetson said whether museum patrons engage in these deeper conversations or take a more casual look at the exhibition, he hopes visitors walk away with a sense of the collection’s possibilities.
“You really get to explore how far photography can go,” he said. “I hope they see some things that they love. I hope that kind of magic happens.”