JTF (just the facts): A total of 127 black and white and color photographs, variously framed and matted (although most are displayed in blond wood), and hung in the main gallery space, separated by two dividing walls. All of the prints come from the collection of Sondra Gilman and Celso Gonzalez-Falla. The show was curated by Ben Thompson and Paul Karabinis, in conjunction with an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville. A catalog of the collection was recently published by MOCA and Aperture (here). (Installation shots at right.)
The show is divided into thematic/subject matter groups. For each section, the photographers included have been listed, followed by the number of works on display and their dates in parentheses.
Entry Louis Faurer (1, 1947)
Poses and Gestures Diane Arbus (2, 1965, 1966) EJ Bellocq (1 diptych, 1912) Brassai (2, 1932) Manuel Alvarez Bravo (2, 1935, 1938-1939) Henri Cartier-Bresson (1, 1944) Imogen Cunningham (1, 1931) Bruce Davidson (1, 1958) William Eggleston (1, 1972) Walker Evans (1, 1932) Louis Faurer (1, 1946) Graciela Iturbide (1, 1993) Yousuf Karsh (1, 1954) Leon Levinstein (1, 1958) Lisette Model (1, 1940) Andrea Modica (1, 1992) Cirenaica Moreira (1, 1999-2002) Man Ray (1, 1933) Alec Soth (1, 2002) Paul Strand (1, 1954) Edward Weston (1, 1921) Garry Winogrand (1, 1968)
Minor Matters Wynn Bullock (1, 1951) Henri Cartier-Bresson (1, 1954) Mario Cravo-Neto (1, 1989) Bruce Davidson (1, 1966-1968) Rineke Dijkstra (1, 1993) Flor Garduno (1, 1996) Mario Giacomelli (1, 1957-1959) Emmet Gowin (1, 1974) David Hilliard (1, 2005) Peter Hujar (1, 1981) Loretta Lux (2, 2004) Sally Mann (4, 1987, 1989) Mary Ellen Mark (1, 1987) Ralph Eugene Meatyard (1, 1961) Polixeni Papapetrou (1, 2006) Swapan Parekh (1, 1995) W. Eugene Smith (1, 1946) Jock Sturges (1, 1987) Roman Vishniac (1, 1939) Garry Winogrand (1, 1960)
Invisible Sight Eugene Atget (1, 1906) Wynn Bullock (1, 1957) Paul Caponigro (1, 1968) Elger Esser (1, 1996) Laura Gilpin (1, 1930) Mark Klett (2, 1990, 2003) Clarence John Laughlin (1, 1941) Richard Misrach (1, 1999) Abelardo Morell (1, 2010) Josef Sudek (1, 1967) Hiroshi Sugimoto (1, 1993) Massimo Vitali (1, 1998)
Urban Exposures Berenice Abbott (1, 1933) Robert Adams (1, 1968-1971) Olivo Barbieri (1, 2002) Edward Burtynsky (1, 2004) Henri Cartier-Bresson (1, 1953) Bruce Davidson (1, 1959) Robert Doisneau (1, 1948) Walker Evans (1, 1941) Robert Frank (2, 1956) Lee Friedlander (1, 1962) Andre Kertesz (2, 1948, 1954) Ray K. Metzker (1, 1964) Marc Riboud (1, 1953) Alfred Stieglitz (1, 1901) Thomas Struth (1, 1991) Catherine Wagner (1, 1989) Weegee (1, 1945) Garry Winogrand (1, 1962)
The Insistent Object Bernd and Hilla Becher (1, 1968-1973) Harry Callahan (1, 1942) Imogen Cunningham (1, 1957) Harold Edgerton (2, 1957, 1960) Mitch Epstein (1, 2000) Adam Fuss (1, 1999) Man Ray (1, 1931) Aaron Siskind (1, 1944) Frederick Sommer (1, 1939) Hiroshi Sugimoto (1, 1980) Edward Weston (1, 1931)
Subjective Inventions Bianca Brunner (1, 2004) Richard Misrach (1, 2007) Vik Muniz (1, 1997) Cindy Sherman (1, 1980) Laurie Simmons (1, 1991) Mike and Doug Starn (1, 2001-2004) Miro Svolik (1, 1986) Ruth Thorne-Thomsen (2, 1979, 1987) Jerry Uelsmann (1, 1996) Joel-Peter Witkin (2, 1982) Francesca Woodman (1, 1977-1978)
The Form of Content Laurent Elie Badessi (1, 1998) Bill Brandt (2, 1951,1954) Harry Callahan (2, 1948) Roy DeCarava (1, 1953) Mario Giacomelli (1, 1961-1963) Beatrice Helg (1, 2005) Peter Keetman (1, 1959) Andre Kertesz (1, 1938) Robert Mapplethorpe (2, 1983) Andrea Modica (1, 1996) Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1, 1939) Andres Serrano (2, 1987, 1988) Alfred Stieglitz (1, 1923) Edward Weston (1, 1927) Minor White (2, 1959, 1961)
Comments/Context: As photography collectors ourselves, my wife and I likely have more interest in other people’s collections than your average gallery goer. While of course the art itself is what matters in the end, the process of making trade-offs and choices is endlessly fascinating (at least to me), and seeing how others have made their own decisions and followed their own rules and systems provides context and contrast for how we attack the same task. Our photo library has an entire shelf full of catalogues of other people’s photography collections (private, corporate, and public) and each one has its own personality and flair.
One of the books that has been on our shelf for more than a decade now is a selection from Sondra Gilman’s vast collection, published in the late 1990s. The book is organized into loose thematic sections, groupings that aren’t strict or rigid, but allow for non-obvious juxtapositions across time period, subject matter, and stylistic approach. The edit mixes iconic images and relative unknowns with equal measure, but each image always has some hook, something special or unexpected to draw the viewer in.
The reason I am going over this background is that I think it says something very important about how Sondra Gilman and Celso Gonzalez-Falla think about photography. This current show of their collection is also thematically grouped, but the themes and ideas have changed over the past 15 years. Some of the same pictures have been included in this edit, others have been left out, to be replaced by those on the sidelines last time, or by new acquisitions. My point here is that they have not approached collecting as a monolithic checklist to be methodically completed year after year, but as something more organic and open-ended, where pictures gain new resonances as they are mixed with new neighbors. We too try to effect this kind of refreshing and renewal by rotating the pictures on our walls, but given the scale of their collection, Gilman and Gonzalez-Falla have a tremendous opportunity to continually remix their visual stimuli. My guess is that this is a constant source of interest for them, as there are always new things to discover in great photographs.
Even in this reduced selection of images, this collection rivals most museum permanent collections of photography. It is strongest in classic 20th century black and white imagery, and many will be astounded by the parade of rare vintage icons that are on display. In many cases, these are not just great images by Abbott, Kertesz, Alvarez Bravo, Cartier-Bresson, Frank, Winogrand, Weston, Siskind, White, and countless others, but these are the best known, the most well loved photographs that these masters made, all in vintage examples. While it would be easy to drift by these familiar pictures and feel like they have been seen before, the fact that they are all vintage and all in one private collection is nothing short of breathtaking.
But what I like about this exhibit is that doesn’t have the aura of showing off that it could have given the strength of the material. It has opted for something more eclectic and personal, an organization that proves that these pictures aren’t individual trophies, but are together as a collection a kind of living organism that is always evolving. Each new acquisition has the potential to rebalance the entire body, changing how one picture relates to another. The sections of portraits, children, landscapes, urban scenes, still lifes, staged/manipulated imagery, and formally driven images might seem predictable as themes, but mixing a Brandt nude, a White peeling paint, a Moholy-Nagy photogram, a Kertesz distortion, a Stieglitz equivalent, a Keetman raindrop screen, a Mapplethorpe nude, and a Serrano piss and blood composition (just part of the formally driven section) isn’t exactly your run-of-the-mill group show. While all the pictures can easily stand alone, together they are evidence of broad curiosity and passion for the medium.
Apart from the lack of 19th century work, this single show is a close to a comprehensive history of photography as you will find outside our major museums, so don’t miss the chance to see these treasures before they disappear from public view once again.
Collector’s POV: Not only is this a non-selling venue, but the vintage prints in this collection would undoubtedly fetch some stratospheric prices should they ever come back into the market. So we’ll forgo the usual price discussion for today, with the tangible reminder that a lifetime of collecting exceptional examples of iconic photographs can certainly generate significant value.