Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Los Angeles, CA


left: Main Museum Complex, right: LACMA West, photos, ©1999 John Hazeltine



Edward Weston, Photography and Modernism

February 11 -- May 3, 1999


Edward Weston: Photography and Modernism is the third in a series of exhibitions organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and drawn from the collection of Mrs, William H, Lane. Through approximately 140 rare vintage prints, the exhibition provided an opportunity to thoroughly examine Weston's modernist pictorial development. It included many of his best-known works as well as many that have been rarely exhibited. Beginning with his constructivist-inspired portraits dating from 1918-1922, the exhibition traces the artist's career through the breakthrough work he did at Armco Steel in 1922, and the three productive years (1923-1926) when he spent extended periods of time in Mexico. It continues with the work Weston achieved after returning to California, featuring many of his quintessential modernist works including the exquisite Chambered Nautilus (1927) and the anthropomorphic Pepper series. Also displayed are the innovative, nearly abstract studies of rocks, trees, and dunes at Point Lobos, California, as well as a series of his classic nudes executed during the first half of the 1930s. Weston's telling portraits of his contemporaries such as Diego Rivera, Igor Stravinsky, and e.e. cummings lead to a concluding group of images from the late 1930s and early 1940s which reflect his interest in surrealism, including Rubber Dummy, M.G.M. (1939), as well as a surprising group of images which show a marked affinity to the gestural freedom of the abstract expressionists.


About the Artist and Modernism

In 1911 Weston opened a portrait studio in Tropico (now Glendale), California. Working in the popular soft-focus, romantic pictorialist style, Weston moved beyond his commercial work and exhibited figurative compositions, including portraits and nudes, to international acclaim. In spite of this professional success, however, by the end of the decade Weston slowly began to move away from the pictorialist approach.

Modernism, in many forms, reached California just at this time. Struggling against a culture that largely embraced academic classicism and late Impressionism in the pictorial arts, avant garde artists began to be exhibited around 1920. The Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art (the parent institution out of which the present Los Angeles County Museum of Art was formed), for example, hosted the Exhibition of Paintings by American Modernists, in 1920. Organized by Stanton MacDonald-Wright, it included recent abstract works by Arthur Dove, Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and Man Ray, among others. The same year the first important modernist building in Los Angeles was erected, "Hollyhock House," designed by Frank Lloyd Wright with furniture by Rudolph Schindler.

Weston probably first came in contact with modernism in the 1910s through articles and illustrations in publications such as Camera Work, Broom, and The Little Review. In addition, his friends, including photographers Margrethe Mather and Johan Hagemeyer, and actress Tina Modotti, moved in Los Angeles' avant garde circles. By 1918 Weston's work became increasingly concerned with abstraction and flatness, and he began to produce his first sharp-focus photographs. In 1922 he traveled cross-country to visit his sister in Ohio (where he photographed the Armco plant) before continuing on to New York where his goal was to see photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz. His meeting and subsequent correspondence with Stieglitz was critical to Weston's artistic development.

In July 1923, Weston left for Mexico. As one historian put it, Mexico was "Weston's Paris." There he honed his modernist style, working toward greater simplification and abstraction through heroic portrait heads and nudes, as well as more mundane objects such as toys, toilets, and tree trunks. Weston's sojourn in Mexico coincided with the height of a cultural revolution during which artists including Diego Rivera, Jean Charlot and Jose Clemente Orozco - all of whom Weston came to know - were working on large-scale mural projects.

Back in California late in 1926, Weston embarked on an extraordinary breadth of work that would occupy him for over two decades and place him at the center of American modernism. While Weston had been away, the number of galleries, promoters, and patrons of Modernist works in California had grown. Through the late 1920s and early 1930s, spurred by his earlier contact with the work of Georgia O'Keeffe, Rivera, Chariot, and Brancusi, and later with West Coast artists Henrietta Shore, Peter Krasnow and Imogen Cunningham, Weston continued the exploration of abstraction which culminated in his classic, high modernist images of sculptural shells, peppers and nudes.

At about the same time, Weston also began to experiment with flat patterns and texture, first with trees, rocks and kelp at Point Lobos, near his new home in Carmel, and then back in the studio with vegetables and nudes. These compositions relate to the contemporary photography of Paul Strand, Imogen Cunningham, and Weston's son Brett, as well as to the organic abstraction in the paintings of O'Keeffe and Dove and the biomorphism of European Surrealists such as Jean Arp and Joan Miro.

By 1931, hints of a new element, Surrealism, began to enter Weston's work, as over the next decade or so he experimented with the unexpected juxtaposition of incompatible objects, ironic, dream-like scenes, and sudden changes of scale. In addition to reproductions and articles, Weston saw examples of both Dada and Surrealism in the important collection of Walter and Louise Arensberg, whom he met in 1930. Surrealism also provided Weston with some of the tools he needed to develop his vastly different late style, in which clarity and symmetry are replaced by looser, more gestural compositions.


The Lane Collection

William H. Lane (1914-1995) was the owner of a small manufacturing plant in Worcester County, Massachusetts. In the early 1950s he formed a noteworthy collection of American 20th-century painting (now at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) which included numerous works by Arthur Dove, Charles Sheeler, Georgia O'Keeffe,Stuart Davis, Hans Hofmann, and Franz Kline, among others. During the 1960s, Mr. Lane and his wife, Saundra Baker Lane, turned their acquisitive eyes toward American photography, bringing to this new activity the same extraordinary foresight and appreciation that had characterized their passion for paintings. In 1965 they acquired the entire photographic estate of their friend, Charles Sheeler. Two years later they worked closely with Ansel Adams in forming a broad, archival collection of his best work, and shortly afterwards they did the same with Imogen Cunningham. Ansel and his wife Virginia Adams also introduced the Lanes to Edward Weston's four sons: Chandler, Brett, Neil, and Cole. During the late 1960s and early 1970s the Lanes acquired almost all the vintage photographs that Edward Weston had left to his sons and grandson, a collection now widely known as one of the most important holdings of the elder Weston's work. By 1975, the Lanes had formed one of the more significant private collections of American 20th-century photography in the country.

This exhibition was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. LACMA Coordinating Curator: Tim B. Wride, associate curator of photography Organizing Curators: Edward Weston and Modernism has been organized by Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., John Moors Cabot Curator of American Paintings and Karen E. Quinn, Associate Curator of American Paintings, both at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, who teamed for two earlier exhibitions of Weston work: Weston's Westons: Portraits and Nudes (1989) and Weston 's Westons: California and the West (1994).

Images from top to bottom (click on thumbnail images to enlarge them): Chambered Nautilus ,1927, silver print, 9 1/2 x 7 5/16 inches, The Lane Collection, courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Rubber Dummy, Metro Goldwyn Mayer, 1939, silver print, 7 5/8 x 9 5/8 inches, The Lane Collection, courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Palma Cuernavaca, 1925, silver print, 9 5/8 x 6 1/2 inches, The Lane Collection, courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Changos, 1926, platinum or palladium print, 7 9/16 x 9 1/2 inches, The Lane Collection, courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Pepper No. 4, 1930, silver print, 9 1/2 x 7 5/16 inches, purchased from the 14th Annual Salon Los Angeles County Fund; Cypress, Point Lobos, 1929, silver print, 7 1/2 x 9 3/8 inches, The Lane Collection, courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Nude, 1936, silver print, 9 1/2 x 7 9/16 inches, The Lane Collection, courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Driftwood and Auto, Crescent Beach, 1939, silver print, 7 11/16 x 9 5/8 inches, The Lane Collection, courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Abandoned Auto,1938, silver print, 9 1/2 x 7 1/2 inches, The Lane Collection, courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


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