Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Insight: Ansel Adams at the Corcoran
I am no longer with DCist, so I guess my insight goes here.
From the first images of the Ansel Adams exhibition at The Corcoran there is a rush of nostalgia. I wonder if there is any child or any art student in the country, or perhaps the world, that has not looked at an Ansel Adams photo and been inspired to do the same. He didn't invent the landscape, the photograph, or the photograph of the landscape, but he may as well have. Every photograph of every tree from my youth, every mountainous vista I crossed, every detail of leaf or bark or petal that I felt so quick to snap as a child points its influence to him.
But this is not about Ansel Adams, or the Corcoran.
While I have walked through several collections of photographs in the past (MoMA, SF MoMA, Getty, Walker, AIC, etc) I cannot recall if I have ever seen an Ansel Adams print, which is ironic because of their iconic nature. Of course, that iconic nature stems from how we access them today: coffee table books, day calendars, and posters in dorm rooms or resting on fire place mantels. To physically see one is a different experience.
My wife, Gretchen, and I were invited to a preview of the exhibition this evening, and as with other Corcoran openings, it was a delightful event (thanks, Paul). We paced through the individual galleries with the dozens of other attendants pausing, reflecting, looking, discussing and staring.
The word grandeur came to mind. I also thought they were smaller than I imagined. There was an intimacy within every photo, in part because of size. But, the intimacy was also due to content. Paul Roth, curator of media art and photography at the Corcoran, and I talked last week about Adams and Liebowitz. He talked in explicit detail about the sense of spirituality conveyed within each Adams photo. A communion with nature that he wanted to convey with every photograph. The epiphany. The conversion.
And it is all there in every image. But, about halfway through the gallery it is impossible not to feel overwhelmed. While the intimacy is there in every photograph, it is difficult to sustain that through all 134 images amongst a crowd of strangers.
This is not a fault of The Corcoran, or of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (who organized the show) for that matter. With the commercial distribution of Adams, the near ubiquity and recollection of his work - through reproductions - the one thing that ends up missing from the entire gallery experience is the living room: the solitude of a chair with big arms giving a front row seat to the stoic beauty of Monolith, Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, 1927 (above). It is that association, that context, that needs to be checked at the door with coat and hat.