Exhibition Dates: November 10, 2010 – April 10, 2011
The 1910s—a period remembered for "The Great War," Einstein's theory of relativity, the Russian Revolution, and the birth of Hollywood—was a dynamic and tumultuous decade that ushered in the modern era. This new age—as it was captured by the quintessentially modern art of photography—will be the subject of the exhibition "Our Future Is In The Air": Photographs from the 1910s, on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from November 10, 2010, through April 10, 2011.
An eclectic centennial exhibition devoted to photography of the 1910s, "Our Future Is In The Air" provides a fascinating look at the birth of modern life through 58 photographs by some 30 artists, including Eugène Atget, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Eugène Druet, Lewis Hine, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Adolph de Meyer, Christian Schad, Morton Schamberg, Charles Sheeler, and Stanislaw Witkiewicz, among others. Drawn exclusively from the Museum's collection, the exhibition also features anonymous snapshots, séance photographs, and a family album made by Russian nobility on the eve of revolution. "Our Future Is In The Air" complements the Museum's concurrent presentation of groundbreaking photographs by Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Paul Strand in the exhibition Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand. The exhibition's title is taken from a pamphlet for military aviation that figures prominently (in French) in a 1912 Cubist tabletop still-life by Picasso, but is used here because of its double meaning: the feelings of excitement and anxiety that accompanied such radical change.
"Our Future Is In The Air" opens in dramatic fashion with a series of photographs showing moments in the funeral procession and burial of Leo Tolstoy on November 9, 1910. The great Russian novelist passed away just after walking away from his great wealth and literary fame to lead a life of Christian charity. Certain details that can be seen in the photo-postcards—such as whether or not to kneel by the grave—represented a long simmering struggle between old and new, spiritual and secular, that would lead to revolution seven years later.
As cameras became smaller, faster, and easier to operate, amateur photographers such as the child prodigy Jacques-Henri Lartigue pushed the medium in directions that trained photographers shied away from. Since Lartigue was only recognized much later as a key figure in photography, prints such as the ones included here—showing speeding motorcars—are exceedingly rare. Lartigue made one of his most memorable photographs, Le Grand Prix A.C.F. (1913), by swinging his camera in the same direction as the car, as it sped by.
The camera also afforded access to the previously invisible, whether capturing a broken leg bone, revealed in an X-ray from 1916 or the trajectory created by a simple change in body position, in a 1911 motion study by the Futurist artist Anton Giulio Bragaglia.
At the same time, photography became an agent of democratic communication, and documentary photographers used its growing influence to expose degrading conditions of workers, the injustice of child labor, and the devastation of war. Beginning in 1908, Lewis Hine made 5,000 photographs of children working in mills, sweatshops, factories, and street trades; six of his photographs will be featured in this exhibition, including Newsboy asleep on stairs with papers, Jersey City, New Jersey, February 1912. Hine's reports and slide lectures were meant to trigger a profound, empathetic response in the viewer.
During World War I, photography was utilized to document the mass casualties of mechanized warfare; in the exhibition, an affecting image from 1916, by an unknown artist, shows wounded French soldiers performing drills in the nave of the Grand Palais in Paris as part of their rehabilitation.
Also in the exhibition is an evocative 1918 photograph, again by an unknown artist, of Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks entertaining a huge crowd at a war bonds rally on Wall Street.
"Our Future Is In The Air" accompanies the exhibition Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand, which focuses on contemporaneous works by three modernist masters of American photography: Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Paul Strand. It includes photographs by several friends and compatriots of Alfred Stieglitz, from Adolph de Meyer, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Paul Haviland, and Karl Struss to Morton Schamberg and Charles Sheeler, in whose works one can trace the transition from soft focus Pictorialism to a harder-edged, more detached "straight photography."
"Our Future Is In The Air": Photographs from the 1910s is organized by Douglas Eklund, Associate Curator in the Metropolitan Museum's Department of Photographs.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Museum will offer gallery talks by Douglas Eklund on January 18, February 9, March 16, and April 1 at 11 a.m. In addition, on Friday, January 28 at 6 p.m., the Museum will screen the first four episodes of Louis Feuillade's Les Vampires, a 1915 serial about a brazen band of criminals, which was shot on the streets of Paris (113 min., silent with music track).
The exhibition will be featured on the Museum's website at www.metmuseum.org.
# # #
January 14, 2011