As history runs its course, the grandeur of buildings and sprawling empires, like the great men and women who build them, rises, falls and rises again with the tides of time --- and since the dawn of civilization, mankind has gone to great lengths to document that process through art.
With the advent of photography in the late 19th century, humanity gained the ability to turn a lens on history to capture these moments --- from the construction of the Eiffel Tower in 1888 to the fall of the World Trade Center in 2001 --- with a level of precision and clarity that forever changed the manner in which art documents history.
On Nov. 9, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art debuts the first exhibition of the 2012-2013 Art of Our Time season with The Warren J. and Margot Coville Photography Collection exhibition, a showcase of more than 90 photographs that document iconic moments in late 19th through early 21st century history captured through the lens of some of the world’s most renowned photographers.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, André Kertész, August Sander, Eugene Atget, Berenice Abbott, Alfred Eisenstaedt, George Brassaï, Ansel Adams and Barbara Morgan rank among more than 50 photographers whose work is featured in the exhibition.
“The Coville Photography Collection exhibition is such a powerful and moving show,” Steven High, Executive Director for the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art stated in a Nov. 6 press release.
“It is a riveting account of recent world events and iconic moments taken by key photographers of this and the past century. These artists witnessed and captured history for this and future generations. I anticipate the images on view will have a deep and lasting impression, touching off a wide range of emotions for our visitors.”
Although some splashes of color photography are present in the exhibition, the Coville Photography Collection primarily consists of black and white images.
Landscapes such as the sublime American west photographed by Ansel Adams are featured in the exhibition alongside images by photographers such as Eugene Atget and Berenice Abbott, who captured the construction of great world metropolises such as Paris and New York City.
Portraits of great historical figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Winston Churchill also line the walls alongside iconic images of historical events, such as the first meeting between Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini and the moment when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald.
Chilling images from a century's-worth of tragedy, from the Hindenburg zeppelin disaster in 1937 to the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, are tempered by photographs of grace and hope, such as Barbara Morgan’s "Kick," featuring dancer Martha Graham performing her "Letter to the World" and Cartier-Bresson’s pictures of children in the streets of Paris.
“Contemporary art often causes a great deal of anxiety because it is the mirror the artist holds to our society,” said Ringling’s Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Matthew McLendon. “This exhibition provides the benefit of historical perspective as we revisit some of these images.”The exhibition is made possible by the generous gift of more than 1,000 photographs to the museum by Warren and Margot Coville. Approximately 90 of those photos will be featured in the exhibition, and the museum is still in the process of cataloguing and organizing the rest.
“The exhibition documents monumental shifts in global politics and national identities, as well as showing examples of significant developments in art history and photographic technologies,” McLendon said in the Nov. 6 press release.
“With their gift to the Ringling Museum, Warren and Margot Coville have created an enduring legacy that will enable the exploration of the photographic arts at the Ringling for generations to come. It is truly an encyclopedic resource from which to grow the museum’s burgeoning photography collection.”
Coville, who worked as a war photographer on a B-17 bomber during World War II and later as a traveling portrait photographer and co-founder of ABC Photography, is also celebrated for his contributions to the art world as a collector and philanthropist. He began collecting fine art photography in the 1970s before shifting the focus of his collection to photojournalism.
“It was a very organic transition,” McLendon said. “As [Coville] educated himself about collecting photography, he began to notice a body of work that was not getting much attention --- photojournalism. For several years, Coville and his personal curator wrote directly to news agencies and photographers and acquired archival images to create a very comprehensive collection.”
The Warren and Margot Coville Photography Collection exhibition opens to the public on Nov. 9 and will run through Feb. 3, 2013. In addition to the exhibition, Ringling Museum will also provide a variety of enriching programs and discussions centered around the art of photography.
A Conversation with the Collector: Warren J. Coville, featuring a discussion between Coville and McLendon, takes place in the historic Asolo Theatre on Wed., Nov. 14 at 7:30pm. The museum will also host a Photography on Film documentary series that focuses on photographers featured in the exhibition. Ringling’s Monday Night Movies film series, titled Exposed!: The Photographer in the Cinematic Imagination, takes place throughout November and December focuses on photographic themes. Furthermore, the Gallery Walk and Talks in November and January will include conversations with local photographers, Peter Acker and Sally Pettibon.
For more information about dates, times and ticket prices for the exhibition and its related programming, click here.