The Spirit of 291 Exhibition Celebrates Centennial of Alfred Stieglitz’s Gallery that Revolutionized American Art

Release date: 
August 2, 2005

FORT WORTH, Texas --- On August 13, the Amon Carter Museum presents The Spirit of 291, a permanent collection installation of 23 works that celebrates the centennial of the founding of photographer Alfred Stieglitz’s Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, known as 291 from its address on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Several works that are known to have been exhibited at the gallery will be on display in one of the Carter’s photography galleries, a space that is only slightly larger than the 15-foot-square main room at 291. Stieglitz and his associate, the painter and photographer Edward Steichen, founded the gallery on November 25, 1905. In operation for only 12 years, 291 was home to a series of innovative exhibitions devoted to European and American vanguard art that ultimately changed the face of American art forever. The Spirit of 291 runs through February 5, 2006.

“Steiglitz’s gallery provided a very special environment for artists and photographers to encounter new ideas about art in the 20th century,” said Rebecca Lawton, curator of paintings and sculpture. “His exhibitions were provocative and ultimately proved incredibly stimulating to artists, as well as to critics and collectors, who were interested in advancing modern culture in America. ”

A man of enormous energy and intellect, Stieglitz originally opened the gallery to present photography as an independent art form, distinct from but related to the other arts. He operated it less as a commercial venture than as a platform for new ideas, an endeavor dedicated to establishing a modern vision in America.

During the gallery’s early years, Stieglitz and Steichen mounted exhibitions that featured their own works as well as those of other Photo-Secessionists, such as Frank Eugene, Gertrude Käsebier, and George Seeley. By 1908, Stieglitz’s interests had advanced enough that he began to introduce an unusual mix of photographic and nonphotographic exhibitions into the roster. The gallery featured the work of contemporary European artists such as Constantine Brancusi, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Auguste Rodin. These groundbreaking exhibitions proved a revelation to Americans unfamiliar with abstract art and, most especially, radical depictions of the female nude. By 1913 the gallery was known simply as 291 and had become what one contemporary critic described as “a hothouse for artistic anarchy.”

As 291 evolved, Stieglitz increasingly focused his attention on the work of young American artists such as Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Paul Strand and Georgia O’Keeffe (whom Stieglitz married in 1924). This exhibition pays homage to these and other artists and traces 291’s trajectory as Stieglitz changed its mission from a gallery devoted to pictorial photography to America’s foremost venue for modernism. Also included in the exhibition are several issues of 291, the publication that Stieglitz and his colleagues launched in March 1915.

Stieglitz closed the gallery in June of 1917, two months after the United States declared war on Germany. This exhibition’s assessment of the gallery’s remarkable 12-year run reveals that Stieglitz’s vision remains as vital today as it did 100 years ago.

Also opening on August 13 in the Carter’s Focus on Photographs gallery is Into the Night, a captivating group of photographs by such artists as Carlotta Corpron and Carl Mydans that are drawn from the Amon Carter Museum ’s permanent collection and highlights the various techniques, subjects, and processes used by artists to create images in a nocturnal setting.

Attempts at night photography began in the mid-19th century, more as technical experiments than artistic endeavors. These “night” photographs were often made during daylight hours within a controlled studio setting with artificial lighting; the level of illumination in a true night setting was inadequate for the slow-reacting negatives then available. Genuine nocturnal photography became an artistic genre in the early 20th century with the invention of faster film that allowed photographs to produce the subtle shifts of light veiled in darkness.

Adding to the inherent drama of night images are the artist’s individual point of view and choice of technique, subject, and printing process. The photographers represented in this show each used a slightly different technique to produce the delicate gradations of tone in their work. Some waited long hours to register a particular view. The suggestion of the unknown in nocturnal photographs calls to mind the fundamental and mysterious nature of the photographic process itself, which causes images to be rendered by the action of light on light-sensitive surfaces.