Critics’ Picks

Alfred Stieglitz, Old and New New York, 1910, photogravure, 13 1/16 x 10 1/16”.

Alfred Stieglitz, Old and New New York, 1910, photogravure, 13 1/16 x 10 1/16”.

New York

“Alfred Stieglitz New York”

South Street Seaport Museum
12 Fulton Street
September 15, 2010–January 10, 2011

The turn-of-the-century cameras included in this exhibition contextualize works such as Winter Fifth Avenue, 1893, which took Alfred Stieglitz hours in inclement weather to capture. Clearly Stieglitz also obsessed over the printing process for this image, as a photogravure, carbon print, and gelatin silver print are all on view, in which he tweaked the texture of the snow and the scale of the shadowy coachman within the image. Snow, steam, and smoke soften many of Stieglitz’s photographs, giving a scene like Icy Night, New York, 1897, an atmospheric sheen.

Stieglitz’s technical prowess is reinforced by the modernity of his subjects, which include street pavers, ferry boats, skyscrapers, and a train whose plumes of smoke mingle with clouds. In later works, Stieglitz documents the construction of buildings visible from his galleries, hotels, and apartments, as in From My Window at an American Place, Southwest, 1932, where the skeleton of the RKO Building at Rockefeller Center becomes part of a larger, nearly cubist cityscape of roofs, facades, and windows.

Organized by curator Bonnie Yochelson into three rooms of Stieglitz’s work and one of his peers’ output, the exhibition demonstrates Stieglitz’s reach not just as an artist but also as the visionary leader of the 291 gallery (whose cozy garret the exhibition mimics), the editor of Camera Work from 1903 to 1917 (a copy of which is on view), and a champion of a younger generation of artists, including Paul Strand, whose work is included in the show. The profusion of postcards, films, guidebooks, and stereographs in the last room demonstrate how New York became a commodifiable image for many artists. This proposition clashes with Stieglitz’s anticommercial ethos; his refusal is visible even in the way that weather, light, and geometry shape his practice.