An exhibition “Edward Steichen. Photography” (from 27 June to 6 September 2015, at the Arsenāls Exhibition Hall of the Latvian National Museum of Art in Riga) catalogue in Latvian and English, prepared by the Latvian National Museum of Art in collaboration with the Neputns Publishers.
Introducing this Luxembourg-born artist, who emigrated to America, to the Latvian public solely as a photographer would be to tell only half the story – excluding a great many episodes in his life, which was so full of experimentation and adventure. A painter, photographer, designer, curator, museum worker, new talent scout, also a professional gardener – these are just some of the activities and positions that constitute the mosaic of Edward Steichen’s personality. Steichen believed that art should be a citizen of the world, which the artist does not attempt to limit to a narrow field. He was active in many different fields and styles, and developed in synchrony with the rhythm of the age.
Edward Steichen may be numbered among the representatives of Pictorialism, Symbolism and Modernism; he was also a master of celebrity portraiture and cultivator of commercial and documentary photography. His contemporaries and friends which included well-known artists, writers, actors, critics, politicians and businessmen, have dubbed Steichen variously – as the America’s enfant terrible; the “Commander with camera”; a spiritual leader; a spearhead in discussion on photography, and a “hybrid” (referring to artist’s interest in plant hybridisation). The legendary art critic Clement Greenberg simultaneously condemned and extolled the photographer.
Eighty-six photographies by Edward Steichen are being shown in the catalogue. They represent the early period of the artist’s work, the most vivid point of reference being his return to Europe in 1900 and his life in Paris; as well as his mature years, when Steichen worked for the New York publishing house Condé Nast, providing portraits of celebrities and fashion photography for such magazines as Vanity Fair and Vogue.
The images also include documentation of everyday life and scenes from the family album, permitting an insight into aspects of the artist’s life that existed in parallel with his intensive professional working process. Among the portraits of relatives and friends there are images of photographer Alfred Stieglitz and American poet Carl Sandburg. Neither is it possible to present the collection and the story behind it without exploring the theme of nature and light, which, along with the “Great Men” series of portraits, gradually became for Steichen the main source of information and basis of the artist’s values during the course of his life.
Text by Šelda Puķīte.