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Major Donation to MoMA Spotlights a Century of Women Photographers

Newly announced gift of 100 works by 76 artists runs the gamut from photojournalism to experimental images

Left: Cara Romero, Wakeah, 2018, and right: Flor Garduño, Reina (Queen), 1989 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Helen Kornblum in honor of Roxana Marcoci. © 2021 Cara Romero / Gift of Helen Kornblum in honor of Roxana Marcoci. © 2021 Flor Garduño)
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Psychotherapist Helen Kornblum has collected works by women photographers for decades. Now, she’s donated 100 of these images to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City.

As Cassie Packard reports for Hyperallergic, the 76 artists featured in the collection include early Modernists, photojournalists and experimental artists active today. Kornblum made the donation in honor of Roxana Marcoci, MoMA’s senior curator of photography; in a statement, the collector praises Marcoci’s “brilliant writings and exhibitions often about women artists.”

Marcoci, for her part, says in the statement that “[t]he collection raises a whole set of questions.”

She adds, “How do we go about unsettling established art historical narratives? Unfixing the canon? Researching counter-histories? This gift offers the perfect platform to examine women photographers’ self-agency within a diversity of artistic strategies and activate new readings about their contributions to contemporary culture.”

Susan Meiselas, A Funeral Procession in Jinotepe for Assassinated Student Leaders. Demonstrators Carry a Photograph of Arlen Siu, an FSLN Guerilla Fighter Killed in the Mountains Three Years Earlier, 1978 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Helen Kornblum in honor of Roxana Marcoci. © 2021 Susan Meiselas)
Tatiana Parcero, Interior Cartography #35, 1996 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Helen Kornblum in honor of Roxana Marcoci. © 2021 Tatiana Parcero)
Sharon Lockhart, Untitled, 2010 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Helen Kornblum in honor of Roxana Marcoci. © Sharon Lockhart, Courtesy the artist, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels,and neugerriemschneider, Berlin)

Many of the artists whose work constitutes the collection will be familiar to frequent MoMA visitors, writes Alex Greenberger for ARTnews. Among these are Dora Maar, Susan Meiselas, Lorna Simpson, Louise Lawler and Sharon Lockhart. Others are new to the museum, including Cara Romero, a Chemehuevi photographer whose work often focuses on Indigenous people. Her featured snapshot, Wakeah (2018), is part of the series First American Girl, which puts real, modern women in human-size doll boxes.

“The First American Girl series is an examination of past misrepresentation of Indigenous women as dolls, and it's meant to reclaim an identity,” Romero told Native News Online’s Tamara Ikenberg in August. “It was a conscious decision to make sure not everything looks historic, so that psychologically when people see them, they immediately understand these are modern contemporary peoples, and living peoples. It’s not a photogravure from the 1850s.”

Other works gifted include Hungarian-born Surrealist Kati Horna’s Doll Parts (1938) and Reina (Queen), a 1989 silver print by Flor Garduño, who studied with Horna in Mexico.

Lola Alvarez Bravo, Frida Kahlo, 1945 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Helen Kornblum in honor of Roxana Marcoci. © Center for Creative Photography (CCP), University of Arizona, Tucson)
Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob), M.R.M (Sex), c. 1929-30 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Helen Kornblum in honor of Roxana Marcoci)
Frances Benjamin Johnston, Penmanship Class, 1899 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Helen Kornblum in honor of Roxana Marcoci)

Per Hyperallergic, a second artistic friendship underscored by the collection is that of Frida Kahlo and Mexican photographer and gallerist Lola Álvarez Bravo, who gave Kahlo her only solo show in Mexico during her lifetime. As Madeline Barnes wrote in a 2017 blog post for the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Álvarez Bravo captured numerous portraits of Kahlo, in addition to directing a never-finished film featuring the artist. A 1945 Álvarez Bravo portrait of the Mexican Modernist is part of Kornblum’s donation.

The art included in the trove spans more than a century, from Frances Benjamin Johnston’s 1899 image of a school classroom, titled Penmanship Class, to many 20th-century images and some from recent years.

Kornblum joined MoMa’s photography committee in 2014, working alongside Marcoci, who has been curating MoMA exhibitions since 1999. In 2017, Marcoci organized Lawler’s first New York museum show, “Why Pictures Now,” which featured four decades of the artist’s work.

The museum will include the photographs in installations and encourage their use in collaborative research and study projects. It is planning a 2022 exhibition featuring works drawn from the gift, as well as a scholarly catalog to accompany the show.

About Livia Gershon
Livia Gershon

Livia Gershon is a freelance journalist based in New Hampshire. She has written for JSTOR Daily, the Daily Beast, the Boston Globe, HuffPost, and Vice, among others.

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