A major new exhibition which draws from one of the world’s greatest private collections of photography and presents an unrivalled selection of classic modernist images from the 1920s to the 1950s – a crucial moment in the history of the medium. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see remarkable works up-close by more than sixty artists including seminal figures such as Man Ray, André Kertész,Berenice Abbott, Alexandr Rodchenko and Edward Steichen. Featuring over 150 works, the exhibition consists entirely of rare vintage prints.
As life underwent rapid changes in the twentieth century, photography offered a new means to communicate and represent the world. Timeless genres of the portrait, nude and still life were reimagined, and street life and the modern metropolis were explored through the camera. The quality and depth of the collection on display in the exhibition tells the story of photography from the period for the first time in the UK.
Sir Elton John stated; “It is a great honour for David and I to lend part of our collection to Tate Modern for this groundbreaking exhibition. The modernist era in photography is one of the key moments within the medium and collecting work from this period has brought me great joy over the last 25 years. Each of these photographs serves as inspiration for me in my life; they line the walls of my homes and I consider them precious gems. We are thrilled to be part of this collaboration with Tate Modern and hope that the exhibition audience experiences as much joy in seeing the works as I have had in finding them”.
The exhibition features portraits of great cultural figures of the 20th century, including Georgia O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston by Tina Modotti, Jean Cocteau by Berenice Abbott and Igor Stravinsky by Edward Weston, the exhibition will give insight into the relationships and inner circles of the avant-garde. An incredible group of Man Ray portraits will be exhibited together for the first time, having been brought together by Sir Elton John over the past twenty-five years, depicting key surrealist figures such as Andre Breton and Max Ernst alongside artists including Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar. Ground-breaking experimentation both in the darkroom and on the surface of the print, such as Herbert Bayer’s photomontage and Maurice Tabard’s solarisation, will examine how artists pushed the accepted conventions of portraiture.
As life underwent rapid changes in the 20th century, photography offered a new means to communicate and represent the world. Alexandr Rodchenko, László Moholy-Nagy and Margaret Bourke-White employed the ‘worm’s eye’ and ‘bird’s eye’ views to create new perspectives of the modern metropolis – techniques associated with constructivism and the Bauhaus. The move towards abstraction will also be charted, from isolated architectural elements to camera-less photography such as Man Ray’s rayographs and Harry Callahan’s light abstractions.
Further themes explored in the exhibition will include new approaches to capturing the human form, highlighted in rare masterpieces such as André Kertész’s Underwater Swimmer, Hungary 1917, while Imogen Cunningham’s Magnolia Blossom, Tower of Jewels 1925 and Tina Modotti’s Bandelier, Corn and Sickle 1927 will feature in a large presentation dedicated to the Still Life. The important role of documentary photography as a tool of mass communication will be demonstrated in Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother 1936 and Walker Evans’ Floyde Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama 1936, from the Farm Security Administration project.
“This will be a truly unique exhibition. There are few collections of modernist photography in the UK, so we are delighted that Sir Elton John has allowed us to draw on his incredible collection and give everyone a chance to see these iconic works. Coming face-to-face with such masterpieces of photography will be a rare and rewarding experience”. – Nicholas Serota, Director, Tate