Beauty, Humor, and Social Justice: Gifts from Joan Morgenstern

MFAH Presents Beauty, Humor, and Social Justice: Gifts from Joan Morgenstern May 22–August 21, 2011

Exhibition of 52 Photographs Showcases Collector Morgenstern’s Gifts to the MFAH Over 25 Years

Houston—May 2011—The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), presents Beauty, Humor and Social Justice: Gifts from Joan Morgenstern, opening Sunday, May 22, 2011, in the Cameron Gallery of the Audrey Jones Beck Building. The exhibition showcases just over 50 photographs of over 1,000 images given to the museum from the preeminent collection of Houston collector and philanthropist Joan Morgenstern. Morgenstern is the founding president of the MFAH Photo Forum and chair of the MFAH subcommittee for Photography Accessions. The title of the exhibition identifies the themes that dominate Morgenstern’s collecting: beauty, humor and social justice. The exhibition primarily focuses on photographs created from the 1980s to today, while also highlighting some of the classic masters that informed Morgenstern’s early collecting. The works will be on view through August 21, 2011.

"Joan Morgenstern is an untiring champion of the field of photography and has a distinctive eye for recognizing emergent talent,” said Gwendolyn H. Goffe, MFAH interim director. “MFAH has been privileged to work with her for over 20 years and are pleased to showcase 52 of the finest photographs that she has given to the museum.”

“Joan Morgenstern is a community-minded person and works with many institutions to support the groups of people that she is dedicated to,” said Anne Wilkes Tucker, The MFAH Gus and Lyndall Wortham curator of photography. “Beauty, Humor and Social Justice illustrates the depth and breadth of her collecting and is also a testament to her generosity.”

Over the years Morgenstern has helped bring some 1,100 photographs into the MFAH collection by either acting as sole or partial funder, and has instigated an ongoing gift program. Her major gifts to the museum predominantly feature the works of early- and mid-career photographers. By committing to key artists early on in their careers, the MFAH often receives later gifts from the photographers themselves, including the recent gift of eleven pictures by renowned photojournalist Simon Norfolk. Additional contemporary photographers that Morgenstern collects in depth include Keith Carter, Vincent Cianni, Earlie Hudnall, Ray K. Metzker and Frank Yamus.

About the Exhibition
The exhibition is loosely organized around the themes central to Morgenstern’s collecting. The “Social Justice” theme runs throughout a number of the photographs, such as Israeli photographer Natan Dvir’s 2006 Amona. The image shows armed, uniformed Israeli border police on horseback, sent to destroy “illegal” homes, clashing with a mob of young Jewish settlers. A stark black-and-white photograph of a line of poplars in the snow, by Simon Norfolk, is seemingly innocent but marks the route by which millions of Armenians were forced to march to their death by Ottoman armies in 1915. And Jonothan C. Torgovnik’s 2006 Justine with her daughter Alice, Gahini, Rwanda, shows a Rwandan woman with a child she bore after being raped (just one of an estimated 20,000 children resulting from sexual crimes during the genocide).

The darkness in the exhibition is countered by humor—much of it centered on pet owners. George S. Zimbel’s Dog and Cat, Bona Fide Farm (1976) pictures a small kitten scrambling up a screen door and a much larger dog, standing against the door and looking up at its escaped prey. A whimsical photograph by Karl Biden depicts a dog with two black spots, one of which is a graphic circle floating half on the dog and half in space. And in Robert and His Watchdogs, Beford Avenue Tire Shop (1996), by Vincent Cianni, two dogs defy gravity by hanging from a man’s back.

Finally, in “Beauty,” Keith Carter’s enigmatic Fireflies (1992) is imbued with the magic of childhood and shows two young boys in a creek, leaning over a jar aglow with light from fireflies. Wonder Wheel, Brooklyn (2001), by Beth Block, is a colorful, light-filled photograph of the iconic Coney Island Ferris wheel, shot against the murky night sky and framed by light-dappled tree branches.

Joan Morgenstern
Houstonian Joan Morgenstern began to collect photography in 1985 while enrolled in a photo history class taught at the MFAH Glassell School of Art by photographer Sally Gall, whose work is represented in the exhibition. At first Morgenstern focused on images by the classic masters, including Harry Callahan, André Kertész, and Bill Brandt.  But her interest turned to contemporary photographers when Houston FotoFest hosted its first international photography biennial in 1986, providing Morgenstern with the opportunity to talk directly with artists about their work. Some photographs she purchased for her own collection, while she gave others directly to the MFAH or to Congregation Emanu El, where she is a curator of the temple’s art collection. In 1988, Morgenstern became the founding president of Photo Forum, the support group for the MFAH Photography Collection. From 1991 to 1993 she served as the President of the Board of Houston Center for Photography. In 1997, she joined the MFAH Subcommittee for Photography Accessions, and currently serves as its Chair.  In July 2011, she will begin her first term as an MFAH Trustee.

Exhibition Organization
This exhibition was organized by Anne Wilkes Tucker, The Gus and Lyndall Wortham curator of photography, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, with the assistance of Natalie Zelt, MFAH photography curatorial assistant.

Upcoming Exhibitions at the MFAH
Charles LeDray: workworkworkworkwork May 15–September 11, 2011
Titian and the Golden Age of Venetian Painting: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland May 22–August 14, 2011
Helmut Newton: White Women Sleepless Nights • Big Nudes July 3–September 25, 2011

MFAH Collections
Founded in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is among the ten largest art museums in the United States. Located in the heart of Houston’s Museum District, the MFAH comprises two gallery buildings, a sculpture garden, library, theater, two art schools, and two house museums.The encyclopedic collection of the MFAH has some 63,000 works and embraces the art of antiquity to the present.

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