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“Shape of Light”Exhibition Honors 20 Years of Support by the Vassar College Advisory Council for Photography

About 4,500 of the more than 20,000 works of art at Vassar College’s Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center are photographs—a few of them older than the college itself.  This fall, the museum will host one of its largest exhibitions dedicated entirely to photography. Shape of Light: Defining Photographs from the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, opens on September 20, and a reception will be held on October 12 from 4:00 to 7:00pm with a lecture by Carol Squiers—who served as curator at the International Center for Photography in New York City from 2000 to 2017—at 5:30pm. The lecture, “Expanding the Canon: Photography in a New Century,” and the reception are free and open to the public.

Candida Höfer (German, born 1944), Neue Hofburg, Wien IX, 1995, C-print
Purchase, Advisory Council for Photography, 2006.7. © Candida Höfer/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Mary-Kay Lombino, the museum’s Emily Hargroves Fisher ’57 and Richard B. Fisher Curator and Assistant Director for Strategic Planning, curated the exhibition to mark the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Vassar College Advisory Council for Photography. The council enables the museum to acquire photographs for its collection through annual dues and other donations by its members.

 “The Art Center’s photography collection has grown enormously since the photography council was formed in 1999,” Lombino says. “With all the photographic images that are being captured and shared on smartphones these days, there is widespread interest in photography as an art form, but there’s something to be said for seeing so many carefully selected works on view in one exhibition.”

The exhibition includes 125 works on view in five galleries. While most of the photographs in the exhibition were conceived as works of fine art, a selection of documentary and vernacular photographs allows for a striking point of comparison. “I wanted to choose some defining photographs that set our collection apart from others,” Lombino says.

Photographers represented in the show include Margaret Bourke-White, Richard Avedon, Gordon Parks, Alfred Stieglitz, Harry Callahan, Larry Fink, Cindy Sherman, Katy Grannan, and Tina Barney.

Based not on chronology or theme, the Shape of Light exhibition instead seeks new insights into well-known artists’ work from the genesis of photography in the 19th century through the present by featuring lesser-known images and recently acquired works never before exhibited in the Art Center’s galleries.

The show will include Polaroids, postcards, snapshots from family albums, and some old daguerreotypes, in addition to landscapes, still lifes, portraits, and some abstract works that examine the “shape of light and shadows,” Lombino says. The exhibition will include a recently acquired whole-plate daguerreotype made in roughly 1850, about a decade after the daguerreotype was invented.

Thanks to the generosity of a member of the Advisory Council, Anne Hoy ’63, Vassar students now have the opportunity to explore the world of photography in a more formal way. Hoy has provided the funding for a course on the history of photography taught annually by Adjunct Assistant Professor of Art Emily Voelker.

In an essay penned to mark the council’s 20th anniversary, Hoy writes about the group’s unique contributions to the museum and to the college: “Several stars aligned for photography at Vassar just before the millennium. In spring 1999, the Advisory Council for Photography held its first meeting, in New York City. Its convictions were quickly validated: advisors shared expertise, collecting experience, connections, and capital that could substantially aid the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center’s curators and photography acquisitions.”

Support for the exhibition was provided by the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Charina Foundation, and the Hoene Hoy Photography Endowment Fund, with additional gifts from Michael and Joyce (’61) Axelrod, James Kloppenburg ’77, Elizabeth Cabot Lyman ’64, and Bryna Sweedler ’61.