The Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University has been awarded a $250,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. The grant will allow the museum to hire a three-year, limited-term Assistant Curator of Photography and two part-time student support staff to conduct research and photography on the museum’s Henry Holmes Smith Archive.
Acquired in 1979, the archive, which is comprised of more than 5,000 items, represents the largest holding of work by Henry Holmes Smith (American, 1909–1986), a leading American modernist photographer. A founder of the Society for Photographic Education, Smith trained many prominent photography professors like Jack Welpott, Robert Forth, Betty Hahn, and Jerry Uelsmann, primarily at Indiana University where he taught for thirty years. Some have called Smith the “father of American photographic education.” Along with presenting a sweeping overview of Smith’s career, the archive includes numerous examples by his students, peers, and influential friends, including Ansel Adams, Minor White, and Aaron Siskind.
In addition to his role as a noted teacher and theorist, Smith was an innovator in the field of camera-less photography. Using the simplest of tools—a sheet of glass with a mixture of water and corn syrup poured on it to refract light—he created photograms that were then transferred into multilayered color prints. As Nan Brewer, the Eskenazi Museum’s Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Works on Paper and the project’s director, notes: “A renewed interest in alternative processes by a new generation of photographers makes this the perfect moment for a reappraisal of Smith’s work. His fluid, expressionistic images reflect the energy and revolutionary spirit of the 1950s, ’60, and ‘70s, while suggesting a universality based in mythology, Jungian philosophy, and fairy tales.”
The Assistant Curator of Photography will complete a three-year project that will include extensive research, cataloguing, digital preservation, and preparation for an exhibition and catalogue of Smith’s work. The project will also enable the Eskenazi Museum to increase knowledge and awareness of this important collection by providing online access to the IU community, scholars, and the general public.
The Henry Holmes Smith project represents a major step in the Eskenazi Museum’s continued emphasis on the area of photography. The museum houses more than 12,000 photographs, including the archives of Henry Holmes Smith and Art Sinsabaugh, examples by mid-nineteenth-century photographic pioneers, and works by many leading modernist photographers. Recent acquisitions include prints by Jen Davis, Emmet Gowin, Robert Mapplethorpe, Rania Matar, Vik Muniz, and Hiroshi Sugimoto, as well as a unique hand-painted photograph by Gerhard Richter.
The Eskenazi Museum has a stellar history in the exhibition, research, and publication of photography. Its first photographic exhibition was held in 1948, one year after Smith came to Indiana University. Since then, the museum has had more than sixty exhibitions focused solely or largely on the medium, including a nationally touring Sinsabaugh retrospective, and most recently an exhibition and catalogue, A Shared Elegy, featuring work by Emmet Gowin, Elijah Gowin, Osamu James Nakagawa, and Takayuki Ogawa (in conjunction with IU’S Grunwald Gallery of Art). A future retrospective of photographer Jack Welpott is also planned.
The Eskenazi Museum of Art is currently undergoing a $30 million renovation of its I. M. Pei–designed building. Scheduled to reopen in fall 2019, the renovated building will house a new Works-on-Paper Center featuring a designated gallery for the exhibition of photography and other works on paper, a viewing room, and expanded storage. The Henry Holmes Smith project represents the most recent in a series of new initiatives by the Eskenazi Museum of Art, which include multiyear partnerships with Tsinghua University Art Museum in Beijing, China, and the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky.
The Eskenazi Museum will begin the search for a new Assistant Curator of Photography early next year and plans to complete this phase of the project by 2022. A second phase will include the implementation of the Henry Holmes Smith retrospective exhibition and catalogue.
About the Henry Luce Foundation
Established in 1936, the Henry Luce Foundation seeks to bring important ideas to the center of American life, strengthen international understanding, and foster innovation and leadership in academic, policy, religious, and art communities. A leading arts funder in the United States, the Foundation’s American Art Program was created in 1982 to support museums, arts organizations, and universities in their efforts to advance the understanding and experience of American and Native American visual arts through research, exhibitions, publications, and collection projects.