Borrowed Light celebrates a transformative gift of over 500 photographs to the Tang Teaching Museum from photographer, curator, and collector Jack Shear. The exhibition features a selection of works chosen by Dayton Director Ian Berry in collaboration with Shear. A fully illustrated catalogue will be forthcoming.
Shear’s extensive donation serves as a visual history of photography from its inception in the 1840s to the present day. The collection chronicles different photographic processes, techniques, and artistic approaches from an early half-plate ambrotype of Niagara Falls to a Polaroid auto-portrait by a young Robert Mapplethorpe. Historic works include important examples by photographic pioneers such as Diane Arbus, Eugène Atget, Aaron Siskind, Alfred Stieglitz, and Minor White.
Human sexuality has long been a subject of interest for Shear, and his gift is rich in photographs dealing with social constructions of masculinity, the male body, and gender expression. Many of the photographs comment on the body as a physical landscape, and sexual expression in public and private spheres.
Important photographers include Bruce Davidson, Eliot Erwitt, Nan Goldin, Peter Hujar, William Klein, Helen Levitt, George Platt Lynes, Sally Mann, Richard Misrach, Catherine Opie, Edmund Teske, Bruce Weber, and Joel Peter Witkin. Many works in Shear’s collection hold significant personal meaning, making the exhibition both a look at the history of photography, and also a reflection of Shear’s collecting eye and aesthetic as a photographer himself.
The exhibition and entire collection will support research and analysis by students and faculty working in a range of disciplines, from Art History and Studio Art, to History and Gender Studies, or from Environmental Studies and Biology to Media, Film and Documentary Studies. A sizable collection of photographs by Lewis Hine, for example, is useful for investigating how images can impact government and policy.
Eadweard Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion in the 1880s, represented in twelve examples, is a forbearer to the moving image. The impressive collection of astronomy photographs, includes images of plaster moons, the earliest star atlases, and photographs from Apollo 11’s trip to the moon demonstrates the integration of art and science.
Shear has a long history with the Tang; Shear and Berry co-curated the two-part exhibition, Twice Drawn (2006). This gift emphasizes Shear’s belief in the teaching mission of the Tang, and his donation will provide boundless opportunities for future interdisciplinary learning and discovery.
The salon-style presentation in the back of the gallery includes one wall that changed during the exhibition. Skidmore art history students in Professor Mimi Hellman’s class, “Framing Photography” (AH 321), were invited to re-hang a wall after researching the collection, meeting with Jack Shear, and investigating the history of photography. The rehang opened May 13 and remains on view for the duration of the exhibition.
As the culminating project for Professor Mimi Hellman’s art history seminar, “Framing Photography,” we were given the chance to re-curate a wall in the Borrowed Light exhibition. We used this opportunity to focus on three curatorial issues: the presence of the wall as negative (or positive) space; the relationship between images and their arrangement in space; and how these decisions affect museumgoers. By decentering the artworks on the wall, we granted the wall an active presence; and by integrating aspects seen in both traditionally linear and clustered salon style hangs, we established connections not only between the photographs on our wall but also with the rest of the show. Through these curatorial decisions, we hope that the viewers will become more aware of the ways that curators shape the gallery space and the viewer experience.
The body is an important motif throughout Jack Shear’s collection. We were interested in considering the dichotomy between the “open” and the “closed” body, and how that can be communicated through curatorial choices. Those bodies that we consider “open” were placed in an “open” configuration, while those that we read as “closed” were grouped more tightly together. The goal was not to dictate exactly how to understand the wall, but to explore the ways in which these bodies interact with each other in their cluster, on the adjacent walls, and with the empty space in the center.
—Melia Coletta ‘17, Jennifer Davies ‘17, Elena Nogara ‘16