Anita Ventura Mozley, founding curator of photography at the Stanford University Museum of Art and a leading expert on Eadweard Muybridge, died Saturday, January 23, 2010, of natural causes at her home in Menlo Park, CA. She was 81.
Soon after joining the museum as registrar, she recognized the significance of its comprehensive collection of Muybridge’s stop-motion photographs of the horse in motion, commissioned a century before by Governor Leland Stanford. She was named curator of photography in 1971, and the following year organized her most significant exhibition, “Eadweard Muybridge: The Stanford Years, 1872-1882.” It traveled nationally and internationally.
Reviewing the show during its New York stop in 1973, New York Times art critic Hilton Kramer recognized the quality of her accompanying exhibition catalogue, noting that she had “produced for the occasion an excellent scholarly catalogue that will be indispensable not only to Muybridge specialists but to everyone interested in the history of photography.”
Mozley later wrote the introductory text to Muybridge’s Complete Human and Animal Locomotion (Dover, 1979).
Active in the New York art scene of the 1950s as a writer, critic and painter, Mozley designed posters for the Leo Castelli Gallery, and came to know Jasper Johns. Years later, she donated to what is now known as Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center two U.L.A.E. lithographs Johns had inscribed to her.
She served as managing editor and West Coast correspondent for Arts Magazine from 1955 to 1964. With sculptor Sidney Geist, she produced an alternative arts newsletter, Scrap, from 1960 to 1962. Scrap grew out of their dissatisfaction with conventional art criticism and expressed, as Geist later wrote, “both a combativeness and an irreverence toward criticism itself.”
Moving to San Francisco in 1962, Mozley worked at the Maritime Museum before joining the Stanford Museum in 1970. Virtually overnight, she initiated the expansion of the museum’s collections to encompass the development of photography from its earliest days to the present. In addition to Muybridge, her research included Julia Margaret Cameron, Thomas Annan, Imogen Cunningham, Ansel Adams, Peter Stackpole, and Lorie Novak.
Mozley’s other memorable exhibitions included “Ansel Adams: The Portfolios,” 1972; “The Grand Tour: Mid-19th Century Photographs from the Leonard-Peil Collection,” 1979; “Paintings by Joseph Raphael,” 1980; “Ansel Adams: Ski Experience,” 1983; and “Images of Hope and Despair: Robert Frank’s Photographs,” 1985. For her 1974 exhibition “Mrs. Cameron’s Photographs from the Life,” Mozley staged at the museum Virginia Woolf’s play “Freshwater: A Comedy” casting herself as the main character, Julia Margaret Cameron, who was Woolf’s great-aunt.
Of her work at Stanford, Jed Pearl, art critic of The New Republic, said she would be remembered for her “pioneering scholarly work” on Muybridge, which “like all of Anita’s undertakings, were fueled by an artist’s sensibility.” Noting that Mozley got her start in “mid-century bohemian New York” and was an editor of the “legendary artists’ magazine” Scrap, he said that she “never lost her gloriously old-fashioned faith in the imperatives of the imagination.”
“For Anita, seriousness and playfulness were two sides of a single equation, and she explored that magnificent equation in her studies of Muybridge and everything else she ever did,” Perl said.
Anita Ventura was born Aug. 29, 1928, in Washington, D.C., to Mario and Juanita Ventura, and grew up in Rochester, N.Y. In 1950, she earned a B.A. in art, with honors, from Northwestern University; she also was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In 1950-52, she studied with Morris Kantor at the Art Students League in New York City.
The family prefers contributions to the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), 222 High St., Palo Alto, CA 94301, or the Smile Train, 41 Madison Ave., 28th Floor, New York, NY 10010.