With its director calling it "a dream come true", this week the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired the Gilman Paper Company's photography collection, which consists of more than 1,350 stand-alone photographs and photographic albums--comprising more than 8,500 individual photographs in total. The collection was widely considered to be one of the most important such private collections in the world. Estimates of its value have been placed as high as $100 million.
The museum and the Howard Gilman Foundation would not say how much the collection cost or how much of it was a gift, citing a legal agreement between the museum and the Howard Gilman Foundation which prohibited disclosing the dollar value. Malcolm Daniel, curator in charge of the Department of Photography at the Met, did tell me, "A significant portion of the collection (a group of images, not a percentage) is a gift of the Howard Gilman Foundation, and the credit line for those images will so note."
For tax purposes, it is often common for gifts to minimize the tax consequences of the purchase price by roughly 30% of the purchase.
The "dream come true" was very nearly a nightmare for the Met. Gilman died nearly seven years ago and it was expected then that the collection would quickly go to the Met. Instead lengthy negotiations began with Gilman's estate and his foundation. It has been reported that the Museum of Modern Art and the National Gallery of Art in Washington were also interested in the collection, but agreed not to pursue it while talks continued with the Met. Many observers thought that the slow progress behind the scenes meant that the Met would not get the collection, but in the end the Met became the home for this very important and cohesive group of images, which had been formed almost in concert with the Met's staff, Howard Gilman and his curator Pierre Apraxine.
Philippe de Montebello, director of the Metropolitan, noted that, in addition to allocations from the Museum's general art acquisition funds, including the Rogers Fund, major gifts in support of the Gilman acquisition were received from Joyce F. Menschel, a museum trustee and chair of the Department of Photographs visiting committee, and the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee; Harriette and Noel Levine; Mr. and Mrs. Andrew M. Saul; Mrs. Walter H. Annenberg and the Annenberg Foundation; Joseph M. Cohen; Jennifer and Joseph Duke; Mr. and Mrs. Henry R. Kravis; Cynthia Hazen Polsky; and, collectively, the Alfred Stieglitz Society, the Friends group that supports the activities and acquisitions of the Department of Photographs. He also noted generous and timely support from the William Talbott Hillman Foundation; Robert Rosenkranz; the Marlene Nathan Meyerson Family Foundation; W. Bruce and Delaney H. Lundberg; the Sam Salz Foundation; Heidi S. Steiger; and two anonymous donors. Additional funds for the purchase will be raised during the coming year through the sale of duplicates and other photographs from both the Met and Gilman collections.
The museum announced that a changing selection of masterpieces from the Gilman collection would be on view in the museum's Robert Wood Johnson, Jr. Gallery beginning April 17, 2005, and continuing for the next year. In addition, selected works from the Gilman collection will be on view in two special exhibitions already scheduled to appear at the Metropolitan later this year: "All the Mighty World: The Photographs of Roger Fenton, 1852-1860" in the Robert Lehman Wing, May 24 through August 21, 2005; and "The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult" in the Harriette and Noel Levine Gallery and the Howard Gilman Gallery, September 27 through December 31, 2005. Further exhibition and publication plans will be announced in the future.
In announcing the acquisition, de Montebello noted that, as mentioned previously, during the 1990s, Howard Gilman and his curator Pierre Apraxine had worked in unison with Maria Morris Hambourg, then curator in charge of the Metropolitan's Department of Photographs, to shape the Gilman Paper Company Collection as a perfect complement to that of the Museum. Under Hambourg's direction, the Museum presented a selection of more than 250 masterpieces from the Gilman Collection in 1993 in the widely acclaimed exhibition "The Waking Dream", which was shown in the Museum's special exhibitions galleries normally reserved for Old Master paintings. The exceptional quality and beauty of the work exhibited, the individually considered presentation of each object, and the elegant, majestic galleries in which they were shown made "The Waking Dream" a pivotal event in helping change public perception about photography as art and put the Metropolitan at the forefront of museums exhibiting the medium. Photographs from the Gilman Collection have been included in nearly every Metropolitan Museum photography exhibition and installation since.
Daniel told the New York Times on Thursday: "It's undoubtedly the most important thing that has happened at the Met in the area of photography and is probably the most important thing that is likely ever to happen. For at least the last 15 years, the acquisition of the Gilman collection has been our No.1 priority and goal."
Daniel added to those comments when he told me, " It adds enormous strength to our holdings in photography of the first hundred years of the medium. Indeed, in many areas the Gilman collection alone is stronger than the Met's existing collection. Combined with the strength of the Rubel Collection, the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, the Ford Motor Company Collection, the Walker Evans Archive and the acquisitions we have made during the past two decades, not only in historic material but also in the modern and contemporary sphere, this places us in a preeminent position to present the encyclopedic history of the art of photography."
Daniels continued, "The purchase portion of the acquisition, without revealing numbers, represents an enormous commitment on the part of the Museum--our Director, the Trustees, and numerous individual supporters, who have been extraordinarily generous--and signals to our public the prominent place that photography has at the Met and that the Met has in the world of photography."
The Met is wasting no time with its new acquisition. Daniel told me, "All of the works exhibited in "The Waking Dream" or in other exhibitions and installations at the Met are already here; the rest are in our possession and will be on premises shortly."