Jack Shear walked through the Tang Museum, eyeballing images captured by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Alfred Stieglitz, Diane Arbus, Berenice Abbott, and Sebastião Salgado – the Brazilian photographer featured in Wim Wenders’ recent film Salt of the Earth. Portraits of Jasper Johns, Igor Stravinsky and a Polaroid self-portrait by Robert Mapplethorpe - taken in the 1970s apartment he shared with Patti Smith - cling to the walls. A decade later, Mapplethorpe focused his camera on Jack Shear.
"The portrait by Mapplethorpe was done in about 1988. At this time Robert was sick with HIV,” recalls Shear, who had recently published his book Four Marines and Other Portraits, and Mapplethorpe his own Black Book. “I came to his studio. We traded books. His assistant lit me and did some Polaroids, so when Robert came he could just start shooting. I asked the assistant how many rolls we would take and he said four or five,” Shear says.
“One thing people don't realize is that Mapplethorpe loved hands. If you look at his portraits, they're really important in his works. You don't immediately think that. Well, I started doing amazing things with my hands, bringing them up to my face, or pointing to my eye. By the time we were done we did 17 rolls of film.”
Last fall, photographer, curator, and collector Jack Shear gifted more than 500 photographs to the Tang Teaching Museum. Approximately 170 photographs from the collection, or on extended loan from the Shear Collection, form the exhibition Borrowed Light: Selections from the Jack Shear Collection, which opens Saturday at The Tang. The show spans the history of photography from its inception in the 1840s to the present day, chronicling photographic processes, techniques, and artistic approaches and tracing the evolution of the medium. In addition to the chronological display, a densely hung gallery of works that spans all genres and subjects is offered in a salon-style presentation.
Many of the works depict a collaboration of sorts between artists: Andy Warhol captures composer John Cage; Man Ray shoots actress Catherine Deneuve, and Walker Evans aims his camera at poet Hart Crane.
Richard Avedon turns his lens to poets Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky in a 1963 embrace, and six years later at Andy Warhol’s Factory crew, featuring Candy Darling, Gerard Malanga, Viva, Paul Morrissey, Taylor Mead, Brigid Polk, Joe Dallesandro, and Warhol himself. The latter piece consisted of three 8 x 10 contact prints that Shear first came across in his native California.
“The owner was selling each for a thousand dollars - so that would be $3,000. This was 1971 or '72 and I coveted it, but I didn't even have a car then, so I wasn't going to be paying $3,000,” he recalls. “Every time I wanted to buy it, it became more and more expensive. It was $6,000. Then the next time it was $12,000. It kept multiplying. Finally, for my birthday a couple of years ago, I bought it. I bought it out of a collection of a woman named Betty Freeman, who was an amazing collector. Do you know the David Hockney painting Beverly Hills Housewife?" Freeman was the inspiration for the 1966 Hockney work. “She had all sorts of paintings all through the house. This was actually in her bathroom.”
The exhibit includes an image of famed sculptor, painter and photographer Constantin Brancusi capturing an image of one of his own works.
"What I like about Brancusi is he started photographing because nobody was photographing his sculptures the way he saw it,” says Shear, who is Executive Director of the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation and has a history with the Tang developed through his work as co-curator with the Museum’s Dayton Director, Ian Berry
The Brancusi exhibit piece, Orchid in Vase, dates to the 1920s. “He did the most beautiful images of his sculptures, with light off of them, or at all times of the day. It would be impossible for someone who didn't live with the works to photograph them like he did, because he saw them in all light situations. "
A public reception to celebrate the opening of the exhibit, Borrowed Light: Selections from the Jack Shear Collection, will take place Saturday at The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, located on the campus of Skidmore College.
The reception will also celebrate the opening of the exhibitions Alma Thomas, Elevator Music 30: Critter & Guitari, and the continuation of No Place to Hide. The event immediately follows a Dunkerley Dialogue about Alma Thomas, beginning at 5 pm.
Alma Thomas is best known for her signature colorful abstract paintings. The exhibition presents a wide-ranging look at Thomas’s evolving practice from the late 1950s to her death in 1978. In 1972, at age eighty, Thomas became the first African-American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
The Tang’s Elevator Music series continues with Critter & Guitari, and features an array of small musical instruments that invites riders to create sonic overtones by the pressing of keys and the turning of knobs. The sounds bend, flange, and flutter in original waves and are broadcast on video synthesizers and monitors stationed in the elevator that allow visitors to see the sounds they make. The installation of instruments, some which are one-of-a-kind, was created by Skidmore alums Owen Osborn and Chris Kucinski of Critter & Guitari.
For more information, go here: https://tang.skidmore.edu/calendar/200-spring-opening-reception