Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), the pioneering photographer, editor and gallery owner who played a pivotal role in defining and shaping modernism in the United States throughout the early years of the 20th century, will be the subject of the installation Liberating the Moment: American Modernism and the Stieglitz Circle. On view in the Director's Corridor of the Philadelphia Museum of Art from May 31 through August 31, 1997, Liberating the Moment will feature 20 paintings, most of which were bequeathed to the Museum by Stieglitz, created by the artists whom Stieglitz championed during the first half of this century, including Georgia O'Keeffe, Arthur Dove and Marsden Hartley.
Stieglitz's legacy is reflected not only in the quality of his photographs, but through the exhibitions he organized, the publication he edited (Camera Work, 1903-1917), and the collections he formed. The Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, which Stieglitz established in 1905 and later became known as 291 (after its address on New York's Fifth Avenue), became a showcase for the fledgling modern movement. After a series of landmark exhibitions devoted to such European luminaries as Picasso, Matisse and Brancusi, Stieglitz turned his attention to those American artists who were inspired by seeing the innovations of their European peers that were first exhibited in the groundbreaking Armory Show of 1913. Gallery 291 soon became the nation's most vital center for artists seeking to express their commitment to modernism in specifically American ways. Stieglitz's enthusiastic support for these artists, and his near-total aversion to commercialism, resulted in a community of like-minded souls--artists, critics and collectors--who met at 291 and held the gallery in almost mystical reverence. As Arthur Dove noted of Stieglitz, "I do not think I could have existed as a painter without that super-encouragement...He is without doubt the one who has done the most for art in America."
Gallery 291 closed in 1917. Stieglitz continued to inform and influence progressive artistic circles through two later galleries: the Intimate Gallery, 1925-29, and An American Place, 1929-46, both of which were devoted to promoting American artists. Stieglitz's own collection of modern art was exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1944 and, after his death, the Museum was one of five recipients of the Alfred Stieglitz Collection. The works in Liberating the Moment reflect the fundamental changes that took place in American art of the early to mid-20th century, and reveal Stieglitz's diverse taste and keen eye for the revolutionary in art. Viewed together, the paintings provide a portrait of one of the great visionaries of the modern movement.