Center of Influence: Alfred Stieglitz

It’s hard to imagine what American art today would look like without Alfred Steiglitz. A photographer in his own right, Steiglitz was also the gallery owner who first exhibited Rodin and Picasso in the United States, the husband who championed Georgia O’Keeffe as the first truly American modernist, and the collector whose personal acquisitions form the foundation of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s modern art collection.

Indeed, in looking at Stieglitz and His Artists: Matisse to O’Keeffe, it is not hard to see why the New York Times called Steiglitz “a mountainous presence” in the world of 20th century art. This first catalogue of The Metropolitan Museum’s vast Alfred Stieglitz collection, edited by Lisa Mintz Messinger, consists of vivid color reproductions of hundreds of works, accompanied by a series of essays that offer background information, analysis, and biographies of the artists featured. The catalogue contains compelling visual evidence of Steiglitz’s passions for photography, European, and American modernism, and the introduction traces the collection’s history from its genesis. The exhibition of the same name, featuring works by Picasso, Kandinsky, O’Keeffe, and more, is currently on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art until January 2.

Yet of course Stieglitz’s passion for art is not reflected only in his professional life: his love for Georgia O’Keeffe generated over 5,000 lyrically composed letters, a selection from which has been annotated by Sarah Greenough in My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz: Volume One, 1915-1933. In that collection, the reader comes to appreciate the subtleties of Stieglitz and O’Keeffe’s relationship, while also experiencing the details of Stieglitz’s relationships with artists up close and gaining an insight into the day-to-day activity behind his famed photography journal and gallery. A free excerpt of those letters ran earlier this month on our blog. For those who prefer to take a broader view, Katherine Hoffman offers the reader an alternate look into Steiglitz’s American years in her elegantly written Alfred Stieglitz: A Legacy of Light, tracing his biography from 1915 to his death in 1946.

Another volume from The Met highlights Steiglitz’s own photography—Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand: Masterworks from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Malcolm Daniel, including city views and cloud studies along with photographs from his famous composite portrait of O’Keeffe.  And art historian Kristina Wilson explores Steiglitz’s contributions to the marketing of modernism to the public in The Modern Eye: Stieglitz, MoMA, and the Art of the Exhibition, 1925-1934, looking in depth at exhibitions in Stieglitz’s own gallery, The Met, and MoMA throughout the interwar years.

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