Berenice Abbott, Cocteau in Bed with Mask, Paris, 1927. Gift of Ronald Kurtz (MIT ‘54) © 2008 Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics, Ltd., Inc.
The Dean’s Gallery presents eighteen black-and-white portraits by famed American photographer Berenice Abbott. These newly acquired works are part of the MIT List Visual Arts Center’s Student Loan Art Collection.
Abbott was born in Springfield, Ohio, in 1898, studied at Ohio State University in 1917, and moved to New York to study sculpture in 1918. She began her career in photography working as Man Ray’s assistant in Paris in 1923. She had no knowledge of photography when she started working for him, but after a few years she had gained enough experience to open up her own Parisian studio. Her subjects included artists, literary writers, and other prominent intellectuals living in, or passing through, The City of Light.
Most of the portraits shown here were made during Abbott’s years in Paris. Among the figures she photographed were French surrealist writer René Crevel, American social activist and philanthropist Dorothy Whitney, early jazz drummer Charles “Buddy” Gilmore, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, and prominent writer and artist Jean Cocteau.
One of Abbott’s greatest inspirations was Eugene Atget, a French photographer whom she photographed in her studio (two portraits of Atget are displayed here). After his death, she bought many of his negatives and began to promote his work, which eventually gained international recognition.
Abbott returned to New York in 1929, where she began to photograph the city, primarily its buildings and changing landscape. She eventually published Changing New York (1939), a book of over 300 photographs of the city’s architecture.
In the 1940s, Abbott became interested in the integration of art and science. She worked as photography editor for Science Illustrated from 1944 until 1945 and joined the MIT-initiated Physical Science Study Committee of Education Services Inc., where she used photography to demonstrate laws of physics. She died at her home in Monson, Maine, in 1991 at the age of 93.
Ronald Kurtz (’54) has generously donated many of Abbott’s photographs to MIT, including the works seen here and twenty photographs in the new Sloan School of Management building. Kurtz is the president of Commerce Graphics Ltd., New York, a company created to administer and provide access to Berenice Abbott’s photographs.
The Dean's Gallery is a satellite gallery of the MIT List Visual Arts Center. It is located at the MIT Sloan School of Management at 50 Memorial Drive, Building E-52, on the 4th floor in Room 466.
Gallery Hours: 9am-5pm Monday-Friday, closed holidays
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