Archives of James Van Der Zee, “One of The Nation’s Foremost Image Creators,” Heading To The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Partnership with the Studio Museum, Harlem


WEDDINGS, FUNERALS, PARADE SHOWS, CHRISTMAS SCENES and all kinds of portraits. The photographs of James van der zee (1886-1983) came to define the Harlem of the 20th century. Her powerful images capture the beauty and pride of black life, documenting everyday moments and special celebrations. His subjects were cosmopolitan black families, artists and political leaders – Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Marcus Garvey, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Florence Mills, Father Divine and Muhammad Ali, among others.

Active from the 1910s to the early 1980s, he produced thousands of images, constituting a vast collection essential to the study of American photography, the history of New York, and the culture of Harlem and its people. black.


JAMES VAN DER ZEE (American, 1886-1983), “Three men holding letters”, 1934 (gelatin silver print). | © Archives James Van Der Zee, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Van Der Zee’s lifelong work now has a permanent focus. In a historic collaboration, the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York and the Studio Museum in Harlem announced the creation of the James Van Der Zee Archives, comprising over 20,000 prints (made during his lifetime) and 30,000 negatives, as well as studio equipment and ephemera, all of which will be housed at the Met.

The archives of three highly regarded American photographers have now been acquired by The Met. The collected works of Van Der Zee join the catalogs of Walker Evans, who arrived at the museum in 1994, and Diane Arbus (2007).

“The James Van Der Zee Archives are an astonishing repository of photographic practice in Harlem from the first decade of the 20th century to the early 1980s,” said Jeff L. Rosenheim, curator in charge of the Department of Photographs at the Met, in a commentary. communicated. declaration.

“Collectively, the photographs provide a hopeful and beautiful portrait of black life in America. Reflected in the eyes of Van Der Zee’s models, we see their ambitions and hers; their modernity and keen awareness of the psychological language of portraiture; their social bonds and his unwavering faith in the power of photography to preserve the depth, breadth and richness of his own community.

“Collectively, the photographs provide a hopeful and beautiful portrait of black life in America. Reflected in the eyes of Van Der Zee’s models, we see their ambitions and hers; their modernity and keen awareness of the psychological language of portraiture; their social bonds and his unwavering faith in the power of photography to preserve the depth, breadth and richness of his own community.
– Meeting with curator Jeff L. Rosenheim


JAMES VAN DER ZEE (American, 1886-1983), “Self-portrait”, 1931 (gelatin silver print). | © Archives James Van Der Zee, Metropolitan Museum of Art

For the past 40 years, the Studio Museum has partnered with Donna Van Der Zee, the photographer’s widow, as custodian of the documents in the archives. Van Der Zee is represented in the collection of the Studio Museum by around 6,000 prints and 7,000 negatives. The Met has acquired some 14,000 prints and 23,000 negatives from Ms. Van Der Zee and the James Van Der Zee Institute, inactive since the 1980s.

(Rosenheim told the New York Times that the Met paid “a very nice sum of money” for the prints and negatives it acquired, but does not disclose a specific price.)

The Met will serve as the copyright holder for all works by Van Der Zee in all media, and will also preserve, maintain and store the negatives. Although located at the Met, the Studio Museum will retain ownership of its Van Der Zee holdings.

In a statement, Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator of the Studio Museum, said: “This innovative partnership between the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Met finally brings together all the complex and varied materials of the James Van Der Zee Archives under one roof. , where the technical challenges of conservation and digitization will be expertly managed, and our continued work to advance knowledge about Van Der Zee will be supported and amplified by an excellent partner. We are extremely pleased to be able to work with Ms. Van Der Zee and The Met to create a permanent home for one of the country’s leading image makers.

“We are extremely pleased to be able to collaborate with Ms. Van Der Zee and The Met to create a permanent home for one of the country’s foremost image makers. »- Thelma Golden, director of the Studio Museum


JAMES VAN DER ZEE, (American, 1886-1983), “Young woman”, 1935 (gelatin silver print). | © Archives James Van Der Zee, Metropolitan Museum of Art

The archival project was started by Ms. Van Der Zee in the summer of 2018. She worked with Golden at the Studio Museum and Rosenheim at the Met to establish a permanent repository for her late husband’s work, as well as a commitment to preserve and polish its heritage. for the benefit of future generations.

At the Met, the complete catalog will be preserved, digitized, researched and made available to the public. Curators are particularly interested in engaging with academics and residents of Harlem to identify and learn more about Van Der Zee’s subjects and also gain a better understanding of the technical aspects of his singular work, including his use of the light, handling negatives and hand dyeing. Rosenheim told The Times.

“I am very happy for this next chapter of the archives of my late husband. For most of his years, Van lived and worked in New York City, and it was The Met that presented the very first exhibition of his photographs, showing him the world. In view of this, it is particularly fitting that the James Van Der Zee Archives find their permanent home at the Met and in a way that the Studio Museum is a partner, ”Ms. Van Der Zee said in a statement.

“As the steward of Van’s work over the past 40 years, I think it is a great honor and a responsibility to ensure that the collection is placed in a way that guarantees depth, breadth and Van’s innovative art of photography is valued, and the archives receive the care, scholarship and attention it needs. That the Met’s acquisition enables the public to witness, learn and It gives me immense joy to be moved by the beauty and diversity captured in Van’s photographs, and the collection has found an ideal permanent home. CT

FIND MORE While James Van Der Zee’s portraits of Harlem were aesthetically and technically exceptional, and often featured important and well-known subjects, his practice was essentially chronicling his community, a commitment shared throughout the 20th century by black photographers in cities across the country, including Teenie Harris (Pittsburgh); Addison Scurlock (Washington, DC); Florestine Perrault Collins (New Orleans); John W. Mosley (Philadelphia Cream); and Allen E. Cole (Cleveland, Ohio)

READ MORE In April, curator of the Met Allon Schoener is deceased. He organized “Harlem on My Mind” in 1969. The controversial exhibition has been criticized for not featuring any paintings, drawings or sculptures by black artists. Photographs by James Van Der Zee and Gordon Parks were included, not as works of art, but rather enlarged and incorporated into the design of the exhibition


JAMES VAN DER ZEE, (American, 1886-1983), “Funeral portrait”, 1932 (gelatin silver print). | © Archives James Van Der Zee, Metropolitan Museum of Art


JAMES VAN DER ZEE, (American, 1886-1983), “Bride and Groom”, 1927 (gelatin silver print). | © Archives James Van Der Zee, Metropolitan Museum of Art


JAMES VAN DER ZEE, (American, 1886-1983), “Woman Holding Folding Camera”, 1922 (gelatin silver print). | © Archives James Van Der Zee, Metropolitan Museum of Art


JAMES VAN DER ZEE, (American, 1886-1983), “Advent Mission”, 1936 (gelatin silver print). | © Archives James Van Der Zee, Metropolitan Museum of Art


JAMES VAN DER ZEE, (American, 1886-1983), “Sailor, US Coast Guard”, 1941-1947 (gelatin silver print). | © Archives James Van Der Zee, Metropolitan Museum of Art


JAMES VAN DER ZEE, (American, 1886-1983), “Couple”, 1930 (gelatin silver print with color applied). | © Archives James Van Der Zee, Metropolitan Museum of Art


JAMES VAN DER ZEE, (American, 1886-1983), “Parade, Harlem”, 1924-26 (gelatin silver print). | © Archives James Van Der Zee, Metropolitan Museum of Art

RELATED The exhibition “Photographs of James Van Der Zee: a portrait of Harlem” is currently on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC (November 28, 2021 – May 30, 2022)

BOOKSHELF
Written by Deborah Willis, “VanDerZee: Photographer 1886-1983” was published on the occasion of a major exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC Several other publications Document the work of James Van Der Zee, including “The Harlem Book of the Dead”, which explores Van Der Zee’s funeral images. For children, also think “Take a picture of me, James Van Der Zee! “ by Keith Mallett with illustrations by Keith Mallett. “Harlem in my mind: cultural capital of black America, 1900-1968” documents the 1969 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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About Margaret L. Portillo

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