The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York announced a gift of 100 photographs by women artists from the collection of psychotherapist Helen Kornblum, who has avidly collected work by women photographers for four decades and joined MoMA’s photography committee in 2014. The donation spans over a century and encompasses everything from commercial studio photography and photojournalism to highly experimental work. Among the 76 artists represented are early modernists such as Claude Cahun and Gertrud Arndt, as well as contemporary practitioners including Catherine Opie and Carrie Mae Weems.
For some of the artists, like Cara Romero, a recent recipient of NDN Collective’s Radical Imagination Grant, it is the first time that their work has entered MoMA’s collection. Romero’s inkjet print “Wakeah” (2018) comes from the Chemehuevi photographer’s First American Girl series, a group of colorful, stylized portraits of Indigenous women made to resemble dolls in boxes, challenging stereotypical representations and emphasizing their self-possession.
Dolls are also a motif in the work of Hungarian-born Mexican photographer Kati Horna, whose silver gelatin print “Doll Parts” (c. 1938) is included in the donation. This is the eighth work by Horna, a close friend of Surrealists Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo, to enter MoMA’s collection.
Friendship between women artists underlies Mexican photographer and gallerist Lola Álvarez Bravo’s 1945 portrait of Frida Kahlo, also featured in Kornblum’s gift. Álvarez Bravo was a close friend of Kahlo’s and gave the Mexican Surrealist painter her first and only solo show in Mexico in her lifetime.
Kornblum made the donation in honor of Dr. Roxana Marcoci, senior curator in the Robert B. Menschel Department of Photography at MoMA. Marcoci has worked at MoMA since 1999, curating or co-curating exhibitions including Louise Lawler’s first New York museum survey show in 2017 and the US debut of a major photographic project by Taryn Simon in 2012.
Sharing her sentiments on the donation in a statement, Marcoci said:
We are honored that Helen Kornblum has made this extraordinarily generous gift, and for her far-reaching vision. The collection raises a whole set of questions: How do we go about unsettling established art historical narratives? Unfixing the canon? Researching counter-histories? This gift offers the perfect platform to examine women photographers’ self-agency within a diversity of artistic strategies and activate new readings about their contributions to contemporary culture.
Works from Kornblum’s donation will be featured in collection installations and an exhibition, with an accompanying scholarly catalogue, planned for 2022.