Published: July 13, 2004
When Jim and Cherye Pierce bought their first Ansel Adams prints in 1977 at a New Orleans gallery, they never expected to amass an outstanding photography collection significant enough to make a major museum exhibition.
But as the collection has grown in size and value, it has become a superbly distinguished photography collection, deemed worthy of a national museum exhibition tour. The exhibition is organized by the Honolulu Academy of Arts, where it was first shown earlier this year.
“In Celebration of Light: Photographs from the Collection of Cherye R. and James F. Pierce,” on view at the New Orleans Museum of Art through August 15, is being presented thematically with separate categories for the iconic image, urban and natural environments, still lifes, animals, nudes, the modernist impulse and the human condition.
Almost one-third of the 119 works in the exhibition are connected in some way to New Orleans, having been either purchased in New Orleans, created by New Orleans artists or having a subject matter related to the city.
The exhibition marks the first time that major works from this collection have been shown together. Photographers featured in the collection read like a who’s who of the photo elite – Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, Robert Mapplethorpe, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Minor White.
“At the time we bought our first prints, Ansel Adams’ ‘Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico’ and ‘As pens, Northern New Mexico,’ photography was the medium of the moment and very affordable,” says Cherye Pierce.
Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and other special occasions became reasons to buy photographs to add to their collection. Jim’s travels to medical conferences and Cherye’s frequent commutes from Hawaii to New Orleans over 19 years gave them opportunities to visit galleries on the mainland and find both vintage masterworks and works by contemporary photographers. Now their print collection numbers approximately 500 works.
According to Jim Pierce, one of his best finds was at an antiques shop in San Francisco where he picked up a print by Imogen Cunningham. “I wasn’t sure I wanted it at the price the owner was asking so I told him I needed to think about it. I walked around the block, the whole time worried someone would buy it before I returned. Then I hurried back, offered him less than he was asking, and walked away with a fabulous vintage Cunningham print,” says Pierce, chuckling while recalling the story.
“In the 1970s, photography was a new art medium to look at and to explore,” he adds. “It didn’t take long for us to get hooked because of the extensive inventory of beautiful prints by such photography masters as Alfred Stieglitz or Brett Weston, that were available at reasonable prices.”
On Cherye Pierce’s trips home to New Orleans she relied heavily on Southern gallery owners to help her learn more about the medium and to introduce her to the work of emerging artists. The regional influence is reflected in the selection of artists represented in the collection and in the subject matter. Jim Pierce, a self-taught researcher, reads voraciously about the subject.
In the 1980s, University of Hawaii sponsored a series of photography programs hosting visiting photographers. This enabled the Pierces, who now live in Hawaii, to meet and make personal collections with such photo greats as Harry Callahan, Aaron Suskind and others.
The collection, primarily in black and white, is well-rounded with examples of both vintage and contemporary master artists – some well known and others less recognized. The collection presents a diverse and academically significant variety of printing processes, subject matter, themes and style of photography. Among the more famous living photographers in the collection are Larry Clark, William Clift, the Douglas Brothers, Elliott Erwitt, Robert Frank, Luis Gonzalez Palma and Irving Penn, to name a few.
“In Celebration of Light” is accompanied by an illustrated catalog with a foreword by NOMA director John Bullard. For information, 504-488-2631 or www.noma.org.
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