After the isolated beginnings of a market in the early 20th century, photography emerged as a respected and collectible medium in the 1970s--driven by the viability of commercial photography galleries, increasing auction sales, and the establishment or promotion of autonomous curatorial departments in museums such as the Art Institute of Chicago (where photography became a separate department in 1974). Longtime Art Institute supporter Robert A. Taub's wide-ranging collection charts photography's changing and innovative role as a market force in the 1970s and 1980s. When Collecting Was New: Photographs from the Robert A. Taub Collection, on view at the Art Institute through May 12, 2013 in Galleries 1-4, presents over 100 works from Mr. Taub's collection and is complemented by loans from private collectors and works from the museum's Permanent Collection. This fresh presentation of classic and overlooked material includes a wall with no fewer than seven different prints of Dorothea Lange's iconic Migrant Mother (1936); a gridlike, historically accurate installation of Garry Winogrand's masterpiece portfolio, Women Are Beautiful (1974); and never-before-seen photographs by Joel Sternfeld taken in the later 1970s at the Ford Motor Company.
Robert Taub purchased his first photograph in 1960, at a bookstore, while visiting his hometown of Denver, Colorado. Ten years later, when he began to collect in earnest, what had been a loose constellation of booksellers, gallerists, and auctioneers with sidelines in photography had become an emerging market. In the late 1960s and early 1970s a handful of dealers founded spaces dedicated to photography: Lee Witkin, in New York (1969); Tom Halsted, near Detroit (1969-70); LIGHT Gallery, in New York (1971); and Harry Lunn, in Washington D.C. (1971). Taub bought regularly from these sources, especially Halsted, as he had also moved to the Detroit area to become counsel at Ford Motor Company.
The record of Taub's collecting during the pivotal decade of the 1970s reflects the breadth and openness of an emerging market where high and low, new and old works were embraced side by side. From pivotal contemporary figures such as Lee Friedlander, Nicholas Nixon, and Stephen Shore, to past masters such as Alfred Stieglitz or August Sander, to anonymous commercial imagery or photographs from NASA--Taub and his key dealers explored the breadth of a market that had yet to be fully defined or differentiated. Taub's collection continued to grow in the 1980s with the addition of works by a new generation of artists, including a pair of Untitled Film Stills by Cindy Sherman. By the time he slowed down, in the beginning of the 1990s, Taub had amassed holdings of more than 1,500 objects created by more than 100 makers.
Over the years, Bob Taub has served as Chair of the Board at the George Eastman House and formed influential philanthropic associations with the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Metropolitan Museum, and the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2011, he gave the core of his photography collection, more than 200 works, to the Art Institute. When Collecting Was New is accordingly a collection show that also addresses the nature of collecting during a formative time in American photography.
When Collecting Was New: Photographs from the Robert A. Taub Collection is organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and curated by Michal Raz-Russo, exhibitions manager in the Department of Photography at the Art Institute.