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Lot 6: Berenice Abbott

Photographs from The Museum of Modern Art

by Sotheby's

April 25, 2001

New York, NY, USA

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) Please Register/Login to access your Invaluable Alerts

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Description: Berenice Abbott
flush-mounted to Masonite, 2 Museum of Modern Art labels on the reverse, 1933
13 3/8 by 10 1/4 in. 34 by 26 cm.
Purchased from the photographer, 1946
Art in Progress: 15th Anniversary Exhibition, May - September 1944
50 Photographs by 50 Photographers, July - August 1948
Leading Photographers: Berenice Abbott, 1950-51
Photographs from the Museum Collection, November 1958 - January 1959
Art in Progress, p. 159 (this print)
O'Neal, Berenice Abbott, frontispiece
The Art in Progress exhibition, created to celebrate the Museum's 15th anniversary, was intended to survey the full range of the institution's developing collections and programs. The photography section was most likely curated by Nancy Newhall, who was Acting Curator while her husband Beaumont Newhall served in the armed forces.
This print of 'New York at Night' was also exhibited in the Leading Photographers series, curated by Edward Steichen. This was a series of 12 small one-person exhibitions which were shown at the Museum and made available for rental to other museums, as well as photographic societies and camera clubs.
Arguably Berenice Abbott's most famous photograph, 'New York at Night' was taken from an upper-story window in a mid-town building on a winter evening. 'It was, of course, difficult to get permission [to photograph in the building]' Abbott wrote, 'They always thought you wanted to commit suicide and superintendents were always tired, lazy and annoyed. They usually had to be bribed.' Once she had set her camera up in the building, Abbott then had to grapple with the technical difficulties of making the image: 'This was a fifteen-minute exposure and I'm surprised the negative is as sharp as it is because these big buildings do sway a bit. I knew I had no opportunity to make multiple exposures because lights would start to go out shortly after 5:00 p. m. when the people began to go home, and so it had to be correct on the first try' (O'Neal, p. 4).

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