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MIT Museum Opens New Photography Gallery May 3, 2012

Inaugural Exhibition:
Berenice Abbott
Photography and Science: An Essential Unity

May 3, 2012 – December 31, 2012, MIT Museum Kurtz Gallery for Photography

March 8, 2012, Cambridge, MA – The MIT Museum opens the new Kurtz Gallery for Photography on May 3, 2012, with an inaugural exhibition of 75 works by Berenice Abbott entitled Photography and Science: An Essential Unity. The 1650 sq. ft. Kurtz Gallery will host temporary exhibitions drawn in part from the rich legacy of work in photography at MIT by luminaries such as Minor White (1908-76), who taught at MIT during the last decade of his life; Harold Edgerton (1903-90), the strobe photography pioneer; and Berenice Abbott (1898-1991), who worked at MIT from 1958 to 1960.

The inaugural exhibition Berenice Abbott, Photography and Science: An Essential Unity brings to light a lesser known aspect of the work of this master of twentieth century American photography. Although best known for her documentation of changing New York in the 1930s, Abbott made important contributions to science photography throughout her career. In 1939, already fascinated by science as a subject for her work, she saw the need for photography to act as "a friendly interpreter between science and the layman." She wrote: "There is an essential unity between photography, science’s child, and science, the parent."

Abbott’s most important science photography came in the late 1950s. The fear that the U.S. was lagging behind in scientific achievement, and particularly in the preparedness of young people for scientific careers, led to national high school curriculum reform initiatives that culminated in the formation in 1956 of the Physical Science Study Committee (PSSC) at MIT. In March 1958 the PSSC hired Abbott to prepare a large series of illustrations for the flagship PSSC project, a new high school physics textbook.

Over the next two and a half years at MIT Abbott produced some of her most accomplished photographs illustrating wave motion and other physical phenomena. A selection of the MIT work was exhibited by the Smithsonian Institution as The Image of Physics, which toured the country for six years beginning in 1960 and gave thousands of Americans their first glimpse of bold, modernist photography.

Abbott’s original prints from The Image of Physics are the focus of the MIT Museum exhibition, and dozens of other earlier and later science photographs by Abbott contextualize the MIT work. Also on view are captivating scrapbooks Abbott made to document her work, as well as letters, manuscripts, and publications relating to her interest in scientific subjects.

The Kurtz Gallery for Photography

The Kurtz Gallery for Photography, established with generous funding from Ronald A. Kurtz, MIT Class of 1954, has been designed specifically for the exhibition of photography. The new gallery has made possible an ambitious program of changing exhibitions exploring subjects ranging from MIT's legacy in photographic instruction to current photographic practice.

A selection of Abbott’s science photographs appears in a book published by Steidl to coincide with the exhibition. The Image of Science includes 99 tritone illustrations and several introductory essays on her science work. Berenice Abbott: Documenting Science, Edited by Ron Kurtz; Essays by Julia Van Haaften and John Durant. Clothbound hardcover, $75.00. ISBN 978-3-86930-431-1.

Image Preview [pdf]

About the Curators
Julia Van Haaften was the first Curator of Photographs for The New York Public Library, and recently retired as the Director of Collections for the Museum of the City of New York. A recognized Abbott specialist, and curator in 1989 of the first major retrospective of her work, Van Haaften is currently completing a definitive biography of the photographer.

Gary Van Zante is the MIT Museum’s Curator of Architecture and Design and interim Director of Exhibitions and Gallery Planning. He has curated over fifty exhibitions ranging from Renaissance architectural graphics to contemporary design practice and photography. His photographic exhibitions at MIT have featured the work of photographers Gabrielle Basilico, Margaret Morton, and Cervin Robinson, among others. He is the author of a recent study of nineteenth century urban photography.

About the MIT Museum
The MIT Museum's mission is to engage the wider community with MIT's science, technology and other areas of scholarship in ways that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century. The Museum features two floors filled with ongoing and changing exhibitions, currently with an emphasis on robotics, photography and holography, MIT history, and current MIT research. The Museum presents monthly programs that appeal to middle school students and older, and presents the annual Cambridge Science Festival in late April.

About the Arts at MIT
The arts at MIT connect creative minds across disciplines and encourage a lifetime of exploration and self-discovery. They are rooted in experimentation, risk-taking and imaginative problem-solving. The arts strengthen MIT’s commitment to the aesthetic, human, and social dimensions of research and innovation. Artistic knowledge and creation exemplify our motto - mens et manus, mind and hand. The arts are essential to MIT’s mission to build a better society and meet the challenges of the 21st century. arts@mit.edu

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