The Big Picture: A Transformative Gift from the Hall Family Foundation

This is a special time for giving thanks. Through much of 2018, The Nelson-Atkins Museum will give a very public “THANK YOU” to the individuals and institutions that have made recent gifts to our collection. Two overlapping exhibitions will be on view: “The Big Picture,” highlighting the Hall Family Foundation’s role in the development of our photography collection, and “Unexpected Encounters,” celebrating the generosity of many donors to various curatorial departments. These exhibitions highlight two key ideas: the essential role supporters play in the life of a great institution, and the fact that our collection is a living, growing resource.

The Hall Family Foundation has contributed to the museum in many ways, over many years. This includes extensive activity, beginning in the mid-1980s, in modern sculpture. The foundation’s support for our photography program began in 2006, following the transfer of the Hallmark Photographic Collection in late 2005. HFF support has helped fund regular exhibitions in our dedicated photography gallery, publications to accompany some of these shows, and a baseline level of acquisitions.

In an effort to take best advantage of current market opportunities, the HFF board voted in 2015 to give a temporary boost to our acquisition effort. Based on a belief in building on proven strengths, this effort aimed to reinforce and further elevate the collection’s reputation as one of the finest in the nation. As a result, $10 million was earmarked for a special acquisitions initiative to be spread over the next two to three years. A few months shy of the three-year mark, we are now wrapping up this exciting and very major acquisition effort.

We three curators in the photography department — April M. Watson, curator; Jane L. Aspinwall, associate curator; and I — could not have asked for more enjoyable work. We were able to acquire individual pieces that would have been unaffordable in normal years. We also bought work for future shows, to fill historical gaps, and to strengthen our contemporary holdings. These new works span the medium’s entire history, from an 1826 print by Joseph Nicephore Niepce, the inventor of the world’s first photographic process, to bold contemporary works made as recently as 2016 by international artists such as Thomas Demand and Dayanita Singh. Between these extremes are important daguerreotypes and masterworks of the 19th and 20th centuries by a wide range of American and European photographers. Some of these photographs build on bodies of work already in the collection; many others are by artists not previously represented in our holdings. Together, these new images allow our collection to make even more connections, and to tell more stories, than was possible before. This group of about 800 objects constitutes a major “collection” in its own right — one perfectly complementing and extending the strengths of our previous holding.

This is a wonderful gift to our museum and to the Kansas City community. These works are permanent additions to the cultural resources of our region, and will be enjoyed by many future generations of visitors and scholars. About 100 of these photographs will be included in our “Big Picture” show on view April 28 through Oct. 7, 2018. We encourage everyone to come see them and to help us celebrate this remarkable example of generosity and foresight.

–Keith F. Davis, Senior Curator, Photography, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

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