by Carol Smith
Editor's Note: The Museum of Fine Arts Houston held an exhibition, A Love Affair with Pictures: 25 Years Collecting Photographs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, from October 14-December30, 2001, in celebration of Anne Tucker's work.
Anne Wilkes Tucker certainly has made her mark in the photography department at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. She has also made her mark nationally; in 2001, Time magazine named her American's best curator. Tucker is the Gus and Lyndall Wortham Curator of Photography at the MFAH.
When Tucker first came to the MFAH in 1976, the photography department did not exist, and the museum had only a handful of photographic images. Tucker laughingly said, "When I came here, there were fewer photographs in the collection than on your refrigerator." Tucker has devoted the last quarter century to collecting, caring and curating images at MFAH that now rates in the nation's top ten collections: her work encompasses 25 years; 12,000 images; more than 1,800 artists.
Tucker modestly credits others for the success of the photography department. "This collection has done as well as it has because of the museum's trustees and individuals who have helped us acquire these photographs," Tucker stated. "Ours in an extremely generous city." However, few could disagree that the driving force and knowledge behind these acquisitions is Tucker herself.
In explaining her job, Tucker said, "Curators are responsible to acquire and to take care of what we acquire. We catalogue, interpret, exhibit to employ the works, and we also interact with the community." As quoted in Time magazine, Tucker said, "In my job there is also an element of the preacher's. You are taking something you firmly believe and trying to impart it to others."
A Love Affair with Pictures: 25 Years Collecting Photographs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston showcases the museum's photography collection. "This exhibition is to celebrate those people who stepped forward to say they wanted to give to the museum's collection," explained Tucker.
The exhibition is threefold: Latin American photographers; visual artists of all media who create photographs; and classic black-and-white photographers. Selections include individual works by Ansel Adams, Hannah Hoch, Andre Kertesz, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Paul Strand. Also on view are single images representing artists whose works the museum has acquired in volume such as Robert Frank, Edward Steichen and Josef Sudek.
Tucker commented, "With a collection this rich, you can do an exhibition on portrait photography, still life or feature one artist. Now after 25 years, we can just reach into the museum's collection." Referring to the Audrey Jones Beck Building, Tucker said, "Also, our museum is much richer with our beautiful new building." MFAH now has a designated gallery for works on paper — photography, prints and drawings. The photography department enjoys a 7,000 square foot study-storage area that allows for curators and researchers to spread out the work and study them side by side. "We can bring the entire collection of works on paper into optimum, controlled environments. And we have windows for natural light," Tucker said.
The photography department is strong in 20th-century photography and features the work of Edward Steichen, Robert Frank, Man Ray, Margaret Bourke White and Diane Arbus. It has one of the largest collections of Mexican contemporary photographs in the United States. Some of the highlights in the collection are images by the European avant-garde, especially Germans and Czechs, including 16 vintage photograms by the Hungarian Laszlo Moholy-Nagy.
As to the future of the photography department at MFAH, Tucker says, "We still want to acquire for the collection more contemporary art. We feel that some areas are under-represented, and we are working on that." Tucker added, "Our collection is an ongoing project."
Tucker says, "We still want to acquire for the collection more contemporary art. We feel that some areas are under-represented, and we are working on that." Tucker added, "Our collection is an ongoing project."
Tucker remains gracious when asked about her being named curator of the year by Time. "It was an honor, and I was thrilled. However, I think it had more to do with the museum and its accomplishments than about me," she replied.
"All of us in the arts have experienced the surprise someone has when they realize how really good our work is. We have a very sophisticated arts community here in Houston and I think we deserve more international attention," commented Tucker.
"Anne Tucker's eye and expertise have built an amazing collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston" states Clint Willour, executive director/curator, Galveston Arts Center. "Starting from scratch, she has amassed an eclectic international collection of nearly 13,000 images in just 25 years. Along the way she has been a mentor to artists, colleagues and collectors. She has helped establish the Houston Center for Photography, FotoFest and PhotoForum at the MFAH. She has organized groundbreaking, intelligent, historically important exhibitions that have traveled to major institutions and has written scholarly texts to accompany them. For myself and many others, Anne Tucker is photography in Houston."