The Dorsky Museum recently received a major gift of photographs from New York gallerist Marcuse Pfeifer. The 67 photographs contributed were taken by some of New York’s most famous and influential photographers from the 19th and 20th centuries, including John Ernest Joseph Bellocq, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Berenice Abbott and Peter Hujar. The Dorsky’s current exhibit, “In Celebration: A Recent Gift From The Photography Collection of Marcuse Pfeifer” features many of the photographs given to the museum. Fifty-two works from 18 artists were presented at the exhibit, and it will be running from Feb. 9 to July 14.
Pfeifer played an important role in the development of photography as an art form. Starting in 1976, Pfeifer’s gallery exclusively featured photographs, going against the grain of many gallery dealers who, at the time, only bought, sold and collected photographs and sculptures. According to the exhibition’s gallery guide, her first gallery “gained the reputation as being one of the few spaces where one could not only view but purchase images from both well-known and up-coming artists. Pfeifer’s efforts were instrumental in helping to promote the medium of photography as an art form.”
The relationship between the Pfeifer and the Dorsky has been ongoing since 2010.
“The process was one that began in 2010,” said External Relations and Advancement Director Sara Pasti. “That was when I first met Pfeifer. I was given the role of introducing her at an event at which she was being honored.”
The two were in close correspondence since then, and Pfeifer learned that gallerist Howard Greenberg would be donating some of his collection for the Dorsky and students to use. Pfeifer was inspired by that gesture and wanted to do something similar, and the exhibit and the donation soon came out of that.
Interim Director & Art Collections Manager Wayne Lempka described the process behind curating the exhibit and its donated works.
“The exhibition was about two years in the making, which is typical for how curators plan exhibitions in museums. The work doesn’t happen overnight.” Lempka said. With the help of an assistant, Lempka went through Pfeifer’s collection and even did an interview with her about her life and her work.
“She was extremely generous [and] wonderful to work with, but extremely generous in thinking about her legacy as she gets older, and letting us pick and choose from her collection that she still has, the work that we want for the Dorsky,” Lempka said. “That’s really generous. That shows the sign of a true collector who wants to leave a legacy for the future.”
Lempka also made note of the educational value that these contributions will bring.
“[Pfeifer is] very pleased to know that her works will be taken care of as only museums can do,” Lempka said. “They’ll be used to educate many other generations of students and museum visitors.”
Pasti believes that the collection shows a unique side to New York City, and is glad that the Dorsky is able to host that vision and have students see it. “We live in a very visual culture now, and I think it’s probably interesting for students to actually take a look at some of these photographs and perhaps consider why they’re so interesting, what makes them important, is it about a composition that may bring out the personality in the subject or the personality of the city that is being photographed?” Pasti said.
“I think that students can learn by looking at these wonderful photographs. It’s what make a good photograph, and perhaps it will help them make their own photographs better, and help them have an appreciation of a world that no longer exists.”
There will be several more events regarding the “In Celebration” exhibit hosted at the Dorsky. Lempka will be holding a discussion about the gallery on Saturday, April 5 at 12:30 p.m. A panel will be held on Saturday, April 27 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. featuring Pfeifer herself, photographers Greenfield-Sanders and Lois Conner and former Photograph magazine publisher Bill Mindlin. According to Lempka, Pfeifer will continue to make small donations to the Dorsky in the coming years.