Grand Rapids Art Museum opens expansive photography collection


GVL Archives

Hailey Hentz, Staff Writer

“Presence: The Photography Collection of Judy Glickman Lauder,” is an exhibition on display at the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) of influential photographs. 

The photography in the collection captures history-defining moments from the Holocaust and Civil Rights Movement, as well as celebrity portraitures and moments from daily life.

“Photographs are, as writer Roland Barthes has said, ‘certificates of presence’: verification that a moment, a person, or a place existed,” said GRAM Director of Communications, Elizabeth Payne. “‘Presence’ is a riveting exploration of photography that captures the wide spectrum of the human experience.”

The photographs on display from Glickman Lauder’s collection were chosen from nearly 700 pieces she gifted to the Portland Museum of Art. She grew her collection over time by buying pieces she felt a connection to. Together, the pictures create an overview of the 20th century encompassing a variety of subjects, themes and emotions.

“It’s important to have an exhibit showing all facets of human life,” Glickman Lauder said at a Feb. 9 GRAM event to celebrate the display’s opening.

The exhibition includes the work of 70 artists, 25 of which are women. The diverse group of pioneering photographers includes James Van Der Zee, Diane Arbus and Gordon Parks. The artists included in the display are notable for advancing photography as an art form and its use as a means of portraying social culture.

Glickman Lauder has extensive experience in photography. As the daughter of award-winning photographer, Dr. Irving Bennett Ellis, she spent her childhood on the other side of his camera, often a subject in his famous shots. From a young age, she was surrounded by the art form and met innovative pioneers in the field such as Ansel Adams.

Finding her place within the arts and photography, Glickman Lauder began to experiment with the medium by studying it further in college.

“I learned darkroom and that just changed my life,” Glickman Lauder said. “It was a means of finding (myself) and expressing (myself).”

A portion of Glickman Lauder’s personal work, both in her overall career and within the exhibition, is focused on the Holocaust and her family’s roots in Eastern Europe. Over a three-year period in the late 1980s and early 1990s, she traveled to and photographed numerous concentration camps and historical sites.

“It was the soul of my work,” Glickman Lauder said. “It became a mission for me.”

Glickman Lauder’s photographs have been displayed in over 300 collections, including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the United States Holocaust Museum.

“I had a feeling in my heart when I started looking at the artwork and learning about the ideas behind the show,” said guest curator and former Grand Rapids Art Museum CEO, Dana Friis-Hansen.

The museum noted the exhibit’s importance within its history of acquisitions. It hopes the display will start a conversation with additional collectors in the future.

Friis-Hansen focused on the museum’s goal of connecting visitors through the arts and the importance of having a wide range of artists and subject matter.

“The work on view in ‘Presence’ pushes us to ponder our own development as individuals and as communities,” Payne said.

By reflecting on photography’s history and important developments of the 20th century, the display encourages viewers to consider the ways in which photography can capture narratives and emotions. It also aims to partake in a dialogue of relevancy and timelessness within the collection itself and the medium of photography.

The exhibition will be on display at the Grand Rapids Art Museum through April 29. More information can be found on the museum’s website.