In many respects, the work of photographer Annie Leibovitz has provided “images of record” for a generation.
From her news photography, to her notable work for Rolling Stone magazine, to her efforts to capture aspects of culture not found among newsmakers or art-makers, Leibovitz has chronicled popular culture by capturing and creating images that are also in-and-of-themselves works of art.
“You can’t have been alive in the past 20, 30, 40 years and not recognize the faces and moments” reflected in her work, Wexner Center for the Arts Director Sherri Geldin told The Beat.
“What is amazing to find is that the images you have in your mind of those people and events end up being images Annie took.”
That the singular exhibition of more than 200 pieces of Leibovitz’ work that will be on view at the Wexner Center from Saturday, Sept. 22 through Dec. 30 is a significant one is not lost on Geldin nor any of the center’s staff. But the director admitted her first visit with the artist about 15 months ago was not a “pitch” meeting at all.
Geldin did, at that time, have the opportunity to view the artist’s archives and see some of the work Leibovitz was doing in preparation for her Pilgrimage exhibition at the Smithsonian.
“After having spent time with her and seeing the vast and extraordinary body of work, it was a no-brainer” to discuss a possible collaboration, Geldin said. “But the fact is, Annie has shows going on around the world,” Geldin said. “She’s not looking for suitors, but she was taken with the mission of the Wexner Center for multi-disciplinary work, for contemporary work, and for giving artists opportunities to create new work as well as present it.”
In the ensuing months, Geldin has seen “countless reproductions, even high-quality,” but said it wasn’t until the actual pieces began arriving for installation that their full merit became evident.
“You forget how special they are up close and personal,” Geldin said. “It’s startling to see how exquisite they are.”
The exhibition’s centerpiece is the 160-piece “Master Set,” the artist’s own selection as her definitive works.
These images include Muhammad Ali, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the Blues Brothers, Mikhail Baryshnikov and more. Many are from her work as a staff photographer at Rolling Stone.
Geldin said it is her understanding the entire set has never been exhibited in its entirety until now.
“We quietly inquired about it, but were summarily disabused of the notion” by those around Leibovitz, Geldin explained. “But when Annie came to visit, she actually mentioned the possibility. They practically had to pick me up off the floor.”
The exhibition also includes the full Pilgrimage project, featuring images from a period of travel in which Leibovitz sought out places and objects connected with historical figures including Abraham Lincoln, Emily Dickinson, Annie Oakley and others.
“It was important to her that we show Pilgrimage,” Geldin said, adding, “We have it hung salon style in a single gallery space.
“It gives it an antiquarian feel and presents the quality of the range of work.”
The third component (The Beat confessed to Geldin we hesitated to use that term) of the exhibition is a collection of “overlap” subjects – artists featured both by Leibovitz and the Wexner Center, including Twyla Tharp, Mya Lin, Philip Glass, Julianne Moore and others.
“Some of these artists have appeared at the Wexner Center before they were ready for close-up and framing by Annie,” Geldin said. “This part of the project has been very reaffirming.”
For more on “Annie Leibovitz” at the Wexner Center for the Arts, read the BeatBlog at ThisWeekNEWS.com.