An extraordinary collection of 830 photographic works spanning from 1844 to 2012, bequested to the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago, forms the basis of an expansive new exhibition, There was a whole collection made: Photography from Lester and Betty Guttman, September 22–December 30, 2016. The exhibition of more than 300 works is curated by Laura Letinsky, Professor in the Department of Visual Arts and the College at the University of Chicago, and herself an acclaimed photographer, and Jessica Moss, Smart Museum Curator of Contemporary Art.
There was a whole collection made mines the Estate of Lester and Betty Guttman’s 2014 gift of over eight hundred photographic works by 414 artists to the Smart Museum, essentially establishing a major new resource for the public as well as scholars of the history and theory of photography. The exhibition draws extensively from the collection, which the Guttmans built over 31 years, and includes rare vintage prints by pioneers of the medium like William Henry Fox Talbot and David Octavius Hill; modern works by Hannah Höch, Man Ray, László Moholy-Nagy, Brassaï, Berenice Abbott, and Helen Levitt; contemporary classics by Diane Arbus, Malick Sidibé, Chuck Close, and Carrie Mae Weems; and much more. The exhibition opens with a dramatic salon-style wall of nearly fifty works and afterward is organized into five thematic sections: the natural and built world; photographic experimentation; documentary; portraiture; and “fifteen minutes of fame,” which features portraits of famous and not-sofamous people by other famous, and not-so-famous photographers.
“Rather than seeking to collect, for example, all the works of a specific artist, period, or place, or the best known or most precious, Lester and Betty Guttmans’ choices grew out of their inquisitiveness and wide-ranging interests in the world,” said exhibition co-curator Laura Letinsky. “The breadth of historical, technological, and conceptual strategies, as well as the variety of subject matter, demonstrate an ongoing curiosity. It is a thoroughly eclectic and a fantastically personal gathering of images expressive of the Guttmans’ full, deep lives.”
“This exhibition marks the Smart Museum’s first opportunity to publicly celebrate the Guttmans’ inspiring collection and the generosity of their bequest,” added co-curator Jessica Moss. “At the Smart—Lester and Betty’s neighborhood museum—their passion and curiosity will live on as their collection becomes a vital resource not only for teaching and research but also for all to enjoy.”
There was a whole collection made is accompanied by a fully illustrated multi-author catalogue published by the Smart Museum and distributed by the University of Chicago Press.
The Guttmans were married for 50 years and worked together at Argonne National Laboratory, where Lester Guttman (1919–2006) was a senior scientist and editor of the Journal of Applied Physics and Betty Guttman (1922–2014) was a technical librarian. Betty was also an alumna of the University of Chicago (SB 1943) and the couple were longtime Hyde Park residents. While photography was just one of their shared pursuits—they were also patrons of art and music in Chicago and, as amateur mycologists, coedited the journal McIlvainea—they enjoyed the deep pleasure of living with art that one knows well.
Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago - Photography from Lester and Betty Guttman