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MoMA Receives Women-Focused Photography Gift Intended to ‘Unfix the Canon’

As the Museum of Modern Art continues to mull new ways of presenting its holdings, the New York institution has received a donation of 100 photographs that it hopes will aid in canonizing under-recognized female artists.

Helen Kornblum, a psychotherapist and collector who has sat on MoMA’s photography committee since 2014, has given the museum a group of works from her own holdings rich in art by women. An exhibition devoted to the gift, which includes work by 76 artists ranging from Dora Maar to Carrie Mae Weems, will go on view at MoMA in 2022.

The gift was made in honor of MoMA photography senior curator Roxana Marcoci, who said in a statement, “The collection raises a whole set of questions: How do we go about unsettling established art historical narratives? Unfixing the canon? Researching counter-histories? This gift offers the perfect platform to examine women photographers’ self-agency within a diversity of artistic strategies and activate new readings about their contributions to contemporary culture.”

Represented in the Kornblum gift is work by artists whose images have been shown frequently at MoMA, including Louise Lawler, Susan Meiselas, Lorna Simpson, and Sharon Lockhart. But it also includes figures whose status in the canon has not yet been cemented. Gertrud Arndt, a German photographer affiliated with the Bauhaus movement, had just one other work in MoMA’s collection before Kornblum’s gift, and Cara Romero, a Chemehuevi photographer focused on contemporary representation of Indigenous peoples, had no works in the museum’s holdings prior to the donation.

Also entering MoMA’s collection through the Kornblum gift are works by Kati Horna, a Hungarian-born, Mexico-based photojournalist active during the mid-20th century; Consuelo Kanaga, a modernist photographer based in the U.S. who focused on empathetically imaging Black Americans; and Flor Garduño, a Mexican photographer whose work focuses on her country’s history and landscape.

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