sight/insight: Photographs from the Permanent Collection
Contemporary Photography from the
Heather and Tony Podesta Collection
Heather and Tony Podesta, legislative and public relations strategists who work in Washington, D.C., are among the most important collectors of contemporary art in the United States, with holdings of more than 2,000 photographs, sculptures, paintings, prints, drawings and video works. They are also among the most important donors of art to the Corcoran. In 2006 the Podestas offered the Corcoran a major gift of twenty-four important photographic artworks from the past decade by an international group of contemporary artists. This installment of the Corcoran’s Sight/Insight series, Contemporary Photography from the Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, celebrated that gift and the Podestas’ ongoing patronage, and demonstrated how enlightened donor support can enrich a museum collection and inform and educate its audiences.
The Podestas’ knowledge of the global art scene — and their enthusiastic interest in acquiring challenging new work — gives them a reputation for being exceptionally sensitive to the cutting edge of contemporary art. They often acquire multiple works by emerging artists, and their patronage is an important step in the development of an artist’s career.
Augmented here with a few works donated previously, the Podestas’ 2006 gift to the Corcoran is a remarkably cohesive group of images depicting the human body in a variety of ways. Among the artists included in the show are Tatiana Antoshina, Chan Chao, Jenny Gage, Margi Geerlinks, Tom Hunter, Justine Kurland, Malerie Marder, Deborah Mesa-Pelly, Marina Núñez, Gabriel Orozco, Torbjørn Rødland, Vibeke Tandberg, Bettina von Zwehl and Italo Zuffi.
Many of the artists whose works were included explore the tension between realism and fiction by using posed performance and theatrical stylization, heightened by the medium’s documentary authority. Several address issues of identity and gender by staging cool dramas of alienation or anxiety; fraught set pieces evoke the pleasures and terrors of sexuality. The body is explored as a fragile, mortal vessel, and envisioned as a futuristic hybrid of human and cyborg. Some artists make stylistic and metaphoric references to art history in order to explore the ways the body has been depicted in the past. In many of the images the subjects look directly at the lens, their steady gazes engaging and confronting the viewer with overt recognition of, and participation in, their portrayal.
The history of the human figure in photography is replete with challenging and sometimes controversial ideas. As collectors, Heather and Tony Podesta always face such challenges with open eyes. Exhibited together at the Corcoran, the photographs they have donated provide a valuable look at some of the ways artists imagine their own place in the world, and by extension, ours.
Sight/Insight: Contemporary Photography from the Heather and Tony Podesta Collection was on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art from November 1, 2006 through December 31, 2006. Other artworks donated by and on loan from the Heather and Tony Podesta Collection were on view in redefined: Modern and Contemporary Art from the Collection.