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Getty Museum Presents In Focus: The Tree

The J. Paul Getty Museum presents In Focus: The Tree, a survey of important technological and aesthetic developments in photographic representations of trees, on view at the Getty Center from February 8 through July 3, 2011.

The latest in the In Focus series of thematic exhibitions, this presentation of nearly 40 photographs provides visitors with an opportunity to explore the Getty Museum’s world-renowned permanent collection of photographs through the inspiring subject of trees.

“This show poetically showcases how the tree is essential to our daily existence—from aesthetic explorations to spiritual reverence,” said Anne Lyden, associate curator, Department of Photographs, the J. Paul Getty Museum, who is co-curating the exhibition with Françoise Reynaud, curator of photographs, Musée Carnavalet, Paris.

Ranging from 19th-century works to contemporary pieces, the exhibition includes prints by both recognized and lesser-known artists. Among the photographers whose work is on view are Robert Adams, Eugène Atget, Simryn Gill, Gustave Le Gray, Myoung Ho Lee, Eliot Porter, Alfred Stieglitz, and William Henry Fox Talbot.

Loosely organized into single tree portraits, trees in the landscape, abstract forms drawn from trees, and daily uses of the tree, the exhibition highlights photographers from different eras, juxtaposing their works to create an interesting dialogue, says Lyden. One of the earliest works in the exhibition is William Henry Fox Talbot’s iconic An Oak Tree in Winter (1842-1843), which captures the lace-like pattern of bare branches against a stark winter sky.

Also included in the exhibition is Simryn Gill’s large-scale photograph Forest (1996-1998), which conceptually explores issues related to identity and a sense of belonging to a particular place. Selecting books for their meaningful narrative or graphic type, Gill deconstructs the literature, ripping up the pages to create organic forms that twist around tree trunks, playing with the idea of family trees, ancestral roots, and the essence of nature.

A daguerreotype by John Jabez Edwin Mayall from 1851 entitled The Crystal Palace at Hyde Park, London, captures the site as it appeared when new, an impressive glass structure built around existing Elm trees. Mayall’s image shows man’s progress in using modern materials such as glass and steel in an attempt to surpass nature and showcase science and industry.

On view for the first time since entering the Getty’s collection in 2009, South Korean photographer Myoung Ho Lee’s works, Tree #3 and Tree #11, document trees in the landscape silhouetted against a large drop cloth, sometimes hung as high as 60 feet. The tree is shown in stark relief, while still surrounded by its natural environment. The images simultaneously recall the formal portrait studio and acknowledge the landscape tradition within art history.

Other selections from In Focus: The Tree include French photographer Gustave Le Gray’s The Beach Tree (1856), Man Ray’s Redwoods at Big Sur (early 1940s), Eliot Porter’s Juniper Tree, Arches National Monument, Utah, August 27, 1958, and Josef Sudek’s The Window of My Studio (about 1950-1954).

In Focus: The Tree is the eighth installation of the ongoing “In Focus” series of exhibitions, thematic presentations of photographs from the Getty’s permanent collection. Three of the works in this exhibition, the Gill and Lee images, were acquired with funds from the Getty Museum Photographs Council.

In conjunction with In Focus: The Tree, a book by co-curator Reynaud entitled The Tree in Photographs will be published in January 2011, and will expand the theme of the exhibition. The book will include all of the images featured in the display, as well as many others.

Previous In Focus exhibitions have included The Nude, The Landscape, The Portrait, Making a Scene (staged photography), The Worker, Tasteful Pictures, and Still Life. Upcoming In Focus shows include In Focus: The Sky, opening on July 26, 2011.

Also upcoming is In Focus: Los Angeles 1945-1980, opening in December 20, 2011, as part of the Pacific Standard Time initiative. Pacific Standard Time is an unprecedented collaboration of more than 50 cultural institutions across Southern California presenting thematically linked exhibitions and programs, all designed to celebrate the region’s vibrant post WWII art scene. Opening in October 2011 and running until April 2012, Pacific Standard Time is an initiative of the Getty with art institutions across Southern California.

Image: An Oak Tree in Winter (about 1842-1843). William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877). Salted paper print from paper negative print. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

Visiting the Getty Center: The Getty Center is open Tuesday through Friday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. It is closed Monday and major holidays. Admission to the Getty Center is always free. Parking is $15 per car, but free after 5pm on Saturdays and for evening events throughout the week. No reservation is required for parking or general admission. Reservations are required for event seating and groups of 15 or more. Please call 310-440-7300 (English or Spanish) for reservations and information. The TTY line for callers who are deaf or hearing impaired is 310-440-7305. The Getty Center is at 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles, California.

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