The Hall Family Foundation, in continuing its long support of the photography program at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, made a special $10 million grant to broaden and deepen this collection. Recognized around the world, this is one of the finest museum photography collections in the nation. The gift permitted a more intensive acquisition focus from 2015 to 2017.
About 100 of the
more than 800 newly acquired photographs will be on view in a Spring
2018 exhibition, The Big Picture: A Transformative Gift from the Hall Family Foundation, to coincide with the Foundation’s 75th anniversary.
generous and steadfast support of the Nelson-Atkins by the Hall Family
Foundation is the reason our photography collection is world-renowned,”
said Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell CEO &
Director of the Nelson-Atkins. “The leadership and vision of Donald J.
Hall and the stewardship of the Foundation through the years has
improved and enriched the cultural scene in Kansas City in myriad ways.”
The acquisition process and the selection of works in The Big Picture
were a collaborative effort by the photography department’s Keith F.
Davis, senior curator; April M. Watson, curator; and Jane L. Aspinwall,
associate curator. Davis has overseen the Hallmark Photographic
Collection for nearly 40 years. He arrived in Kansas City after
interning at the George Eastman House in 1979 to begin a six-month stint
as cataloguer of the collection; he never left.
The special $10
million gift allowed the curators to build on the collection’s existing
strengths—primarily its broad holding of American daguerreotypes and
prints—and to enhance its representation of 19th-and 20th-century
European and contemporary international works. These new pieces span the
entire history of the medium, from an 1826 print by Joseph Nicéphore
Niépce, the inventor of photography, to a 2016 work by legendary
musician and artist Patti Smith. Many of history’s most famous names are
represented, including Nadar, Gustave Le Gray, Edward Steichen, Jaromir
Funke, Claude Cahun, Alfred Eisenstadt, Dorothea Lange, W. Eugene
Smith, Robert Frank, and Diane Arbus. Also represented are leading
contemporary artists such as Cindy Sherman, Paul Graham, Ellsworth
Kelly, Carrie Mae Weems, Dayanita Singh, Ilit Azoulay, Thomas Struth,
Candida Hofer, and Thomas Demand. This two-year initiative has resulted
in the addition of more than 800 objects, made over a span of 190 years,
by artists from more than a dozen countries.
special acquisition initiative has been immensely gratifying,” said
Davis. “We three curators reviewed a great deal of work and thought hard
about collection priorities. We sought to enhance our existing
strengths, while adding depth in other key areas of interest. These new
works will allow for more varied and stimulating shows, and fresh
scholarship, for many years to come. This is a direct benefit to our
community and our field. We cannot thank the Hall Family Foundation
enough for this remarkable opportunity, and for its long history of
This collection is the product of a remarkable story
of enlightened patronage. Hallmark Cards, Inc. has been involved in the
fine arts since the late 1940s, when company founder J. C. Hall
envisioned a series of competitions and traveling exhibitions of
contemporary art. In 1949, Hallmark organized its first International
Art Award competition, opened to artists in France and the United
States. An exhibition of the winning works toured nationally, with
proceeds benefiting the American Red Cross. This was followed by four
subsequent competitions, ending in 1960. By that time, the Hallmark Art
Collection held a larger and more varied collection of contemporary
paintings than some museums and almost any other American corporation.
L. Strout played a central role in Hallmark’s involvement with
photography. In 1963, Strout was recruited by J. C. Hall to direct the
new Hallmark Gallery store on Fifth Avenue in New York City. From 1964
to 1973, Strout organized a diverse sequence of exhibitions that
combined popular culture with the art of photography. The Hallmark
Gallery’s “Harry Callahan” exhibit of 1964 was the artist’s first
one-person show in New York, and the company purchased all 141 prints.
Similar exhibitions followed, and in 1968 Strout proposed that Hallmark
officially begin collecting fine photographs. The first body of work
acquired for the new collection in 1969 was by the medium’s greatest
living master, Edward Steichen, followed quickly by notable purchases of
work by Henri Cartier-Bresson, André Kertész, Edward Weston, Berenice
Abbott, László Moholy-Nagy, and others. By 1979, Hallmark’s collection
included 650 photographs.
1966, J. C. Hall’s son, Donald J. Hall, assumed the role of company
president and CEO and soon put his imprint on the firm’s corporate and
cultural profile. His artistic interests were broad, including
architecture, jazz, photography, sculpture, and African art. He served
as a Trustee of the Nelson-Atkins from 1980 to 2011. As head of the Hall
Family Foundation, he continues to provide the guiding philosophy for
its charitable activity, which includes extensive support of the
In 1986, for example, the Foundation donated a collection
of 58 sculptures and maquettes by Henry Moore; this was followed by
individual sculptures by Constantin Brancusi, Alberto Giacometti, Max
Ernst, and others. Mr. Hall has said, “These activities reflect a
fundamental belief in the importance of art to our quality of life and
our cultural well-being. Art—in any medium—is about the communication of
ideas and emotions, the unending dynamic of change, and the power of
The Hall Family Foundation has supported a great
variety of programs and initiatives that effect positive change in the
greater Kansas City community. The Foundation’s president, William A.
Hall, said, “Our purview is the overall well-being of the Kansas City
area. The arts are vital to that effort, and we take particular pride in
the history and quality of our activities in photography. With the
benefit of a unique conjunction of interests and talents, we have aimed
over time to help create an artistic resource of real international
current CEO, Donald J. Hall, Jr., has been a museum Trustee since 2016,
the same year he became the fourth member of his family to receive the
Kansas Citian of the Year award for contributions to the community. “We
have always tried to pick our projects carefully and to work in a
sustained way—building logically on the institutions and assets that
make our community genuinely special,” said Hall. “This effort began
with my grandfather and flourished so beautifully with my father’s
support. I am proud, after all these years, that it continues so
In December 2005, Hallmark transferred its entire
photographic collection of 6,500 works to the Nelson-Atkins. The
museum’s photographic holdings immediately expanded from 1,000 to 7,500
works and now numbers about 15,000. Since 2006, the Foundation has
provided vital support for this department.
The Big Picture, April
27–Oct. 7, 2018, highlights about 100 of the most significant of these
acquisitions and will be presented in all 3,000 sq. ft. of the museum’s
dedicated photography galleries. The exhibition will be accompanied by a
small publication authored by Davis on the history of photography at
the museum, at Hallmark, and in the Kansas City community.
Edward Steichen, American, born Luxembourg, 1879 – 1973. William M. Chase,
1906. Gum bichromate over platinum print. Image: 19 11/16 × 15 3/4
inches (50.01 × 40.01 cm). Sheet: 19 7/8 × 16 inches (50.48 × 40.64 cm).
Mount: 19 7/8 × 16 inches (50.48 × 40.64 cm). Gift of the Hall Family
Diane Arbus, American, 1923 – 1971. Neil Selkirk, American, born England, born 1947. Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, NYC,
1962; printed 1973. Gelatin silver print. Image: 14 7/16 × 14 3/8
inches (36.63 × 36.53 cm). Sheet: 19 15/16 × 15 15/16 inches (50.62 ×
40.46 cm). Gift of the Hall Family Foundation. 2017.24.1
Firmin-Eugène Le Dien, French, 1817 – 1865. Gustave Le Gray, French, 1820 – 1884. Rome: Sortie du Pont Tescato au Trastevere,
1853. Salt print. Image and sheet: 9 3/8 × 12 15/16 inches (23.81 ×
32.86 cm). Mount: 13 13/16 × 19 3/16 inches (35.08 × 48.74 cm). Gift of
the Hall Family Foundation. 2016.75.136
Candida Höfer, German, born 1944. Sankt Maximilian Düsseldorf I,
2012. Chromogenic print. Image: 55 × 51 3/4 inches (139.7 × 131.45 cm).
Sheet: 70 7/8 × 67 1/2 inches (180.02 × 171.45 cm). Mount: 70 7/8 × 67
1/2 inches (180.02 × 171.45 cm). Framed: 72 1/4 × 69 × 1 3/4 inches
(183.52 × 175.26 × 4.45 cm). Gift of the Hall Family Foundation.