Venice: Art gallery with environmental focus acquires Ansel Adams collection
BY GARY WALKER
Jolene Hanson is a longtime fan of photography.
Soon after she became the curator at the eclectic G2 Gallery in Venice, which exhibits photography with an environmental and conservation element, she embarked on a mission to assemble a collection of prints by arguably the world’s foremost nature photographer.
Little did she know at the time that her quest would take her on a coast-to-coast adventure that would culminate in what is considered to be the gallery’s signature exhibit.
Hanson and her team have assembled a portfolio of the famed nature photographer Ansel Adams and his work has been showing since Feb. 21, one day before his 110th birthday. Portfolio Two will be displayed for three months, twice as long as the gallery typically shows an exhibit.
Collecting 15 of the iconic photographer and conservationist’s black and white prints took more than three years of travel and research. The gallery’s staff are aficionados of Adams, who is known for developing a technique for optimal film exposure and development called the Zone System that is applicable to color and digital photography today.
Alexander Slade, an associate professor of fine arts at the Otis College of Art and Design in Westchester called Adams “an amazing technician” and lauds him as a great environmentalist.
While she is a fan of Adams’ work, Hanson soon learned that there was much more to him than his iconic nature photographs.
“I personally knew that he was amazing. But I knew nothing about the secondary art market or the Ansel Adams Gallery, so we literally started at ground one,” the gallery curator said in an interview at the G2 Gallery.
Hanson and the gallery’s marketing director, Gia LaRussa, emerged themselves into the extensive research project and read everything they could get their hands on that pertained to Adams. During an exhaustive three-year venture, their research led them to art galleries in New York and to Arizona, the home of The Center For Creative Photography, which was co-founded by Adams and then-University of Arizona President John Schaffer in 1979 at the university.
The institution is the largest in the world devoted to documenting the history of North American photography, including the works of many of Adams’ contemporaries in photography, Paul Strand and Edward Weston.
The G2 staff members scoured auction houses, interviewed art dealers that carry Adams’ work and explored what is known as the secondary art market, which is art previously purchased by a collector, dealer or foundation.
During their research, Hanson also met William Turnage, who manages the Ansel Adams Publishing Trust.
“It was a really organic thing, step by step,” she recalled. “Every day we learned something new.”
The G2 Gallery, owned by art patrons, environmentalists and philanthropists Daniel and Susan Gottlieb, was created four years ago with the intent on showcasing talented artists and photographers who capture the spirit and the beauty of the environment, with an eye toward nature and conservation.
“We don’t show anything except nature and wildlife,” said Susan Gottlieb, whose backyard has been certified by the National Wildlife Federation as an official Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Hanson said her quest to acquire a collection of the famous photographer’s work for G2 provided an unexpected and ultimately enriching learning experience.
“I learned along the way that the research became more than just about ‘let’s research Ansel Adams,’” she said. “It became more about researching the big picture: photography.”
The gallery curator became enthralled with how Adams was committed to the environment and land preservation and what made him the artist that he became. “It became looking at different aspects of his life, like when did he meet the Sierra Club, when did he go to Yosemite (National Park, the site of some of his most famous photographs). How did all of these pieces come together?” she asked.
The staff also read Adams’ autobiography, which was written shortly before his death in 1984 at age 82. “It gives you a personal recount of his life, as well as the people who were important to him and who molded his career,” Hanson said.
Gottlieb said she is duly impressed with the degree of attention and dedication that Hanson and her staff put into researching and accumulating the portfolio. “Jolene and her team did an excellent job of tracking down these photos,” she said.
Hanson said Adams’ love of the environment makes him the “perfect fit” for G2 Gallery.
“When we decided to put together the collection, (his love of conservation) was one of the major reasons why we wanted him, as well as him being an amazing photographer and having an amazing legacy,” she said. “His mission in life was really to protect land. He wanted others to see nature the way he did and he wanted them to see it so they could understand the importance of protecting it for our future.”
A longtime member of the Sierra Club, Adams was a member of the organization’s board of directors for many years. In 1938, his limited edition book, “Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail” and subsequent testimony before Congress played a significant role in the club’s quest to turn the Sequoia and Kings Canyon near Fresno into national parks.
Two years later, Congress designated the canyon area as such, which are known today as Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park.
“He really was committed to that kind of environmentalism,” Hanson said.
Gottlieb added, “Because of his history as a conservationist and a trailblazer in the world of photography, (the portfolio) is quite a highlight for our gallery.”
Slade, who is also a photographer, agrees that conservation artists like Adams have long had a nexus to the environment. “There has always been a deep connection between photography and promotion of national parks,” he said.
Hanson agrees. “Photography is a unique medium that can be used that often doesn’t need words,” said Hanson, a former photographer. “We are a species that responds to visual stimulation.”
Having owners who are willing to make the artistic and logistical, as well as the financial commitment, are crucial in order for a curator to able to bring an exhibit like the Adams portfolio to a gallery or museum, Hanson said.
“It is an investment. It’s not as if we went out and bought a lot of things that have no value,” the curator pointed out. “Through this process, the staff has learned that we can help others make this type of investment.
“It’s also an investment for us; not just with the physical prints but also as a career and as a gallery to do things for others by learning to do things for ourselves,” she added.
Another lesson picked up by the G2 staff was how to purchase portfolios as one unit as opposed to each individual print separately, and the gallery did the latter.
“You make a few mistakes along the way, but we learned a lot,” Hanson said.
Gottlieb feels that on the eve of the gallery’s fourth birthday, March 10, the Adams portfolio will be the exhibit that draws art patrons in droves and pushes the already popular galley to new heights.
“We’re thrilled that we’re beginning to become more well-known,” she said. “(The gallery) has certainly enriched our lives.”
Hanson sees the acquisition of the Adams collection as an opportunity for the public to enjoy an exhibit that is not typically shown in some galleries as well as have the chance to learn intimate details about the life of a photography icon.
“Ansel Adams is one of the only photographers who is a household name across all demographics,” she said. “We’re really excited about this exhibit and we do anticipate that we’ll have a lot of viewership.
“There are not a lot of opportunities to see work by an artist like Ansel Adams in an open to the public gallery.”
Due to its anticipated popularity and the Adams’ name recognition, G2, which is usually closed on Monday, will be open that day as well during the duration of the exhibit.
The Adams exhibit concludes May 13.